Etymology is the history of the origin of words and phrases.

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To which 'court' does 'courtyard' refer?

courtyard (n.) 1550s, from court (n.) + yard (n.1). Strangely, the OED forgoes the etymology. Wikipedia also is ambiguous. So please disambiguate the meaning of court? I know that court ...
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How correct is it to use a word by its definition, when such definition was coined upon its metaphor usage?

I was reading some online forum where people tend to shape the words differently, according to what they need, instead of properly researching about words before using them. I came across the phrase ...
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38 views

What is ma'am a contraction of? [on hold]

What is being shortened when using the word "ma'am"? I know it's the more proper and polite (and somewhat dated) way to speak to a woman--but what words is it contracting? Usage: "Nice to meet ...
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Let Alone ≈ Much Less ≈ Still Less : How do the 2 words in each combine to mean 'not to mention'?

For brevity, I symbolise (imperfect) synonymity with ≈ :  X ≈ Y  means  X and Y are synonyms. From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/let+alone: let alone ≈ not to mention From Merriam Webster: let ...
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How can a verb symbolise sudden movement or unevenness?

[ODO:] Origin [=] Late Middle English (in the sense 'stab, pierce'): perhaps symbolic of sudden movement or unevenness (compare with jam1 and rag1). How can any verb, let alone jag, symbolise ...
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“Bucket and chuck it” origin

Used in this sentence (by a friend): Well, if it doesn't work, just bucket and chuck it.
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103 views

Why does the meaning of a root sound different than the root? [on hold]

I am currently constructing a language for my fantasy world. I am utilizing roots, prefixes, suffixes - all that fun stuff. I've noticed something that I find rather strange though. Nearly every word ...
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The origin of Shelock Holmes' “deerstalker”

A deerstalker is a soft cap, most commonly associated with Sherlock Holmes. Neither Oxford nor Etymonline lists the word's origin. Does anyone know when and how this word originated?
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What is 'burning or baiting' about the verb 'stake'?

stake (v.2)    "to risk, wager," 1520s, perhaps from notion of "post on which a gambling wager was placed" (see stake (n.2)), though Weekley suggests "there is a tinge of the burning or ...
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Origin of the phrase “There's a fine line between pleasure and pain” [duplicate]

What is the origin (or original) of the phrase "There's a fine line between pleasure and pain"?
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37 views

What's the origin/etymology of the phrase “regular old”? Does it have a clearly defined meaning?

It seems to me that the adjective phrase "regular old" seems to have a few distinct usages, but a confusing conversation and some fruitless searches as to a specific definition have me coming to ...
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Usage of touch the wood? [duplicate]

I've started using English language about 4 years ago after I moved to England. I came across this practice a few times: when people speak about their health or similar things they say this and touch ...
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39 views

How to parse 'to avail oneself of'? [on hold]

[ODO:] {verb} 1. avail oneself of = Use or take advantage of (an opportunity or available resource) 2. avail = [with object] Help or benefit [Etymonline] c. 1300, availen, ...
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How does the gerund 'bear, carry'?

[ Etymonline: ] 1510s, from Latin gerundum "to be carried out," gerundive of gerere "to bear, carry" (see gest). In Latin, a verbal noun used for all cases of the infinitive but the nominative; ...
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'en-' in 'entreat' : Did it divorce 'entreat' from 'treat'?

entreat (v.) c. 1400, "to enter into negotiations," especially "discuss or arrange peace terms;" also "to treat (someone) in a certain way," from Anglo-French entretier, Old French entraiter ...
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Etymology of 'inexorable' : What does 'out' + 'pray' mean?

inexorable (adj.)    1550s, from Middle French inexorable and directly from Latin inexorabilis "that cannot be moved by entreaty," from in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + exorabilis "able ...
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Who needs a haircut?

Haircut is a relatively recent term, considering that Romans began to cut the hair about A.U.C. 454, when Ticinius Maenas introduced Barbers from Sicily: (Etymonline) also hair-cut, 1887, "act ...
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51 views

What does Antichronic mean? [closed]

I recently came across a word "Anachronous" meaning something which is "out of (from ana) time (from chronos)". Usage eg: A person is wearing an 18th century dress to a 21st century formal ...
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105 views

The ultimate 'Heart' and 'Brain' question [on hold]

Heart and Brain - although of significant importance in Anatomy, equally significant, but in a completely different sense in the realm of Literature. I'd like to know how the earliest literati ...
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How did 'to treat' evolve from 'to draw, drag, move`?

treat (v.) ... frequentative of trahere (past participle tractus) "to pull, draw" (see tract (n.1)). ... tract (n.1) ... from stem of trahere "to pull, draw," from PIE root *tragh- "to ...
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Etymology of 'security' in finance [closed]

[OED:] 5. e. Chiefly in pl. Originally: a document held by a creditor as a guarantee of the right to payment, or attesting ownership of property, stock, bonds, etc.; [5.2] (hence) the ...
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Can the word “Sails” in any meaningful way equate to the number Six? [closed]

Either historically, or even up through leetspeak, can it be understood by a group of English speaking people to stand-in for the number 6, and if so, how? It's understood that – for example purposes ...
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60 views

How do idioms come to be? [closed]

All these questions about idioms here on ELU makes me wonder - how do idioms come to be? How are they made up? How do they become accepted? Common examples are: silly as a wheel that's another ...
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Is there an online etymology dictionary more comprehensive/detailed than Etymonline? [migrated]

Douglas Harper, creator of Etymonline, considers himself an amateur linguist and warns ... if you're a professional linguist or a serious student of linguistics, you shouldn't be doing your ...
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Spelling etymology of “-il[l]” words

I've noticed that modern English seems to have a very strong bias to spell verbs which end with "-(consonant)-il" with double "l", i.e. "-ill". The overwhelming majority of such verbs (like to will, ...
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Did they say “hand job” in the 1800s?

