Doom is a very old word, dating back to the Old English period. But the Old English dom had a differerent meaning for those in medieval England was quite different than its meaning today. Back then it did not refer to fate or the apocalypse; rather it meant a law or judgment at trial.
The word appears as early as c.825 in the Vespasian Psalter with the meaning of a statute, decree, or judgment:
Bioð afirred domas ðine from onsiene his.
(Be afraid, in his presence [are] your dooms)
It could also mean a legal judgment, as we see from this c.900 translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People:
Seon heo begen biscopes dome scyldige.
(Both shall see the bishop’s doom of guilt.)
Doomsday, or dómes dæg, also dates to the same period, although again the meaning was legal rather than apocalyptic. The famous Domesday Book, compiled under William the Conqueror, was essentially a tax assessment, a book of judgments regarding who owned what land in England.
By c.1200, dom had also come to mean the judgment at the apocalypse. From the Trinity College Homilies:
Þenche we ure giltes er þe dom cume.
(We think upon our guilt before the doom comes.)
In the 14th century, doom acquired the sense of fate or destiny, usually in an adverse sense.
Lo þy dom is þe dygt, for þy dedes ille!
(Lo, your doom is prepared for you, for your ill deeds!)
It wasn’t until Shakespeare, writing his sonnets c.1600, did the modern, sense of doom as destruction appear:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton