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

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Why is it a “gene pool”?

Isn't it a bit odd to say that genes belong to or are a part of a "pool"? A pool is normally a body of water, e.g. a swimming pool Wikipedia explains The gene pool is the set of all genes, or ...
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origin of the expression “all over him/her like a cheap coat/suit”

I would like to know what is the origin of the expression "all over him/her like a cheap coat/suit". I Googled for it but didn't find any relevant entry. Anyone?
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Why is a disastrous mess called a “pig's ear”?

Looking at the results of yesterday's programming effort, I concluded that "I have made a right pig's ear of this." I then wondered, why a pig's ear? Does anyone know why pig's ear is used to mean ...
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Just as there are a few nicknames for the U.S. (“Uncle Sam”, “Columbia”, “Yankee Land”), are there nicknames for England, or the U.K. for that matter?

This may look like General Reference, but I've googled "list of nicknames for England", "list of nicknames for the United Kingdom", and all I got was "list of city nicknames in the United Kingdom" or ...
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Is there any “swearword” in English not associated with excrements, the genitals, sexual activity or religion? [on hold]

SWEARWORD - A popular term for a word or phrase that is obscene, abusive, and socially offensive. For some reason, all of them seem to be associated with excrements, sex and religion. Can you ...
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1answer
36 views

What is the meaning of “highway shops”?

I was curious what the meaning of "highway shops" is. It's related to the software industry, but I could not find much information about it. Also, I only found it being used in 2 places. From this SO ...
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Where does the phrase “fit to be tied” come from? Has its meaning become diluted?

While looking into an answer for "Sick and tied" and "sick and tired", I stumbled across the idiom fit to be tied which according to thefreedictionary means angry and agitated. (As ...
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Origins and meaning of “Put your money where your mouth is”

I heard this phrase uttered by a Canadian (from Vancouver) once; it left me in awe and elicited my curiosity. Wikipedia was not helpful. What is its origin? Is this expression used more in certain ...
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What is the origin and sense of the phrase “put up or shut up”?

In researching the recent EL&U question Origins and Interpretations of "Put your money where your mouth is", I repeatedly came across the seemingly related but older phrase “put up or ...
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aberrant vs errant

Aberrant seems a subset of the word errant. Thus, what's the effect of the Latin prefix 'ab-'? What are the similarities and differences? What's this phenomenon called, in which a prefix or suffix ...
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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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Are there any cases of a word that originated in English replacing another word in English in common usage?

I'm curious if there's any cases of a word that originated in English (didn't come from a foreign source) replacing another word in every day usage?
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Are the noun and verb forms of “badger” related etymologically?

Are the noun "badger", naming an animal, and the verb "to badger", describing the behavior of a person, related etymologically? Does the meaning of one come directly from the other? What about the ...
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What is the origin of “have a gander”? (When meaning “look”.)

The phrase "have a gander" meaning "have a look" is common in the UK. (Also can be "have a goosey gander" or just "have a goosey".) What is the origin/meaning of this phrase? I always assumed that it ...
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How does 'to partake of' develop to mean 'be characterized by'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind definition 3, that helps to internalise its meaning: 3. partake of = Be characterized by (a quality) [ODO] How does the etymology (listed in that link ...
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Who is the author of “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”?

I would like to know more about the proverb Absence makes the heart grow fonder. History notes The history of the proverb is proving quite interesting. In his literary work from 1650, Epistolae ...
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The antonym of Schadenfreude is “fribbly” - the joy in other people's joy. What is the origin of this new meaning?

For many years the word fribbly has been used, in various communities as the antonym of Schadenfreude. Rather than harm-joy or "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others". Fribbly is "Joy-Joy" ...
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When did “sale” become “sales event”?

It seems like during this generation somebody decided that a "sale" wasn't adequate to describe the selling of discounted goods. Can anyone shed light on the emergence of the "sales event," which ...
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Difference between “unto” and “to”

What are the differences between "unto" and "to"? It seems that in many contexts where the word "unto" is used, "to" could be substituted and would be perfectly correct. It reminds me of ...
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1answer
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Are “bunk” and “bunker” directly related?

When did the term bunk (in the sense of sleeping berth) arise, and what if any connection does it have to the noun bunker? Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) gives a first ...
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How did the meaning of “come off” as “succeed” or “take place” originate?

Example sentences: A television series that never came off (from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) He tried his Chaplin impression, but it didn't really come off. (from Wiktionary) The match ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “needle in a hay stack”?

What is the origin of the phrase "needle in a hay stack"? Initially I thought it was a game once played but I haven't found any mention of it outside of it's idiomatic use.
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“Never slap a man who's chewing tobacco”

Is this a proverb? What does it mean and what is the origin?
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How did “strike” get its baseball meaning?