Did they say "hand job" in the 1800s? I was watching an episode of Deadwood, and they just said it. For example, from episode 6 "Plague": (Al enters the back room, Dolly is scrunched up on the ...
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Yikes! Where did it come from?

(humorous, slang) Expressing fear. (humorous, slang) Expressing empathy with unpleasant or undesirable circumstances. [Wiktionary] Yikes! Where did it come from? OED says "Origin ...
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Did “pertinacious” and “pertinent” come from the same origin?

From dictionary.com: pertinacious meaning: holding tenaciously to a purpose, course of action, or opinion; resolute. stubborn or obstinate. extremely or objectionably persistent. while ...
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Why is Peruvian Brown so named?

There is a colour named "Peruvian Brown". This is mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for shades of brown. The Wikipedia entry gives a reference to an offline book, and examples of modern use (the x11 ...
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Why do the names of so many places end in -ia?

Many countries, continents, states, and cities have an English name ending in ‘-ia’: India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Asia, Alexandria, Philadelphia, California, … What ...
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Origins of “from the outside” (to mean from the beginning)

I came across a sentence that went something like this: I wish I'd known about this from the outside - I would have done a better job. I've heard "from the outside" used like this before a ...
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Skeat's abbreviation “Cot.”

In his Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, W W Skeat often uses the abbreviation "Cot.", but I cannot find this mentioned in his lists of abbreviations and symbols.
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Use of 'cum' as the interstitial in a three-word semi-comparative adjective? [duplicate]

I have occasionally encountered and often written a three-word adjective of the form 'X-cum-Y' to describe a person, where the X and Y are normally set somewhat in tension with one another, if they ...
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What is the etymology of the Baseball term “meat hand”?

The term is used to signify the non gloved hand of the pitcher. I've only ever heard it used relative to the pitcher. For example, “On the bunt the pitcher used his meat hand instead of gloving the ...
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Using the term “love” instead of zero in tennis; other countries say zero, not love [duplicate]

The Americans and other English speaking countries seem to be the only ones that use the term "love" for zero in scoring tennis.
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Etymology of “amoral”

Many internet sites (like this one) say that the word amoral was coined by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) as a differentiation from immoral. These sites also say that amoral comes from the Greek ...
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Etymology of the term “salty” when used as slang [closed]

I often watch Hearthstone streams on Twitch, and many streamers will use the term "salty" to describe their emotions they feel when something unlucky happens to them. It seems to be synonymous with ...
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Why are these spellings pronounced “non phonetically?”

In Anglo English, the word ewe (female sheep) is pronounced "you," rather than, say, "e-weh." Likewise, the surname Ewell, is pronounced "yule," rather than "e-well." Why is that?
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When did 'the D' for penis come into common use?

I had never heard of this until last year, but suddenly everyone on the internet is using it. I was wondering where it came from and why it took off so quickly. eg. She wants the D.
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Please kill me or just shoot me now

Please kill me and (just) shoot me now are two common idiomatic colloquial expressions which are generally used to mean that you, metaphorically, would rather die than do something or to express the ...
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Etymology of the word 'galligu'?

I came across a word in an chemistry lecture which appears in plenty of places but none explaining where the word came from. The word in question is 'galligu' From wiktionary, Galligu 1. The ...
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Turn the world upside down

What does this expression really mean and where did it come from? I'm assuming that it means you are just hanging upside down. Maybe it means that your head is always hanging low and you are sad, ...
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Why “exhume” but not “exter”?

As far as I can find, there's this set of words for burying things and digging them up: inhume and inter, both meaning put into earth disinter (and apparently disinhume) meaning unput into earth ...
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Etymology of 'needs must'

Foreword: I read this, this short post which cites this longer explanation. All page numbers refer to A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (2005), by Huddleston & Pullum. ...
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Why can you 'ask somebody', but must 'enquire/query OF somebody'?

[ODO:] [1.] ask something of somebody [2.] ask somebody something [ODO:] [3.] enquire something of somebody = (formal) to ask somebody something Why does 'ask' NOT require a ...
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Origin of “blew his brains out” [closed]

I was thinking to myself, when suddenly a thought occurred to me: When was the first usage of "blew his brains out"? Example as used in sentence: He put the shotgun in his mouth with one shell in ...
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Origins and meaning of, “Ham and Egg it”?

This term was used by a MLB sports announcer yesterday (5/10/2015 - Padres vs. Diamondbacks @ 2:10:41) talking about relying on relief pitchers. “Diamondbacks today trying to ham and egg it with ...
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Who came up with “nothing propinks like propinquity”?

The Online Etymology Dictionary entry for the verb to approach references propinquity (NED, psychology, AHD, wiktionary) which contains a reference to an aphorism: late 14c., "nearness in ...
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From the “Baghdad bounce” to the “dead-cat bounce”

The world of finance has always been creative in using metaphors to describe financial phenomena. Specifically I am referring to a situation where financial market suffers a consistent fall and ...
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How did “meta” come to mean self-referential?

Meta is a very commonly-used term meaning self-referential. Oxford defines it as: (Of a creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential: the ...