c.1200, from Old Norse þeir, originally masculine plural demonstrative pronoun, from Proto-Germanic *thai, nominative plural pronoun, from PIE *to- (see that). Gradually replaced Old English hi, hie, plurals of he, heo, hit (see he, she, it) by c.1400. Colloquial use for "anonymous people in authority" is attested from 1886.
Old English hit, neuter nominative and accusative of third person singular pronoun, from Proto-Germanic demonstrative base *khi- (cf. Old Frisian hit, Dutch het, Gothic hita "it"), from PIE *ko- "this" (see he). Used in place of any neuter noun, hence, as gender faded in Middle English, it took on the meaning "thing or animal spoken about before."
The h- was lost due to being in an unemphasized position, as in modern speech the h- in "give it to him," "ask her," "is only heard in the careful speech of the partially educated" [Weekley]. It "the sex act" is from 1610s; meaning "sex appeal (especially in a woman)" first attested 1904 in works of Rudyard Kipling, popularized 1927 as title of a book by Elinor Glyn, and by application of It Girl to silent-film star Clara Bow (1905-1965). In children's games, meaning "the one who must tag the others" is attested from 1842.
mid-12c., probably evolving from Old English seo, sio (accusative sie), fem. of demonstrative pronoun se "the," from PIE root *so- "this, that" (see the). The Old English word for "she" was heo, hio, however by 13c. the pronunciation of this had converged by phonetic evolution with he "he," which apparently led to the fem. demonstrative pronoun being used in place of the pronoun (cf. similar development in Dutch zij, German sie, Greek he, etc.). The original h- survives in her. A relic of the Old English pronoun is in Manchester-area dialectal oo "she." As a noun meaning "a female," she is attested from 1530s.
Old English he (see paradigm of Old English third person pronoun below), from Proto-Germanic *hi- (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch he, hi, Dutch hy, Old High German he), from PIE *ki-, variant of *ko-, the "this, here" (as opposed to "that, there") root (cf. Hittite ki "this," Greek ekeinos "that person," Old Church Slavonic si, Lithuanian šis "this"), and thus the source of the third person pronouns in Old English. The feminine, hio, was replaced in early Middle English by forms from other stems (see she), while the h- wore off Old English neuter hit to make modern it. The Proto-Germanic root also is the source of the first element in German heute "today," literally "the day" (cf. Old English heodæg).
|nom.||he||hit||heo, hio||hie, hi|
|acc.||hine||hit||hie, hi||hie, hi|
The symbol for the element helium.
The symbol for helium.
: Clara Bow, the original it girl