… she habited herself in a peculiarly becoming dress of white linen …—E. F. Benson
(figurative) It is the nature of such pedantry to habit itself in a harsh and crabbed style.—Richard M. Weaver
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The Origin and Etymology of Habit
The word habit most often refers to a usual way of behaving or a tendency that someone has settled into, as in "good eating habits."
In its oldest sense, however, habit meant "clothing" and had nothing to do with the things a person does in a regular and repeated way. Today, this meaning is preserved only in phrases like "nun's habit," "monk's habit," and "riding habit" (clothes worn for horseback riding).
Like so many words that appeared in English in the centuries following the Norman Conquest, habit came from French. Indeed, the modern French word for clothes is habits (pronounced \ah-bee\). In English, habit progressed from meaning “clothing” to “clothing for a particular profession or purpose” to “bearing, conduct, behavior." (The word’s evolution brings to mind the old adage “the clothes make the man," which asserts that the way we dress reflects our character.)
From “what one wears” to “how one conducts oneself,” habit continued to evolve, referring to appearance (“a man of fleshy habit”) and mental makeup (“a philosophical habit”) before, after several centuries in English, it came to mean repeated activity: “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”
The specific development of habit to refer to drug addiction began in the 19th century, with reference to opium.
Interestingly, even though “clothing” is the oldest meaning of habit in English, it wasn’t the original meaning of the word's ultimate Latin root, habitus. In Latin, that word’s original meaning was “state of being” or “condition.”
Our most common use of habit today, “acquired mode of behavior,” didn’t exist in Latin—habitus went from meaning “condition” to “how one conducts oneself” to “clothing.” That it was adapted into English in precisely the reverse order is an accident of history; the order of meanings absorbed from one language to another rarely constitutes a logical development. As with all language, meaning is established by usage and force of habit.
habit implies a doing unconsciously and often compulsively.
had a habit of tapping his fingers
practice suggests an act or method followed with regularity and usually through choice.
our practice is to honor all major credit cards
usage suggests a customary action so generally followed that it has become a social norm.
western-style dress is now common usage in international business
custom applies to a practice or usage so steadily associated with an individual or group as to have almost the force of unwritten law.
the custom of wearing black at funerals
wont usually applies to a habitual manner, method, or practice of an individual or group.
as was her wont, she slept until noon
Examples of habit in a Sentence
It was his habit to take a nap after dinner every evening.
It's important that parents teach their children good study habits.
He fell into some bad habits after graduating from college.
It's never easy to break a bad habit.
He still gets up early every day from habit.
She always closed the door softly out of habit.
He hasn't been able to kick his cocaine habit. Verb
his exclusive clothing store had habited the town's upper crust for as long as anyone could remember See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Actors flock to work with Todd Haynes, a filmmaker with an impeccable track record who has made a habit of drawing some of the greatest performances out of actors who already boast impressive credits, but also for discovering newer talent.—Jenelle Riley, Variety, 17 Nov. 2023 Erin Napier is sharing husband Ben’s quirky sleeping habit.—Erin Clements, Peoplemag, 17 Nov. 2023 Although its official Dermstore Black Friday sale hasn't yet begun, the beauty e-tailer makes a habit of offering discounts on up-and-coming, under-the-radar brands.—Bella Cacciatore, Glamour, 16 Nov. 2023 Over time, these habits can lead to a higher body fat percentage and, in turn, a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.—Alyssa Hui, Verywell Health, 15 Nov. 2023 Here’s what biological age can tell you about someone’s overall health, how aging is connected to cardiovascular health, and tips for adopting heart-healthy habits.—Kaitlin Vogel, Health, 15 Nov. 2023 Big props to gutsy Plaza for choosing off-Broadway for a theatrical coming-out, when the habit of many of those who achieve TV celebrity is to appear in a play in London, far from the magnifying media lens of New York.—Peter Marks, Washington Post, 14 Nov. 2023 His eating habits were necessarily narrower, dependent on the supplies his parents had in the kitchen.—Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker, 12 Nov. 2023 This smart toothbrush connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth to give you feedback on your brushing habits.—Natalie Rahhal, Health, 6 Nov. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'habit.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Noun and Verb
Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin habitus condition, character, from habēre to have, hold — more at give