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

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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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Where does the word “snogging” come from?

Where does the word snogging come from, in the sense of canoodling? I’m looking for it etymology, not for its connotation or phonoaesthetic properties, as the answer of the other question provides. ...
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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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“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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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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What is the history of “nil” in British football /soccer?

In British football if neither team scores a goal, the score is said to be: nil-nil or nil-nil draw. Curiously, the winning team's results are always spoken first. So if Arsenal are playing home the ...
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What are the origins of using “bee” to mean a competition, as in a “spelling bee”?

I find it interesting that they decided to call a spelling competition a spelling bee. How did the word bee come to also mean a competition, not just an insect?
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Where did the phrase “shut up” as an expression of disbelief or amazement originate?

I recently heard shut up used according to this definition in Urban dictionary. shut·up (shuht-up) --interjection 1. An expression of disbelief. 2. Amazement; astonishment. I've only ...
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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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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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Where did the adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” come from?

In connection with my questions about the meaning of Pope Francis’s, remarks - 'Who am I to judge?' / 'You can add more water to the beans'. I found the following statement in a New York Times (July ...
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Are there any “fake” French words used in English?

Are there any "fake" French words used in English? By "fake French" I mean words that are of French origin but are not actually correct French. This could happen if the word changes as it becomes ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “pilgrims and strangers in the/this world”?

I came across the phrase "we are pilgrims, and strangers in the world" recently in something I was reading and made a note of it. I remembered reading it in David Copperfield, but I seem to have been ...
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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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Origin of “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide”?

What is the origin of the phrase You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. I see it occasionally bounced around, sometimes as an authoritarian slogan. Brief research indicates some ...
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What are the patterns/rules for determining U.S. state abbreviations? [on hold]

I vaguely recall memorizing the state abbreviations in grades school. And I seem to remember my teacher sharing a few ground rules for helping us memorize them. No two states may have the same ...
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Is 'Safari' really an English word, and what are its origins?

We are all used to this word safari. I think most people will agree that its usage is ubiquitous when referring to going for holiday (esp. overland travel in Africa). So is this word a true English ...
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“running a fever” origin

I'm running a fever/temperature. I have a student who likes to ask where idioms come from. Since the meanings are not literal, it is challenging for her to remember them. It often helps her to ...
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Does the term “garbledy gook” have racist origins?

For me, the term garbledy gook simply means garbage; unintelligible text or speech. An example usage would be: If you open that binary file in notepad, you'll just see a load of garbledy gook ...
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Etymology of 'doylum'

Doylum was a word commonly used in Leeds, Yorkshire, North of England, where I grew up in the 1960s/70s. It basically means idiot - "What a doylum!" At the time I thought this was strictly a Leeds ...
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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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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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'want' vs 'want for' vs 'want of'

[OED:] want {verb} = 1. a. intr. To be lacking or missing; not to exist; not to be forthcoming; to be deficient in quantity or degree. In early use const. with dative or to. rare since the 17th ...
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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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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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What are some pseudo-Spanish words used in English? [on hold]

We've done justice to pseudo-Gallicisms and pseudo-Italianisms. "Fake" Spanish words in English ought to be at least as numerous and ubiquitous. Or are they? That is the question.
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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 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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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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Origin of “I fart in your general direction”

I grew up knowing the insulting phrase "I fart in your general direction", and recently saw it used by John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (apparently its most famous usage): ...
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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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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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Idiom: to be off the wall

When I come across idioms that are not transparent I try to find out what is behind such expressions. In the case of "to be off the wall" one does not see anything that might lead to the meaning ...
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Adjective form of the verb despise?

Saw the title of the movie where minions come out - "Despicable Me" - I was curious, as despicable has the suffix -able, what would be its verb form? Then, I thought, is it de-spice? Which made me ...
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Origins of the “‑cede/‑sede/‑ceed” suffix

Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember that cedere meant “to go or yield” in Latin. Presumably this gives us the words concede and accede. (?) But what about the words supersede and ...
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History of “asylum seeker” versus “refugee”

What is the history of the term "asylum seeker" as a slightly pejorative replacement for the word "refugee"? The first reference to asylum seeker I can find is 1959 Amer. Polit. Sci. Rev. 53 ...
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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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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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What is the etymology of “yellow”, and why is it so different in other European languages?

It seems like most of our names for colors come from our German roots (blue/blau, green/grün, red/rot, etc.). But yellow is gelb in German, amarillo in Spanish, jaune in French, and giallo in Italian. ...
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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?
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What is the meaning of “Twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain!”

The phrase "Twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain!" occurs in the obscure fairy tale Molly Whuppie (more original version?) after a princess tricks a giant by stealing his sword. Contextually: "Woe ...
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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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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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Why are pot-holes called pot-holes?

Why are pot holes called pot holes? By pot holes I mean those holes in a road surface.
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What is the origin of the expression “ya think”?

Maybe I'm just slow on the uptake, but the expression "ya think" seems to have recently become nearly universal, at least as viewed from the US and the UK, where I encounter it all the time, spoken by ...
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Why “out” in “eat your heart out”?

I used the phrase the other day and it struck me as odd that out is needed. Wiktionary cites the following etymology of sorts: Disputed. Three schools of thought exist: From "This will eat ...
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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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“Battery” and “Battery”, why are they called the same?

This post made an interesting point about what would be understood when the word battery is used. In the U.S. at least, the word battery is so rarely used outside the legal phrase assault and ...