English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm often interested in the origins of English phrases, and I know that I can find answers by googling, and I can find good answers by asking here.

How can I find good answers myself? Are there any well-known, respected, and fairly comprehensive sources for origins of English expressions and idioms?

share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by Kristina Lopez, user49727, Brian Hooper, Christi, Hellion Nov 21 '13 at 14:06

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. A list of these references can be found here: List of general references" – Kristina Lopez, user49727, Brian Hooper
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

A handy source online is The Phrase Finder:


share|improve this answer

I recommend Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable now at 16th edition.It is a bulky one -1326 pages

share|improve this answer
+1 for the Amazon.com "Look Inside" link. – Callithumpian Apr 29 '11 at 0:51

Some other good online resources:

Online Etymology Dictionary (often has phrases within entries for individual words)
World Wide Words (Michael Quinion's archive of well-researched articles)
Wordwizard (excellent discussion-based site with a focus on word and phrase origins)

and ditto to @Robusto's answer. . .(usually)

share|improve this answer

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is a good start for many expressions. There are a couple of on-line versions; I've linked to the most searchable one I could find, but Google will show you others.

share|improve this answer
@Bogdan: that sounds plausible. I'd certainly recommend getting a paper copy anyway. – user1579 Apr 29 '11 at 0:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.