This morning I sat down and decided to research the words #bully and #bullying in OED. Etymology is a very profound way to understand meaning.
Here is what I found:
The word bully is first found in literature in the mid 1500s as a term of endearment a sort of designation given much like sweetheart. Though it was once used for male or female it eventually became a term applied to males and was used in the manner of a good friend, a companion, a protector. After 150 years or so it grew in the direction of the synonym gallant, but taking it in a darker direction essentially coming to the modern understanding of a tyrant and coward who terrorizes the weak.
This use solidified over the next 100 years to mean a hired thug intent on violence and intimidation as well as a protector of prostitutes. Its use as a verb developed around this time period representing actions undertaken by a bully such as intimidation, force, frighten into a certain course. to sway by threat.
In the last 10 years a new form of the word has arisen cyber-bully its primary use today being a designation of someone who participates in cyber-bullying which is simply using the techniques provided by technology such as text and images posted online to intimidate and threaten.
I had never considered such a transformation of meaning, to transition from sweetheart to tyrant is quite drastic.
Perhaps this drift in meaning is somehow related to the growth of the witch hunts. The hunts began according to Wikipedia in the fifteenth century peaking from 1580-1630 and then trailing off into the 1700's. Almost exactly the time frame in which the use of this word changed.
The hunts were a time when many women were likely driven to seek protectors out of fear. This would of course make them vulnerable to the type of men referred to as bully during this period.
By Aron Price (April 14, 2012) with credit to: http://goo.gl/eeuvw