If you had any doubt whether we are living in scandalous times, a quick browse of recent headlines will set you straight. Here's a few:

"USA Today," Feb. 7, 2020: "Report: Astros' sign-stealing scheme began with front office 'Codebreaker' program"
"The New York Times," Feb. 14, 2020 : "A Former Owner of Newsweek Pleads Guilty in a Fraud Scheme"
"The Washington Post," Feb. 18, 2020: Former Colorado mayoral candidate drugged new mom with cupcake in scheme to steal her baby, police say"

"Schemes" galore. Of course, to get caught up in — or get duped by — a scheme is never good. At least not in the United States. Across the Atlantic Ocean, in another English-speaking country, it's a whole different story.

"Britain is full of schemes," said Jonathan Dyer, managing editor for PRI's "The World." "There are schemes for the elderly, there are education schemes, schemes for the less well off, employment schemes, military schemes, you name it."

The word scheme is just as prevalent in the news these days in the U.K., but with far less nefarious implications:

"The Daily Mail," Jan., 2020: "Boris Johnson is to unveil plans for new visa scheme to lure top scientists and mathematicians to UK after Brexit"
"The Guardian," Feb. 16, 2020: "Discounted housing scheme out of reach of most first-time buyers"

As Dyer explained, a scheme in England is by no means automatically negative.

"It’s a plan. It’s a project," he said. "It’s something that is a coordinated thing that’s going to come together and do good."

So, why the drastically different connotations for the same word — with essentially the same meaning — in two countries?

"Scheme is just a Latin word," explained Peter Sokolowski, lexicographer and editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster Inc., in Springfiled, Mass. "It was literally just yanked from Latin and brought into English in the very late 1500s."

The Romans got the original word, "schema," from the Greeks and initially, it was a fairly technical term.

"In Latin and Greek it meant 'arrangement,''" said Sokolowski.

Specifically, the arrangement of words in a sentence or figures in a painting. Eventually, it was used to describe a diagram or map of the stars. The remnants of the word's technical roots remain today in terms like "color scheme" and "schematic drawing."

But it eventually came to be used more broadly, and more generally, for any kind of arrangement — essentially a synonym for the word "plan" — both in the UK and here in the US.

So, what led to the divergence?

"The word 'scheming,' in the 18th century — so around the middle 1700s — comes into the language," he explained. "And it starts having an effect on the noun scheme."

When used as a verb or adjective — “scheming” — the word was universally negative from the start.

"In fact, we define it with the word devious," said Sokolowski.

Still, in the U.K., they have that same distinction between the words "scheme" and "scheming," and that didn’t turn the noun completely to the dark side. Sokowski said that in addition to the pull on the word from the wholly negative connotation of "scheming," the Robber Baron Era of the late-19th century further impacted the word here in the U.S.

That was a time with many big industrial schemes and no shortage of corruption.

"In the late 1890s and early 1900s, scheme is sometimes referred to in a slightly more negative way," he said.

Still, as late as the early 20th century, Sokolowski said it was still quite common to see the word scheme used in newspapers to describe any number of innocuous plans or programs.

"It’s got this very neutral sense, " he said. "It does not yet have the sort of negative connotation that we associate with it today."

The real tipping point for the word came around 1920, after which Sokolowski said the negative connotation began to dominate in the U.S.

Why? Well it could have to do with a particularly high-profile plan that came crashing down in spectacular fashion that year. A scheme cooked up by a Boston-based businessman named Charles Ponzi.

"The Ponzi Scheme — the name and the headlines and the press that it got — really put the nail in the metaphorical coffin for this word," he said.

Sokolowski pointed out that scheme is just one of many words in English that exhibit polysemy — or multiple meanings.

Polysemy is, of course, just one of the many quirks and complexities of the English language. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s what makes words such an endless font of curiosity.