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

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What is the derivation of “out like a light” meaning “to lose consciousness quickly”?

The idiomatic relationship between out like a light and falling asleep (or being rendered comatose) quickly is easily understood in the context of electric lights extinguished instantly by a switch. ...
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2answers
240 views

Etymology of “French fries”

In Belgium there are three stories about the etymology of French fries. And I'd like to know once and for all which one is correct. The most popular story is probably the following, because it allows ...
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1answer
96 views

“Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”? [closed]

Until today I believed that both terms are basically the same. But our English teacher told us that the correct term is Holy Spirit. Is there any difference between Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost? I ...
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3answers
123 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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62 views

What are some non-Greek/Latin hybrid words? [closed]

Most etymological hybrids in English are a mixture of Greek and Latin. I'm interested in hybrids from other languages, French and German, say. Can you think of any good examples? I'd be especially ...
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What is Poetry? What does not count as Poetry? Help me get a grasp of it [closed]

Background: Yesterday afternoon I overheard two people chatting, I think one was reading or reciting a poem. It was quite emotional, and actually quite lovely. Later I saw several poems on TEDTalks ...
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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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86 views

The Cobbler's children have no shoes

What is the origin of this phrase? Does this also apply in case of other professions? Like the goldsmith's children have no jewels or the baker's children don't eat cake?
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origin of the expression “one eye on the past, one eye on the future”

I would like to know what is the origin of the expression "one eye on the past, one eye on the future". After googling for it, all I get is references to songs.
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“Fire” a weapon before firearms existed?

Did the verb “fire a weapon” exist before the actual introduction of firearms on battlefields? More specifically, does it make sense for a creative work to have archers (or whatever ranged weaponry) ...
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815 views

Why place a hand on the Bible instead of the Judge's genitals when taking an oath?

Etymonline gives the etymology of testify as ...from testis "a witness".. + root of facere "to make"... Biblical sense of "openly profess one's faith and devotion" is attested from 1520s. Related: ...
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Did people ever use the word “cock” as a euphemism for “God”?

English has a lot of surprises. When I was checking the etymology of "cocksure", I found this entry in Oxford Dictionaries: 1 British A male bird, especially of a domestic fowl. Below is ...
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59 views

Why is an Imperial hundredweight not a hundred of anything?

An imperial hundredweight is a measure weighing eight stone, or 112 pounds, or 1792 ounces. Why isn't it a hundred of anything?
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1answer
81 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.
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Why are knobs called “pots” by some sound designers?

I was recently introduced to the term "pots" to mean "dials" or "knobs" in the field of sound design and audio engineering. (It rather took me by surprise; I had no idea what the sound designer was ...
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1answer
876 views

What's the origin of “qu” in the word “masquerade”?

I've noticed that the word masquerade is spelt with qu instead of c in mascarade like in French or mascarada in Spanish. According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the word is of French origin. I'd be ...
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3answers
90 views

Where did the usage of “Uncle” to refer to unrelated individuals come from?

We often use "Uncle" to refer to a paternalistic figure or close family friend who isn't actually related by blood or marriage. For example, I'm a godfather to the young children of a family friend, ...
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65 views

Why are bankers called “the Platform”?

I work in a bank and I have always wondered why our relationship managers, i.e. sales representatives, are commonly referred to as "the platforms," or "the platform officers."
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141 views

How did the words “petting” and “necking” come to mean kissing with passion?

I'm sure most of you have heard "necking" to mean kissing with passion; however, before "necking" the popular word among American youth was "petting". From Flappers to Rappers: The Study of American ...
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1answer
62 views

If something is considered the best why is it said to be “the berries”?

According to From Flappers to Rappers: A Study of American Youth Slang by Dr. Thomas Dalzell, "the berries" was a 1920s widely used slang term among American youth to describe something wonderful or ...
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Why was someone considered mentally unbalanced or crazy called a “crackpot”?

I believe "crackpot" dates back to the last decade of the nineteenth century; however, I'm curious to know why "crackpot" was used to describe someone mentally unbalanced or crazy. Any thoughts?
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1answer
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Origin of the expression “you can't make chicken salad out of chicken something else”

I discovered this expression: You can't make chicken salad out of chicken something else I heard this expression from one of the NBA basketball TV commentators on Fox Sports Oklahoma, who uses ...
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1answer
176 views

What is the term used for people who drive slow?

I always heard terms like bikers, racers, car racers, which are specially used for the people who drives fast. But what do we call people who drive slow, or at normal speed, or very slow (for “senior ...
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43 views

“Airfoil” - why it is called “foil”

What is origin of word airfoil (e.g. wings of the airplane)? Why it has part "foil", which is a very thin metal sheet. "Dictionary.com Unabridged" says only "Origin: 1920–25; air 1 + foil 2" (© ...
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Etymology of chandelier as relating to fortifcations

Wiktionary gives a third sense for chandelier: (obsolete, military) A portable frame used to support temporary wooden fences. I can find quite a lot of uses like this from 1800s and earlier, but I ...
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Why are there two different ways to spell “expediter”?

