Level/ niveau: plain & high or low?


Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
I have been wondering about the various meanings of niveau, level, ... and their derivations. I mean there is a basic meaning (of the adjective mainly), something likes "flat (and broad)", as in level-headed, or niveller, or plain, but then these words often refer to a niveau/level of quality or a rank (your level/ niveau is not good).

The etymological information I find cannot really explain this semantic evolution, o it seems to me. I think of the fact that there are plains at high altitude and polders (low), but not sure that will do...
Last edited:
  • Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    The earliest documentation of English "level" in the OED is in 1340, the noun, referring to the carpenter's device for determining that a surface is horizontal, parallel to the surface of still water.
    The meaning of "position as marked by a horizontal line" (continuing with the OED) is first documented in 1535.
    The adjective's first documentation is about the same, 1538.
    Perhaps you can picture a field of points with horizontal lines drawn through them
    to enable one to measure their relative height, literal or figurative, on a vertical scale.
    The OED's etymology is "< Old French livel (13th cent.) [...] < popular Latin *libellum = classical Latin lībella, diminutive of libra balance."
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