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

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Etymology of the phrase “chicken out”

I've learned the meaning of chicken out from the dictionary, I am curious about its etymology. If any body knows, please explain it to me. I have done my part of research by Googling "etymology for ...
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962 views

When did people start “boinking”?

Is "boinking" an onomatopoeic and/or a blend word? I would have said so, I believe the word boink refers to the sound of the mattress springs squeaking under the weight of a couple making love. A ...
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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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1answer
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What is the origin of the phrase “the eleventh hour”

Someone happened to use the phrase "the 59th minute of the eleventh hour" just now on IRC (#lisp on Freenode). I remarked that that should be "the twelfth hour". This then started me wondering where ...
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What is the etymology of “Tough titty”

This is a phrase I've heard used on several occasions by different people. I'm interested about what it's origins are, and whether it should be considered rude. Essentially it means "That's tough ...
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Where does the phrase “get crackin'” come from?

"There's a lot of work to be done, so we'd better get crackin'" I've often used this expression, but I have no idea what we might have been cracking, originally? Any insight?
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Where did the word “quim” come from?

Both the OED and Etymonline offer no clue as to origin of the slang term quim, meaning minge. The OED’s earliest citations are from the 18th, which isn’t quite as old as Adam, but has certainly been ...
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Why is it spelled “curiosity” instead of “curiousity?”

I have been spelling the word "curiosity" with a u, "curiousity," my whole life, and only today was Chrome's spellcheck bold enough to highlight my lifelong error. I have two questions: The root ...
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Why does “go spare” mean “get angry”?

I don't know whether the phrase "go spare" is used in the US, but it is very common in the UK. e.g. You're an hour late. Mum's going spare upstairs! I would like to know where the phrase comes ...
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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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What is the etymology of “floccinaucinihilipilification”? [on hold]

I recently encountered this word, "floccinaucinihilipilification" while watching Jason Bateman's directorial movie debut "Bad Words", in which he stars as a 40+ year old participant in a spelling bee ...
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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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The etymology of “redhead” vs. “ginger haired”

All my life I have known people with reddish, orangey hair, to be termed ginger haired. Just as you don't call a blonde a 'yellow head' red head just wasn't a word that was said (wouldn't orange head ...
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2answers
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Where does “Let's roll!” come from?

Where does the idiom "Let's roll!" come from?
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1answer
36 views

How could one quantify the typical modern non-literal usage style? [on hold]

I was thinking, "'Nobody' (joke) uses words literally in English any more -- but, could we quantify that somehow?" So for example with "nobody," the word now only means "almost no-one". If you want ...
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3answers
737 views

Etymologies of “basilisk” and “basilica”

I recently confused a "basilica" with a "basilisk", with the former being a church building and the latter being a mythical snake-like creature. The similarities of the two words made me curious of ...
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Original Meaning of Blood is thicker than water, is it real?

I recently read that the phrase "Blood is thicker than water" originally derived from the phrase "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", implying that the ordinary meaning ...
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Is “curiouser” in fact a word (like in the famous phrase “curiouser and curiouser”)?

Is curiouser, in fact, a word?                                 (Yes, this question is very short, but that’s really all I need to ask.)
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1answer
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Where does the word “good” come from? [on hold]

According to Google, and a few other sources, "good" was originally the verbal and adjective equivalent of "god" (hence the good news') but I was wondering where the word originally came from and what ...
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A second crack?

Where does the word "crack" originate from in the phrase "Give me another crack at that"? Curious to know if it's in reference to driving horses? Perhaps a derivative of "craic" in Irish? Or in a ...
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What's the origin of “rob someone blind”?

To rob someone blind either means to steal freely from them, or to overcharge them: Fig. to steal freely from someone. Her maid was robbing her blind. I don't want them to rob me blind. Keep an ...
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1answer
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Origin of “blue” for rude?

This question Why do we talk a blue streak?, had me thinking—why do we use blue for rude ? Dictionary.com has it: lewd, indecent recorded from 1840 "(in form blueness, in an essay of Carlyle's)" and ...
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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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1answer
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Was “God be with ye” grammatically correct at the time?

Several dictionaries I have consulted, as well as another question here on English.SE, state that the origin of the word goodbye is “God be with ye”. Shouldn’t it be “God be with you” or perhaps “God ...
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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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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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Words starting with “touch”

There are several words in English starting with touch, such as touchwood, touchstone, touchline, ect. (a list can be found here : http://www.scrabblefinder.com/starts-with/touch/ ) I would like to ...
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Why is the English devil “old”?

