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

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How did 'fast' evolve to mean 'quick', from 'firm'?

[ OED on 'fast' (adv.) :] 6.a. Quickly, rapidly, swiftly. For the development of this sense from the primary sense ‘firmly’, cf. 1d, 4, 5, and expressions like ‘to run hard’. It does not appear ...
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What is the word and/or process used to describe mashing two words together or inserting phonetic sounds to create new written words?

The question Portmanteau seems to apply in cases like: Phablet - Bigger than a smart phone, smaller than a tablet. Smog - Smoke and fog. Vlog - Video and blog. There must be another word for ...
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Meaning of once and while in “once in a while”

How did "once in a while" come to mean "occasionally, from time to time"? I understand it is an idiomatic usage, but "once" means "one time" and "while" means "in the meantime" , so how can the ...
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71 views

“On” and “Off” for Lights, Electrical Switches, etc

Simple question: Why were the prepositions "on" and "off" used for things like "The lights are on" and "The computer is off", and when did these words gain their new usage? I'm guessing back in the ...
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106 views

Etymology of the word “smaragd”?

I know that this word is used to describe a variation of an emerald, although many dictionaries do not include this word. One that does is Merriam-Webster: Middle English smaragde, from Latin ...
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What is the origin of 'as long as' meaning 'on condition that'?

According to dictionaries 'as long as' means "during a period of time" (as long as you live), but it also means "on the condition that" (I will attend the conference as long as I can arrive on time). ...
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108 views

What's the origin of the phrase - “For the life of me”?

The ODO definition is: (informal) However hard I try; even if my life depended on it I have come across this phrase quite a lot of times in EL&U: For the life of me, I can't remember that ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “triple threat”?

"Triple threat" means things in different contexts. For performers, it refers to someone who excels at acting, singing, and dancing. In basketball, it refers to a person who has the option to pass, ...
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Why isn't there a word for the super-type of people and businesses?

I was originally framing this question as a search for the 'right word' but the site's suggestions pointed me to a previous question that was almost identical. So I'll turn the question around and ...
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Origin of “island time”

Though it's only mentioned in Urban Dictionary, I know the meaning of "island time", which is more or less where the locals aren't too stressed about being on time. But what's the origin of the ...
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What was the usage of EModE’s four-form system for answering yes–no questions?

It is well-known that Early Modern English, if not earlier forms of English too, had a four-form system for answering yes–no questions. ‘Yea’ and ‘nay’ answered questions phrased positively (analogous ...
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Where does “the sky is falling” come from?

According to Wikipedia the common expression "the sky is falling" is from a folk tale: Henny Penny, more commonly known in the United States as "Chicken Little" and sometimes as "Chicken ...
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Does “Hang a Shingle” refer only to lawyers starting their own business?

I guess I've only heard it used to refer to lawyers. Is the term exclusive to lawyers?
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What did Terry Pratchett mean by “avec”?

Terry Pratchett used in his disc world novels the word "avec" as a common food ingredient for french (in his books named "quirmian" or "Quirm" for the country) food. Excerpt from "Snuff" by Terry ...
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Does the idiom “in check” come from chess? [closed]

I was recently arguing with a friend that the idiom "in check" comes from chess. With the meaning that keeping someone or something "in check" restrains its choices and limits its actions, this seems ...
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Origin of phrase “passing the trash”

In broadest terms, the phrase Passing the Trash describes dealing with corrupt individuals by giving them transfers, new job titles or even promotions. However, a quick search with Google suggests ...
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Idiom whose etymology involves misunderstanding the original meaning

I found this question on a rather fascinating (if unapologetically prescriptivist) website: Is there any idiom -- not a single word, but a full phrase -- whose meaning has changed over the years, ...
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Up in Annie's room behind the wall paper

My dad had a lot of phrases which I have not been able to identify the origins of. He would use "up in Annie's room behind the wallpaper" in much the same way as "to see a man about a dog" is used - ...
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the usage and etymology of the expression “I bags that”

This expression is used when you want to reserve or secure the right to do or to have something: he bagged the best chair. I see this listed as Australian slang but also have noticed references its ...
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What made the “worst case scenario” a popular expression?

A worst-case scenario is a cliché that refers to: the worse possible future outcome. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms) Though the meaning is quite intuitive, the ...
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Yod dropping - Why is there a distinction in the pronunciations of “sewn” and “hewn”?

"Sewn" is pronounced /sōn/, whereas "hewn" is pronounced /hyo͞on/. Is there a reason for the difference in their pronunciations despite their spellings and origins being similar?
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Metaphysician vs Metaphysicist

A practitioner of physics is known as a physicist. It seems like it would logically follow that a practitioner of metaphysics would be known as a metaphysicist; yet, in every text I've read, a ...
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What's the origin of the word “nachos”? [closed]

Just like it says on the tin! Looking for root words or early usages, ideally "first usage" or an unambiguous etymological origin.
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Is there any relation between the meanings of the word “cataract”?