There seems to be two different ways to spell "expediter": expediter expeditor A quick Google search reveals a nearly equal split between the two spellings. Are the two spellings specific to a ...
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34 views

Etymology of Sidesplitting

What is the etymology of sidesplitting? In particular, is there a physical interpretation of sides splitting?
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Has “freak” always carried a negative connotation?

Many words (such as imbecile and idiot) used to be technical terms or proper names, however, eventually came to be used mainly for insults, and are today considered negative. Has the word "freak" ...
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102 views

Etymological analysis of swearwords [closed]

I'm writing a thesis about the etymological analysis of swearwords (profanity) in the English language; that is, I need to compare British and American English regarding the etymology of their ...
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1answer
189 views

What's the origin of the English infix?

A linguistics teacher of mine said in class that English is one of a small number of languages that uses infixes, that is, additions to the middle of words that alter the meaning. Most of the examples ...
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Why are four seasons all six-letter words? [closed]

It is a bit strange to me that four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter, even including 'season' itself, are all six-letter words. I don't think six-letter words are so common in some specific ...
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When and from where did “guns” become slang for biceps?

I first heard the use of guns to mean biceps in high school. I thought it was just a local slang. It turns out to be universally known. I later saw it in magazines and fitness books. I also heard of ...
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1answer
72 views

Etymology of “second to none”

second to none To the ears of a non-native speaker, mine anyway, this expression sounds very laborious. Where does it come from? Is it not contrary to the idea that English is a ...
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What's the deal with “fiery”?

How did English end up with the adjective fiery (instead of *firy) from fire, but miry from mire and wiry from wire? Are there any other words where the noun is -ire and the adjective is -iery?
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54 views

Where did “I lost it” come from?

People on Reddit often comment "I lost it" while quoting the funniest part of a joke to highlight how funny that part is. As I don't speak English much, I am not sure if this is Reddit-specific, but I ...
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241 views

Why Are Introductory Classes Called “101”? [closed]

Many freshmen will kick off their college careers with courses like Psychology 101, English 101, or History 101. When and how did introductory classes get this special number?
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64 views

Why “top” hat? Is there a “bottom” or a “side” hat?

I've always wondered why it's called "top hat", and not just a "hat", or some other word, which would better describe this specific type of hats. I mean, all hats are "top", right? (Although this ...
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“e” before “i” in the word “weird” [duplicate]

In elementary school, I was taught the rhyme: "i" before "e" except after "c", and in words like "neighbor" and "weigh" Obviously this means that "ei" is used in "deceive" (it comes after "c") ...
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1answer
59 views

Deconstructing 'for crying out loud'

How did the phrase/idiom for crying out loud come about? I don't understand what is "for" doing here. For X means that X is a requirement that has to be fulfilled. Why don't you do it *for X* means ...
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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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134 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 ...
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Why is a tie in Tic-Tac-Toe called a “Cat's Game?”

Back in grade school whenever we played a game of Tic-Tac-Toe (X's and O's) and the result was a tie, we would call it a "Cat's Game." I've never heard this term applied to a tie in any other ...
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Why is “distro”, rather than “distri”, short for “distribution” in Linux world?

Why is distro, rather than distri, short for distribution in Linux world?
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157 views

Origin of the phrase “on the wrong side of history”

I've been hearing the phrase "on the wrong side of history" a lot lately, most recently today when President Obama said that Russia was on "the wrong side of history" for its actions in Ukraine. ...
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1answer
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Who first coined the term photobomb?

Do anyone have an idea about the exact etymology of this word? Also, would it be correct to use the same word when referring to a live broadcasting on television? Or would the term videobomb be more ...
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1answer
86 views

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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Talkies, Motion Pictures, Movies, Films and 3D Films

The term, talkies, i.e. talking pictures, I was surprised to learn was not coined in 1927, after the release of The Jazz Singer, but in 1913. The term is now obsolete whereas motion picture, meaning ...
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Why do we use the word “oops”, if something goes wrong?

Why do we use the word oops in a sentence or when communicating with others, if something goes wrong? I would like to know the correct information regarding this question.
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Origin and Impact of “Blown” Meaning “Bloom”

According to MW, full-blown means having all of the qualities that are associated with a particular thing or type of person : fully developed Having used it in this sense recently and noting its ...
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Where does the term “heads or tails” come from?

I recently obtained a Silver Angel collectable coin, where the back side bears an image of an angel fighting a dragon: I sort of realized, as I was looking at it, that for probably the first time in ...