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

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What's up with the use of the word “black” in reference to skin color? [closed]

I've never liked the word black to describe people with dark skin. Those of us with pigment-enriched skin are certainly not black in color. Why was the term black used to describe people with dark ...
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40 views

“the hell with” vs “to hell with”

What is the etymology of "the hell with", which on the face of it is a corruption of "to hell with" or possibly a shortening ot "to the hell with". (See below.) In my experience, the former is rather ...
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Why are there two “to”s in “from … to … to …”?

To denote that something applies to a wide range of items you can use the phrase "from ... to ... to ...", e.g. Animals can live anywhere, from forests to deserts to deepest pits of the oceans. ...
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1answer
56 views

Origin of “If the wind changes”

Please help settle an argument. There is a expression used by parents and teachers to threaten children who are pulling faces: If the wind changes, you'll stay like that! or simiarly If the ...
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Where does describing something as “the gold standard” come from?

In statistics (and some other fields, such as medicine, I believe), the best available benchmark under reasonable conditions is sometimes referred to as "the gold standard". This phrase is also used ...
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What is the origin of the phrase 'touch wood'?

The Internet says 'Touch wood is an example of a superstition: something that we do in order to have good luck. It is not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, but is connected with old ideas ...
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Where does the basketball term 'dagger' originate from?

Today someone made a comment on the Warriors NBA basketball team, specifically talking about Curry, talking in light about his "daggers". Specifically, they said, "When Curry shoots those 48% ...
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Use of “Holocaust” in The Great Gatsby

The final sentence of Chapter 8 of The Great Gatsby: "It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardner saw Wilson's body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was ...
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Are the words “phoenix” (denoting the bird) and “Phoenicia” cognate?

Are the words "phoenix" and "Phoenicia" cognate? The phoenix had a purple-red colour, similar to or the same as the colour produced by the purple-red dye that Phoenicia was famous in both Greece and ...
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Is English the only language that always capitalizes “I”? [duplicate]

Is English the only language where "I" is always capitalized, no matter where it occurs in a sentence? The other two languages that I'm familiar with don't do this. In German, "ich" is only ...
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Why does “one of a kind” mean “unique?”

The wording suggest the opposite. Something that is one of a kind is but one of a category of many, if you look at each word non-idiomatically. Why, then, does "one of a kind" mean "unique?"
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How did “perfidy” come to mean the absence of faithfulness / trust?

Perfidy is (OED): Deceitfulness, untrustworthiness; breach of faith or of a promise; betrayal of trust; treachery. The roots are per- and fidēs (faith) Per- carries several senses, but ...
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Usage of “burn” as a form of mockery - How did it start?

I have come across numerous posts/memes on social media where, considering A,B and C are different people: A posts something seemingly innocuous. B comments on A's post, something either very funny ...
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2answers
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Commute a sentence? To where? [closed]

A petition to pardon "Making a Murderer" subject Steven Avery made news recently when it was responded to by the White House's We the People team. I became interested by the response when I read ...
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What words in English convey love?

The word love is a cognate with its Germanic origin "luv," but I am wondering if English contains other words for love, such as relatives to the famous Greek "Four Loves:" Philia - This one has ...
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“cathouse,” “call house,” and “sporting house” for “bordello”

All three terms appear to be euphemisms for house of prostitution and are marked as Americanisms by Robert-Collins French and English Dictionary, Ed. 1985. cathouse being the most common one (as ...
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When you ask several questions and the responder only answers one of the questions

Is there a word that describes the circumstance when you ask several questions (such as in an email) and the responder only answers one of the questions ignoring the rest?
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1answer
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Origin of the term 'truther' as applied to conspiracy theorists

Today's Oakland [California] Tribune has a story from the Palm Beach [Florida] Post carrying the headline, "Sandy Hook truther fired by college." The story is evidently quite similar to one that ...
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1answer
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“Hold your piece” or “Hold your peace”

Is the correct phrase “to hold your piece” or “to hold your peace”? This matter is often mentioned together with the matter of “saying one's piece”, which has already been answered. In that context, ...
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Origin of the “breach” sense of “compromise”

Both wiktionary and etymonline give the origin of compromise as Latin com (together) + promittere (promise). This is the most common use of this word: to mutually promise to [abide by an arbitrated ...
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1answer
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“Polar” in polar coordinates [closed]

In mathematics, we use polar coordinates, I do not understand the reason of using the word "polar" here. What is the pole here? What does it have to do with the coordinates?
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Why do firearms “report”?

Walking in the country the other day, I heard the report of a shotgun. I started to wonder why this word is used. Merriam-Webster has report:- An explosive noise: the report of a rifle. ...
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1answer
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Origins of “the weak are meat, and the strong do eat”

In the movie Cloud Atlas, Tom Hanks' earliest character ('Henry Goose') and Hugo Weaving's latest character ('Georgie') use the phrase The weak are meat, and the strong do eat Now, I don't think ...
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1answer
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The Origin of the word, 'Soft Patch'

currently I'm TRYING to read some articles about the economy, however, I face one weird word, soft patch. I know what this word means but I don't know why it has that meaning, temporarily slowing ...
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1answer
77 views

Why is “welcome” spelled like this? [duplicate]

Why is the word "welcome" spelled with one "l"? Somewhere in the answers I found a good explanation of the meaning of " welcome". Example: "You have done well to come to me; I am pleased to do it" ...
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“Jolly good” meaning “extremely good” in British English

Like the intensifier bloody, I assumed that jolly as an adverb and intensifier is not broadly used in the U.S. meaning very or extremely. According to Oxford Online Dictionary, jolly as an adverb ...
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Has there ever been an antonym for “benefit” that includes the latin affix “neg-”?