Oxford defines "cataract" as "a steep waterfall" as well as gives the more common meaning of the word i.e. the medical condition that causes a loss of sight. Also, "cataract", as meaning ...
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Etymology: predicament

Can anyone explain how predicament from the Latin word family dicere ‘to say’ and praedicare, can develop the meaning precarious situation? Etymonline can't. early 15c., "category, class; one of ...
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Was “sexting” an Australian slang term originally?

To sext, (usually as noun sexting) refers to: sending (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone: Its earliest usage appears to be from 2005, thought other ...
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Preservation of the en- prefix form of Latin negative prefix in-, in enemy & enmity

The "en" in "enemy" is a prefix, meaning not: the origin is Latin inimicus, from in + amicus - a "not friend" or an "unfriend". http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=enemy The Latin in- changes to ...
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Were tongue twisters meant for fun? Or were they intended for improving speech?

Of late, I have been reading and saying out loud a few tongue twisters in English after picking them up in one of the Facebook shares. While tongue twisters probably exist in all languages ever ...
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The striking interference of youthful reading

OED Online gives this meaning for 'to interfere with': Const. with: to molest or assault sexually. ["interfere, v.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. ...
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What does plaster in “plaster saint” refer to?

The saying plaster saint is used to refer to: A person who makes a show of being without moral faults or human weakness, especially in a hypocritical way. (ODO) The expression is ...
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Origin of the “to hit someone” definition of “clocked” [closed]

Google's second definition for "clock" is: informal hit (someone), especially on the head. "someone clocked him for no good reason" What is the origin of this usage of the term?
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“Should it go through the formality of actually happening …”

When did phrases such as go through the formality of taking place and its logical equivalents (such as going through or experiencing the formality of actually happening or existing or ...
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“All-American” … which usage came first?

In the U.S., "All-American" can mean two things. (1) It can be used as a general phrase, meaning simply clean-cut and middle class. "He's the all-American boy" is a cliché sentence. Note, this usage ...
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“Explicit”, “classified”, “graphic” - did these words originate as abbreviations of longer phrases?

Explicit means clearly stated. Classified means assigned to a class. Graphic means pictorial. But these words have second meanings (respectively: offensive, secret, depicting something violent). Can ...
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What is the etymology of the term “form factor”?

I'm a theoretical physicist, and am doing some work on quantities called form factors. To an expert, a form factor says something about scattering particles from fields. This probably originated from ...
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Origin of 'Dutch Courage'

I was wondering if anyone could shed some more definite light on the origin of the phrase 'Dutch Courage.' I have found two, almost certainly apocryphal, origins: 1: From the Thirty Years War in ...
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When did the phrase “eat sh*t” enter the English Language?

I'm reading a book, The Known World by Edward P. Jones. It is a very well written book about Black slave owners before the Civil War, that is, freed slaves who went on to own slaves themselves. The ...
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Etymology of “Wincolmlee”

In my travels around northern England I have found myself in Wincolmlee in the fair city of Kingston-upon-Hull, and also near Wincomblee in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. These places are both on the riverside ...
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Origin of “The first step is always the hardest”

I'm looking for the period when the American proverb The first step is always the hardest first appeared. Google Ngram won't let me do the search because the phrase contains more than 5 symbols.
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Why is it “description” but “describe” (b and p)?

I've just wondered by it is "description", but "to describe". It looks as if "to descripe" would be a more consistant choice. Is there any other explanation besides "this is how it is written for ...
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“Digital computer” in the 1940s

I was watching the DVD movie Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped crack the Nazi's enigma code in WWII. In one key scene, Turing uses the ...
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Dank memes. But why?

On the internet, when talking about memes, a "dank meme" means old and out-played. According to Wiktionary, "dank" means "to moisten, dampen; used of mist, dew etc.". This doesn't sound like the ...
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Why is German anti-aircraft fire called “Archibald”?

Reading The War Illustrated (January 30th, 1915 number), I came across this passage:- At this speed they offer a comparatively stationary mark for the German anti-aircraft guns, always known as ...
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Arcology (Paolo Soleri)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcology Says Paolo coined the word. But the concept was in use in SF as early as 1899. I'd like to know when this word was coined, so that I could check my old SF to ...
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Why are “muscle cars” called so?

Merriam-Webster defines muscle car as: any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving Why is this term restricted to ...
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Origin and usage of “stay the course”

The popular expression stay the course means: Hold or persevere to the end, as in: "No, he's not resigning; he's going to stay the course." According the AHD this metaphoric expression, ...
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Where does “contango” come from?

Contango is a very common term in financial business that originally referred to: (on the London stock exchange) a fee paid by a buyer of securities to the seller for the privilege of ...
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Since when do scouts look, rather than listen?

Scout (verb) seems to be attested in English from late 14c.: "observe or explore as a scout, travel in search of information," from Old French escouter "to listen, heed" (Modern French écouter). ...
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Is the name Germany derived from the Spanish “hermano”? [closed]

Could the current term "Germany" have any roots or derivation in the Latin germānus, Spanish hermano, hence "land of brothers," i.e. "Anglo-Saxon brothers? hermano From Old Spanish ermano, from ...
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Origin and usage of “celestial openness”.

I've recently come across the expression "celestial openness" used to refer to high receptiveness of a child's mind: Dr. Kuhl talks about the ‘celestial openness’ of a child’s mind, and ...