Strike as an English word (meaning to hit) is certainly older than strike as a baseball term (meaning not to hit), so what puzzles me is that the word adopted for the action is the exact opposite of ...
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Is “hell of a” positive or negative?

I find it a very curious thing that the phrase "hell of a" seems to be suitable to describe both good and bad things. e.g. It was a great party. We had a hell of a time. vs We sold the ...
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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 ...
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“Brunette” vs. “brown” and “blonde” vs. “yellow”

Why is that we never use these terms interchangeably? I.e. one wouldn't say "I've painted my walls a deep brunette". Why is it that "brunette" and "blonde" are used exclusively in reference to hair ...
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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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“advert” and “adverse”: same etymoloty but unrelated meanings?

From Wiktionary and other similar sources like etymonline, the meanings of "advert" and "adverse" are: advert: turn attention adverse: Unfavorable; antagonistic in purpose or effect; ...
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What is the origin and meaning of conniption dido

My mother who was born in 1917 used this term just as someone might use conniption fit. When I asked her where the word dido came from she said that her grandmother used it. I can't find anything that ...
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Etymological root and usage of 'create'

Does create come from the Latin word creatra? Is it linguistically correct for a person to use the word 'Create' for other than the meaning of bringing from non-existence into existence, which is ...
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What is the source of the expression “nothing at all”?

I'm looking for the source of the distinction between "nothing" and the nearly equivalent phrase "nothing at all." In common usage the two are synonymous, but the preposition "at all" seems to ...
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Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coin the proverb “A change is as good as a rest”?

The proverb a change is as good as a rest is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: A change of work or occupation can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation Cambridge ...
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Italian vs Italic

Although English is not my mothertongue, I am pretty sure the adjective for the modern country Italy is Italian as in Italian restaurant or Italian cars. I have just used the italic font for emphasis ...
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How did 'inure' evolve into these two disparate meanings?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 1 with object that helps to remember its meaning: 1. inure = (usually be inured to) Accustom (someone) to something, especially something ...
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What does “flustrated” mean, and is it a word?

What does the flustrated mean? Is it even a word? I am using Lingea Lexicon and it doesn’t know this word, but the Internet is full of it. I find myself hating people for using it both in English ...
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Origin of “hating on”

What is the origin of the slang phrase hating on? Google Trends suggests that the phrase did not enter the lexicon until early 2009. I'm curious where the phrase originated. As Stefano Palazzo ...
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How did the phrase “are you nuts” come about?

What is the connection between "nut" and the character? How was the phrase "are you nuts?" used at first?
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How/why was the word “organic” chosen to represent natural foods or foods without chemicals?

I've always understood an object or item to be organic when carbon is a component of its composition, as noted in the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry. Now I see organic foods, and ...
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Which language do most polysyllabic words in the english language come from?

I am doing an english project and can't find any information on this topic. Help is much appreciated!! thanks
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Do you know the meaning of the American idiom “pot calling the kettle black”?

I just want to conduct a research about this American idiom and how native American people use it. Can you guys answer my questions in the following orders? If you have better questions, I will be ...
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What is the origin of “in a jiffy”?

What is the origin of "in a jiffy"? Etymology online Dictionary says origin unknown but speculates that it was slang (cant) for lightning and dates it as 1785. Wikipedia agrees but adds that the ...
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49 views

A “Sterling” Job [closed]

Where does "sterling" as in "did a sterling job" or "that was a sterling effort" come from? Is it to do with pound sterling, and its historical strength? Or is it a more recent term referring to Sir ...
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134 views

Origin of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”

One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (according to Stephen Covey) is: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood What is the origin of this phrase? My guess is that it was ...
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How did homonyms come into existence?

Words like bank, bat, bear, fine, fair, number, row, etc., each have multiple meanings but are pronounced and spelled in the same way. How can one word mean different things?
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Where and when did “Bucket List” come to mean what it does today?

I'm not sure I had even heard the term "bucket list" until the movie came out. I get the feeling though that the term long predates the movie. Can anyone identify how "bucket list" came to mean what ...
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“Such is life, and every day is getting sucher and sucher”

Where did this saying come from? Such is life, and every day is getting sucher and sucher. It doesn't make any sense to me, perhaps because I'm not a native English speaker. Can someone explain? ...
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How many languages have contributed loan words to English? [closed]

That is to say, is there a way of quantifying how many languages have lent a word to Modern English? There is clearly some considerable diversity, e.g.: Guugu Yimidhirr: gangurru (kangaroo) Swahili: ...
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Why do we call some full moons “blue” when they're not?

I've heard the phrase "once in a blue moon" used to mean "once in a great while". Looking it up on Wikipedia revealed that "blue moon" originally meant the third full moon in a season with four full ...
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How did 'provide' evolve to mean 'stipulate in a document'? [closed]

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 3 that helps to internalise its meaning: 3. to provide [with clause] = Stipulate in a will or other legal document: Etymonline doesn't ...