why are terrible and horrible basically the same thing but horrific and terrific are basically the opposite

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English will never be something I fully understand

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Hi OP – I looked up the different definitions of ‘terrific’ – it actually did used to mean ‘causing terror’, but that is now considered an archaism…

The old definition of terrific was to cause terror, but since it also can mean a large amount or something large or dense, it shares a definition with the word great. So it started being used interchangeably and the words definition evolved to include it meaning a great or good thing.

That’s becuse of all the history and varied influences in English. Wait till you hear awful (coming from full of awe).

Another funny example is inflammable. It means yes it can catch flame, but uses “in-” prefix which can mean the opposite of (direct vs indirect). But the “in” in this case is from Latin which means “in/into”, so “to put into flame”

But in everyday use, nobody tries to understand words from etymology. You can, but you’d have to know which language the influence came from, which is just asking for trouble.

The logic behind such shifts in meaning is approximately the same as the one that has relatively recently made the word “sick” mean awesome/great in slang.

“Terrific” is similar to “nonplussed” where the colloquial meaning is changing. “Nonplussed” literally means so shocked you can’t speak, but it’s used more and more to mean something like underwhelmed or bluntly uninterested.

Same thing happened to “terrific”.

Languages evolve sometimes in unexpected ways: a sarcastic or non-literal meaning takes on and overtime folks stop using the original meaning and it falls out of use all together.

Also compare “awful” and “awesome”. Very similar to “terrible” and “terrific”.

“Literal/literally” is a another good example too, actually.