I understand bene to roughly mean well, good, or rightly so from Latin, while neg- coming from Latin negare to roughly mean deny, negate, or against. The words benefit, beneficial, and benefactor all ...
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What is the etymology of “dope” meaning excellent, great, impressive?

Dope is a rather new slang word that is used to define someone or something excellent, great, impressive. OED says that it is originally in African-American usage and chiefly among rap musicians and ...
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A star is born!

I've always thought that the term "star", used to refer to a much celebrated artist, was originally a Hollywood expression used to refer to movie actresses (such as Gloria Swanson or Bette Davis for ...
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Is “anybody's guess” origin anybody's guess?

I was looking for the origin of the common expression "anybody's guess" but I couldn't find any much evidence. Checking with Ngram it appears the expression become suddenly popular during the 30's ...
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Why “the powers that be”?

In the phrase "the powers that be," as in the sentence: It would never have occurred to the powers that be to run and supervise the National Lottery from anywhere but London. Oxford ...
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1answer
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Etymology of ~Getting into someone's “kitchen”~

Popular in the 80s and early 90s in Black-American culture, but I doubt it made it into many books so we may be at a loss. The meaning, quite visual, is walking into someone's house and banging all ...
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3answers
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“Lest” or “Or?”

Colloquially, I would always use or where I would formally use lest. For example, "go to sleep, or you'll be tired" versus "go to sleep, lest you be tired." Has this usage of or been around for ...
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What's the origin of “lit”?

Since June 2015, use of the word lit has exploded on Twitter. Here's some recent examples. Nena Marie: My Year is starting off lit af👌🏼 ...but is gonna be TD by Monday morning Nick: Jason ...
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From the horse jockey to the disc jockey

Jockey was first used to refer to a person who rides a horse in races from the second half of the 17th century: Etymonline says that jockey (n.) is a variant of the name Jack: 1520s, "boy, ...
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“th” in mother, father, brother— but not sister

I was wondering why there is a "th" in mother, father, and brother, but not in sister? Is the etymology of the word different?
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What is the significance of having a silent letter like “k” in a word? [duplicate]

Why is the k silent in: known /nəʊn/; knife /nʌɪf/, and knight /nʌɪt/? What does this specify?And what is k doing there if there is no need to pronounce it?
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Origin of “Hotel” [closed]

As in Wikipedia "a motel is a hotel designed for motorists and usually has a parking area for motor vehicles." So, I thought that since "M" refers to motorists, perhaps "H" in hotel refers to ...
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Why are dogs “neutered”, horses “gelded”, and people “castrated”?

Why is there a different word to explain the removal of testes for these three animals? Also, can I use all three for any animal?
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Squeegee with a squeegee

Squeegee is: a scraping implement, usually consisting of a straight-edged blade of india-rubber, gutta-percha, or the like, attached to the end of a long handle, for removing water, mud, etc. ...
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1answer
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'Evenest' vs 'most even' word usage and its history

When I am looking for the superlative form of 'even' which would be evenest, I was surprised that it's rarely used. [This 'even' which means something smooth and regular] The only source that I found ...
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History/origin of the pronunciation/spelling of “Butcher”?

The pronunciation of the first syllable of butcher as /ˈbʊt͡ʃ ..../ is for non-native speakers astonishing. From spelling alone, one would probably guess that it's pronunciation would be more like ...
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1answer
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How does 'unless' mean 'or'?

Source: p 319, A Concise Introduction to Logic (12 Ed, 2014), by Patrick Hurley in propositional logic it is usually simpler to equate “unless” with “or.” In and using only ordinary English ...
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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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1answer
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Part Two: When was “googleable” or “googlable” first used?

Part One Part one is here, and cites references and dates about the verb ‘to google’, and asks about the syllabification and spelling of googl(e)able. Part Two This was originally my second ...
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Using “put hair on your chest” for women

The idiom put hair(s) on someone's chest means: Fig. to do or take something to invigorate or energize someone, always a male, except in jest: Here, have a drink of this stuff! It'll put hair ...
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1answer
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The origin of “premium” as an adjective

The original meaning of premium is a reward given for some specific act or as an incentive; a prize. as per its etymology: Premium (n.) (Etymonline): c. 1600, "reward given for a specific ...
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Kingsman vs King's man

When you look up the word kingsman in Wiktionary, its etymology shows that it is compounded with king + s + man in the same way as Klansman (Ku Klux Klan's member), huntsman (a man who hunts) or ...
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Silent “e” at the end of words

Back in 2009, a job interviewer sent me a link to a web service that would help me make a free telephone call via the internet... Skype. As a native speaker, I knew "instinctively" to pronounce this ...
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“Who came in like a white kittling."

Within the context of 17th century witch-hunting, a kittling was apparently commonly known as some kind of animal. Perhaps the obvious first guess is a misspelled kitten, or some kind of bird, or a ...