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

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Is the phrase “awaiting customer” bad English?

In customer support software, issue tracking systems and the like, I frequently see a state titled awaiting customer to signify no action is required until the person (customer) who raised the issue ...
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528 views

When and why did the N-word and “negro” go apart?

Both the terms nigger and negro come from the Spanish and Portuguese Negro which denotes "black". But today they have widely different connotations, the former is considered a horrible racial slur, ...
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What is the origin of “Pipped at the post”?

Why pipped? I guess that the post is to do with horse racing - as in the post was the finish line? I could be totally wrong there.
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Why do we say “as it were”?

In English we often add "as it were" to indicate that a phrase is not to be taken literally; for example: He's flown from the nest, as it were. ... would indicate that a boy has left his ...
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Why “hoist” in “Hoist with one's own petard”?

He was hoist with his own petard is one of my father's favorite phrases. As a child I had developed a vague understanding of the idiom in which petard was a kind of flag, which is why it was hoist, ...
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What does it mean to drag something in “by the stamp?” [on hold]

In a 1944 radio skit, Fibber McGee says another character dragged something in "by the stamp." Is the stamp a reference to rationing stamps used during WWII?
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What is the origin and meaning of “racing to a red light”?

During the third episode of the HBO show "True Detective" the following dialogue is exchanged: Cop 1: "Certain linguist anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites ...
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432 views

Why has the word “thrice” fallen out of common usage?

I'm an American living in America, but my workplace has a lot of immigrants from India here. They all use "thrice" very commonly, which is wonderful to my ears! Thrice is such a delightful word. ...
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Origin of “bite your tongue” as a response

When someone says something unpleasant or rude, often the reply is "Bite your tongue!". But where did this come from? I can find a number of sources explaining that to bite one's tongue is to hold it ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “two nations divided by a common language”?

What is the origin of the phrase "two nations divided by a common language"? I have seen it attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill. The most likely looking source ...
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Origin of “how we/I roll”?

The phrase "that's how we roll" (along with variants) seems to have become increasingly popular in recent years. It appears to draw attention to one's behavior or policies, asserting -- sometimes ...
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What is the etymology of “board” as found in “room and board”?

How did board come to be associated with meals? I am referring to this definition of board: regular meals or the amount paid for them in a place of lodging (noun, Wiktionary) daily meals, ...
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Etymology of “German” and “germane”

"German" is an adjective referring to anything from Germany. However, I recently stepped across this word "germane". "Germane" means to be "closely related". Being interested, I looked up its history, ...
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42 views

ten versus teen [duplicate]

Why is it "teen" instead of ten? Where did the word "teen" originate? When you say "sixteen" you are obviously saying six and ten. How did it become six and teen? I already saw the post on "Why do ...
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8k views

If you can be “discombobulated”, is it possible to be “combobulated”?

I've often heard the word "discombobulated" used. But I've never heard of something being "combobulated", and it's not in any dictionary I've looked at. If "combobulated" is not word, where did ...
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“Shnide”? “Schneid”? Which is it and what's this term's origin?

"Getting off the shnide." (Obviously I'm not sure of the spelling.) It's an expression I hear almost exclusively in sports commentary to indicate a team has finally won a game after a protracted ...
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230 views

Eww! Has it crossed the pond yet?

I hear eww (sometimes spelt as ew) fairly regularly on American sitcoms, usually uttered by a scatterbrained beautiful blonde girl when she sees or hears something disgusting. I don't recall it ever ...
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“Emigrant” vs. “immigrant”

While studying one word substitution I came across these two words, what I understood till now is like this: Emigrant: One who leaves his own country to reside to another. Immigrant: A person who ...
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Water : Aquatic :: Sand : xxx?

Just as aquatic is to water and aerial is to air, what is an equivalent word for sand (or earth, I suppose)? For context, I’m trying to describe the locomotion of worms within desert sand (as opposed ...
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What determines the pronunciation of the prefix 'arch-'? [duplicate]

In the case of an archbishop, or archvillian it is pronounced arch. In the case of archetype, it is prounounced ark-e-type In the case of an archenemy I think you would say ark - enemy Is it simply ...
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What do rodents do?

I wonder if there is a English verb to express the way rodents (rats, mice, etc.) bite on something they are trying to eat or bite. In Portuguese we have the verb roer which comes from roedor which ...
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1answer
170 views

“mark” in generational naming of products

What is the story behind the word mark as a synonym for version in products, such as Canon 5D Mark III or Aston Martin DB Mark III?
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What does “thy” mean?

I read a sentence containing the word thy, but I cannot find the meaning of that word. Is it older English, or is it still used in contemporary English today?
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How did the word “chunter” come about?

Did it arise from a mixture of chattering and murmuring?
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The words “objective” and “subjective”

We say subjective to indicate that something is based on feelings and opinions, and objective to indicate the opposite. Why are these the same words as objective and subjective referring, in grammar, ...
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The origin of “the long and the short of it”

I am not after the meaning, I am wondering how this phrase originated.
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Oneteen, Twoteen, Threeteen, Fiveteen [duplicate]

I was wondering why we say eleven, twelve, thirteen and fifteen instead of oneteen, twoteen, threeteen and fiveteen? And where does "teen" come from? I would assume it derives from ten making me ...
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Why does 'threescore' mean sixty? [closed]

I wonder why threescore means sixty. I only found it means three times twenty, the math is correct, yet what link between twenty and "score" ?
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Definition of 'Eucharist' [closed]

From varied dictionaries dating from Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755 to Webster's International Dictionary of 1947 the definition of Eucharist is either thanksgiving or emblems of the sacrament ...
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Is it “a tough row to hoe?”, or “a tough road to hold?”

Is it an old farming metaphor, or a military saying? Where did this(these) saying(s) originate?
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231 views

Distinguishing between “opposites” of “ortho-”

There is a class of transformations in physics called "orthochronous", meaning that they preserve the direction of time's flow. ("Ortho-" from the Greek for 'straight' or 'right'?) As far as I am ...
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What is the origin of the slang term “book” meaning “leave” or “hurry”?

This verb is used in expressions such as “I’ll see you later – gotta book now”. Dictionary.com has: Slang. b. to leave; depart: I’m bored with this party, let’s book.¹ Anybody know the ...
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Trans vs Transgender vs Transsexual

As I understand it, trans means "an individual whose gender identity is different than what they were designated at birth". However, I also hear the terms transgender and transsexual used for similar ...
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Rhetoric vs. Mathematics: ellipsis/ellipse, parable/parabola, hyperbole/hyperbola

Do ellipsis, parable, and hyperbole from rhetoric have anything in common with the geometric curves ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola used in mathematics? There are three geometric curves known as ...
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What is the origin of the phrase 'Variety is the spice of life'? [closed]

I often find myself using the phrase variety is the spice of life when referring to differences in objects. Where did this phrase originate from?
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What is the etymology of “fanboi”?

In a recent Daring Fireball post, John Gruber wondered about the origin of "fanboi" as a spelling of "fanboy". I tried searching for this, but couldn't find anything definitive. Harry McCracken has ...
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How come “wise man” and “wise guy” have opposite connotations?

wise man: a sage a wise and trusted guide and advisor wise guy: a smart aleck a person who is given to making conceited, sardonic, or insolent comments ...
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Where did the term 'moral fiber' come from?

I was reading a novel that used the term moral fiber - defined as strength of character - the other day and it occurred to me that it was a somewhat strange conjunction of terms. It sort of conjured ...
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What does “rachet” mean and when was it first used?

The word ratchet is all over Twitter. Some real examples from just now: "All these ghetto ass ratchet ass girls at mchi are wearing these Santa hats, and they all claim to be Santa..." "I was ...
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“Take a photo” — why “take”?

I don't understand why it's "take a photo". Why take? Is there any rule for this?
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544 views

Why is imperialism not spelled empirialism?

If the goal of imperialism is to create an empire, why is the word not spelled "empirialism"?
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91 views

Did “brushwoodsmen” exist?

While talking to someone about surnames and ties to various jobs in the past ("Coopers" worked on barrels, "Smiths" made things, etc.) I asked about "Brushwood". He said that name tied to ...
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839 views

The U in “Glamour”

Why, in US English, does the word glamour retain its u while humour, neighbour, and others have shed it?
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553 views

Does milk toast, milk-toast, or milktoast mean the same as milquetoast?

So of late I've been hearing a lot of people call other people (or their actions) milk toast. I thought it was weird because those two words should conjure up breakfast food and not "spineless". So I ...
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“Any way, shape, or form”

"[In] any way, shape, or form" is a rhetorical idiom, in which shape and form tend to function as intensifiers. It is normally used for emphasis where the non-idiomatic phrases "[in] any way" or (less ...
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“Sober as a judge” vs. “Drunk as a lord”. Why judge? Why lord?

Sober as a judge is a simile that is used for someone completely sober. Drunk as a lord is a simile that is used for someone completely drunk. Why is judge equated with sobriety and lord with ...
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Where does the slang word “bad” + “ass” (badass) come from?

What is the origin of the word badass? Why a "bad" ass/"bad" + "ass"? What is an ass that is bad and how can an ass that is bad describe a tough person?
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Why does the word “tortilla” refer to three distinct types of edibles?

The crisps[BrEn]/chips[AmEn] that are made of corn (and probably not deep-fried) are called tortilla: The wraps with that special taste, are called tortila: And then, the omelet-like meal is ...
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What is the origin of the term “toots” to refer to a woman?

When speaking to my female friends (who know me well enough to not take offense), I frequently use the term toots to refer to them. These are friends who know that I'm using it ironically as part of ...
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“See you in the funny papers”: etymology and meaning

I've heard people saying that "See you in the funny papers" means "I'll see you later," as in "Good Bye," but I always thought that it means "Good bye," as in "I'll never see you again." I thought ...