Looking up the etymology of the Devil's nickname, Old Nick, I came across this article in OUPblog written by Anatoly Liberman For some reason, devils, at least in English, are often called old: ...
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What is the origin of the colloquial term “bum” meaning a homeless person?

Just out of curiosity, I was wondering about the history of the term "bum" meaning a homeless person, not the UK version referring to someone's posterior. Bonus: If you know the background on "Hobo" ...
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Not to Mention ≈ [Let Alone ≈ Much Less ≈ Still Less]

According to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/let+alone, the following are synonyms, which I denote with ≈: not to mention ≈ let alone According to ...
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How did 'subordinate' evolve? [closed]

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 1 that helps to remember its meaning: 1. subordinate = Lower in rank or position Etymonline: mid-15c., "having an inferior rank," from ...
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Why two 'be's in 'be bereaved'?

Isn't the infinitive be in be bereaved redundant? Etymonline looks complex and refers to bereft. 'Origin' on ODO suggests to 'see be-, reave', but doesn't the prefix 'be-' already suffice? reave ...
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Does the “elbow-handshake” have any relation to the phrase “rubbing elbows”?

This is probably answerable with a general reference (or a pair of such references), but I have not been able to find one. Etymology Online does not cover the origin of "rubbing-elbows" as meaning ...
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Reversal of the meaning of the word “restive”

According to google etymology the word restive originally meant inclined to remain still. But then it changed the meaning to the opposite. I would like to know if such phenomenon of revresal ...
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What does “campy” mean?

I was reading this answer to another question and came across the word campy (towards the end of the answer). I’ve definitely seen it used before to describe science fiction movies and shows but have ...
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Why do we call it “gum arabic” and not “arabic gum”?

Not in use so much these days, "gum arabic" can still be found for sale in small bottles. Is there a reason why it is called "gum arabic" and not "arabic gum"? Gum Arabic - Gum arabic, also known ...
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Are “Speculate” and “Speculum” related? [closed]

I wonder if any etymology buffs can shed some light into this one. While commonly a speculum is a medical instrument, I know it has other uses in literature and history. Is speculate a verb extending ...
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1answer
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Origin of “Why is a mouse when it spins?” riddle

Question: "Why is a mouse when it spins?" Answer: "Because the higher the fewer." There are some great responses regarding the provenance of this seemingly-nonsensical riddle at this ...
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Best etymological calque of the word Schadenfreude

This question is purely theoretical (i.e. I don't foresee actually trying to use the word), but using arguments based on etymology, as well as euphony and (least importantly) comprehensibility, what ...
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1answer
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Why “on the books”, not “in the books”

On the books means "part of the law". These changes would add little to the civil rights laws now on the books. I know the meaning of this idiom, and idioms are used as they are, but idioms ...
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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 ...
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1answer
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What is the etymology of “Pasifika”?

What is the etymology of the term "Pasifika", which can mean the Pacific Islands, people of Pacific Island heritage (in a New Zealand context), or a festival held in Auckland about Pacific Island ...
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Where does the use of “why” as an interjection come from?

Examples: Why, I'd love to. Why, of course! I get the concept of starting a sentence with a word not completely related to the overall response, but this one seems to be a particularly ...
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4answers
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What does “no love lost” mean and where does it come from?

I have trouble with the idiom "no love lost". I understand that it is used when people are at odds or don't get along, but I don't understand why. Interpreted literally it sounds like there should be ...
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Should I wash my hands of this?

Should I wash my hands of this? Has this expression ever been used as a way of suggesting a bribe?
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Erf as term for plot of land in a town or city. Is this word only used in southern Africa?

The Free Dictionary website states and so does Wikipedia: erf [ɜːf] n pl erven [ˈɜːvən] (Engineering / Civil Engineering) South African a plot of land, usually urban, marked off for building ...
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Why would the “wind blowing in the East” be considered a bad thing?

I've been recently working through the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, and enjoying it very much. However, there's a particular motif that's bothering me, whose logic I haven't been ...
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Where does the pejorative meaning of “shower” come from?

shower British informal a group of people perceived as incompetent or worthless I think this term is becoming obsolete. It's certainly not something I've heard in the street recently. The ...
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Who were the 'pros from Dover'?

I was reading Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy this morning, and he compares his characters to the 'pros from Dover'. This was a phrase that I also remember hearing in the movie M*A*S*H - so it seems to be ...
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Why is it called an adam's apple?

Why is it called an adam's apple?