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In Spanish, you often use the word "tipo" not only to say literally the type of something, but to refer to a person (usually with some mildly negative connotations, e.g. "¡este tipo no sabe manejar!", literally "this type doesn't know how to drive!"). I was talking with a friend from Lithuania, who remarked that this is pretty much precisely the same in Lithuanian, and after some further searching this seems to be pretty common in many European languages (Italian and Portugese use the same word, verbatim, the russian word тип is another example, the german Typ). The Wikitionary for the Greek word τύπος claims that this meaning comes from French, but the references don't obviously seem to refer as to where it comes from. So I'm wondering if this meaning has been investigated at all? How come it isn't in English but in many other Indo-European languages?

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    French uses type; it's often translated as 'guy'. I've often wondered about that, too.
    – jlawler
    May 8 at 16:07
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    Not just European/IE btw: Hebrew tipus is used in the same way.
    – TKR
    May 8 at 16:30
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    It’s not quite the same thing, but it seems related to me that you can also, in many European languages, describe someone as being or not being ‘your type’. May 8 at 16:31
  • Oxford Dictionaries give multiple senses in which "type" in English can refer to a person; some are marked as informal but one is a theological term. I guess a lot of similar words like "sort" and "kind" can be used the same way.
    – Stuart F
    May 9 at 14:39

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According to Trésor de la langue française informatisé, a meaning developed in the 19th century "Personne remarquable par son originalité, par son comportement typique ou pittoresque." (A person remarkable for their originality or their typical or picturesque behaviour). Example: "Un vrai type, ce Nabab. Il faudra que vous me l'ameniez"

From that developed "Individu quelconque, personne du sexe masculin." (an individual, a person of the male sex). Example: "Un grand type brun, élégant, avec sa petite tête et ses épaules larges, des yeux clairs, une ombre de moustache".

So it appears that first it was applied to a person who was remarkable in some way, seen as representing a particular type of oddity; and then got bleached and came to refer to any guy.

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  • I'm confused as how this could've spread to many other languages, including non Indo-European languages (as pointed out in the comments) May 16 at 22:06

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