The earliest sense of the word, c1100, was the literal one, "full of wonder"; but it soon extended its meanings to include a wide range of positive feelings. Today, these feelings are all to do with delight - as we often see in Shakespeare, but notably in Celia's repeated use in As You Like It (III.ii.185), "Oh wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful". But there are a number of occasions where a sense of delight has to be ruled out. Audley describes the approaching French army to Prince Edward: "This sudden, mighty, and expedient head That they have made ...
is wonderful" (Edward III, IV.iv.11). He can hardly be delighted, seeing as they are facing death. Here the sense is "amazing, astonishing, extraordinary". And so it is when Cicero says to Casca, of a storm: "Why, saw you anything more wonderful?" (Julius Caesar, I.iii.14).
David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin