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

learn more… | top users | synonyms (2)

6
votes
5answers
16k views

Where do the words for daughter, son, aunt, uncle, mother, father, cousin, nephew, niece come from?

Please see Title. I'm not specifically referring to which language they came from... but if they come from something else. In other words, do they come from words with other meanings. For example, do ...
2
votes
3answers
91 views

Right Good but Left Bad

While examining the definition/etymology of the adjective sinister, I noticed its senses of EVIL, ILL-FORTUNE, and general inauspiciousness, as well as explicit references to the noun/adjective LEFT. ...
1
vote
2answers
52 views

How did 'forthwith' evolve to mean 'immediately'?

[OED:] Etymology: For forth with (preposition), = earlier forth mid, along with, see forth adv. 2c. The adverb forthwith originates from this phrase, the preposition being used absol. or with ...
2
votes
6answers
3k views

What is the origin of “rag” meaning newspaper?

In Australia and the UK, some folks refer to a newspaper as a rag, and I am curious how this term was coined. Although most people would ask for a newspaper, I have gone around asking "Have you got a ...
4
votes
3answers
4k views

What is the origin of 'common or garden'?

Why do we speak, for example, of a 'common or garden' bicycle, meaning one that simply does the job of a bicycle without alloy wheels, Sir Bradley Wiggins pedals or any other bells and whistles. ...
2
votes
1answer
163 views

A word that describes different forms of the same word?

Is there a word that describes the many different forms of a root word (and I don't mean tense). In this example specifically the root word would be compare...and the form of it is comparatively. But ...
0
votes
1answer
26 views

Are these two meanings of “phenomenal” related?

I had seen the word phenomenal translated into Chinese words with an equivalent meaning "of phenomenon" in more and more text especially regarding sports. For example, LeBron James had a ...
2
votes
4answers
5k views

Origin of “zero”

Dictionary.com gave the origin as: 1595–1605; < Italian < Medieval Latin zephirum < Arabic ṣifr cipher I'm just wondering who coined the actual English term 'zero'? I know that ...
5
votes
8answers
16k 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 ...
0
votes
6answers
2k views

Etymology of “Given up the ghost”

What is the origin of the phrase "Given up the ghost"? e.g. "After 10 years, my DVD player has finally given up the ghost." Does it have a religious connotation?
14
votes
2answers
4k views

Is there any relation between “genius” and “ingenious”?

They seems to mean the same thing, yet when spoken they sound like the negative of each other. What's the secret behind those two words?
10
votes
6answers
5k views

Why are reveries sometimes called “brown” studies?

Though this idiom is by no means very common, one comes across it now and then. (I just came across it again today, which is why I'm asking this question.) Why is a "brown study" so named?
1
vote
3answers
45 views

Why is “preconceive” wrong?

Spell checks always mark it as wrong, though its initial existence is pre + conceive; but it is always corrected to "preconceived." What about situations like this though? People preconceive ...
2
votes
3answers
3k views

What is the origin of the phrase “wind your neck in!”?

I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on the origin of the phrase in title.
30
votes
5answers
3k views

Origins of “turn over in his grave”?; “turn over in her grave”? etc., etc

The best result of my google-search for the origins of the idiomatic phrase, “turn over in the grave” was this, from wikipedia: One of the earliest uses is found in William Thackeray's 1849 work ...
7
votes
2answers
583 views

How much of the English language comes from each of its influences?

I was watching a video linked in this answer and it made the following claim: [...] like most words in English is derived from German. That got me thinking. While I know that Germanic languages ...
2
votes
5answers
4k views

Origin of “to have an axe to grind”

Where does the idiom to have an axe to grind come from? To have personal, selfish reasons to do or say something.
7
votes
3answers
1k views

Is “fasciae” related to “fascism”?

Somebody used fasciae in a game I was playing (it was the bundle of sticks or twigs carried by Roman consuls as symbols of their authority). Can anyone tell me if it is related to fascism as a word?
3
votes
1answer
39 views

Did “Dutch defence” pre-date the chess term?

Did the phrase "Dutch defence" pre-date the use of the term in chess? The Wikipedia article on Dutch Defence says the concept described by the term originated in the 18th century: Elias Stein ...
3
votes
6answers
8k views

Origin of “to blow your own horn”

What's the origin of the idiom "to blow your own horn"? Is there some metaphor behind it with some animal horn or whatnot?
14
votes
3answers
5k views

Is “Dutch wife” one of those “Dutch words”?

The term "Dutch wife" is listed as having several somewhat related meanings. Wiktionary describes it as meaning 1) a body-length pillow, 2) a wicker or bamboo tube that someone sleeps in (also called ...
0
votes
1answer
92 views

Etymology: to till the land

OED gives a connection between the German verb zielen and the English preposition till. The semantic connection between German zielen and the verb till (cultivating land) seems a bit far-fetched. I ...
0
votes
2answers
54 views

How did “but” mean “only”?

but (adv., prep.) : Old English butan, buton "unless, except; without, outside," [...] I don't know Old English. From the étymons overhead, how did but change semantically to mean but ...
0
votes
2answers
66 views

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 ...
0
votes
1answer
44 views

Why do all new words come from English?

English used to import words from other languages. I was listening to a French station and they used the words 'hate-free zone' and 'selfie'. The last time I remember English using importing a foreign ...
6
votes
5answers
803 views

Why “Koran” changed to “Quran”?

According to the article Quran or Koran?, in 2000, AP started to use Quran instead of the more familiar Koran. Does anybody have information as to why this happened, and why newspapers today are ...
7
votes
5answers
1k views

When did “phone” become accepted as its own word?

In older print publications, I have come across telephone shortened to 'phone, with an apostrophe to mark where the beginning of the word had been omitted. Now, however, phone does not need an ...
11
votes
8answers
12k views

Where did the idiom “giving a heads up” come from?

I know giving heads up means to inform someone, but how does that relate to the literal meaning i.e. giving heads up? What's the background? Where did it come from?
9
votes
3answers
254 views

What is the origin of “GO + VERB + ING”?

The construction GO + V + ING is among one of the first things a learner is taught. Take for instance the verb swim, very often English expresses the activity in the present simple like this: I go ...
8
votes
5answers
4k views

To what do the “letters” in the title “a man of letters” refer?

The term man of letters, as I understand it, was used in the 18th and 19th centuries to describe an individual who lived a marked intellectual life; who might, for example, own a large library, ...
2
votes
2answers
1k views
1
vote
1answer
59 views

A true proven origin of “copy that” [duplicate]

I always thought that "I copy that" was derived from an Italian "capisci" (capire = understand), but today I've read that this may be a radio slang only, not being derived from any other phrase. What ...
4
votes
5answers
1k views

Looking for etymology or information on the alternate meaning of “I don't care to X”

Unless I'm mistaken, in most of the English speaking world, the phrase "I don't care to X" indicates that the speaker prefers not to do the particular activity. However, as I was reminded during a ...
0
votes
1answer
50 views

petabyte vs terabyte, which one? [closed]

I assume they both has meaning like "million gigabyte", right? Then, why two words are coming out to English world?
2
votes
5answers
125 views

The origin of the word “Pink” [closed]

I do not know how else to put the question. On my third attempt, what is the origin of the word "pink" in the English language?
25
votes
5answers
6k views

Where on Earth is “penguin” from?

Fact or fallacy? It's one of those things you hear or casually read somewhere that sticks with you. The word penguin is derived from Welsh; pen refers to "head", while gywn means "white". Well, it's ...
0
votes
1answer
46 views

Etymology of 'patch' in the verb 'dispatch'

dispatch (v.) [<--] 1510s, "to send off in a hurry," from a word in Spanish (despachar "expedite, hasten") or Italian (dispacciare "to dispatch"). For first element, see dis-. The exact ...
16
votes
4answers
7k views

Origin/reason for the expression “on the bus” instead of “in the bus”

This is sort of a follow up to my question here. I was told a while ago that the reason why we use "on the bus" instead of "in the bus" is because back in the day buses were open, that is, they ...
68
votes
10answers
9k views

Is “denigrate” a racist word? [duplicate]

A few years ago I was told not to use that word because, in addition to its negative meaning, it comes from Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare, which means to blacken. Therefore, "to ...
2
votes
4answers
7k views

Origins of the current meaning of stick-in-the-mud

A quick web search shows several pertinent results for the etymology of the phrase stick in the mud, for example http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/stick-in-the-mud.html, which indicates early usages ...
20
votes
2answers
22k views

“Awesome” vs. “Awful”

How did the English language come to this? The play was awful. Is the complete opposite of The play was awesome. But if you break it down to awe followed by ful or some, it doesn't ...
-3
votes
0answers
50 views

What is the etymology of the word “tallow” (rendered cow fat)? [closed]

I am sure that a quick Google search could tell me this information, but I would prefer the more conversational atmosphere that StackExchange provides.
4
votes
4answers
558 views

Etymology of “manhole”

I don't think man stands for male here, I think it stands for human—it is a humanhole. Does it have this name because its purpose is to provide access to the sewer for men?
0
votes
1answer
28 views

How did the postverbal prepositions originate in 'to treat of' and 'to treat on'?

[OED:] [2.] a. {intransitive} To deal with some matter in speech or writing; to discourse. (In quot. 1517 transf. of pictorial representation.) Const. of, formerly also on, upon. How did of or ...
7
votes
2answers
443 views

Why is the 't' silent in 'christen'?

The audio clips at ODO do not vocalise any sound resembling a 't', and the IPA contains no 't': BrE  /ˈkrɪsn/   ;   NAmE  /ˈkrɪsn The 't' in 'christen' and 'hasten' (mooted by this comment in a ...
6
votes
2answers
352 views

Is 'until' a tautology?

The OED's definition of the word 'until' lists the following as its etymology: Middle English: from Old Norse und 'as far as' + till (the sense thus duplicated) Etymonline similarly states: ...
1
vote
3answers
55 views

Why aren't optical illusions called visual illusions?

It seems to me that "optical" relates more to the mechanics of light and vision, whereas "visual" is a much broader term. For example, hallucinations are classed as "visual" or "auditory", rather ...
3
votes
1answer
58 views

Why is the word “Raubritter” (from German) used in English as the name of a rose? [on hold]

The German word "Raubritter" was used as an alias for a German knight with Robin Hood's style. Now it is used in English as a name of a rose. How did this come to be?
1
vote
1answer
77 views

Skeat's abbreviation “Cot.” [closed]

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.