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

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Origin of milquetoast and the negative meaning of milk in modern usage

I searched the word milquetoast and found out that it is a very pejorative term used in American English (after a cartoon character- Casper Milquetoast) to refer to someone of an unusually meek, ...
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59 views

Is there an etymon for scam? [closed]

Is the word escamotage which is found in English dictionaries etymologically related to the word scam?
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54 views

Why are you saying something “for” yourself when your parent asks you what you have to say for yourself?

I was listening to a podcast today and heard someone mockingly ask the guest "Well, what do you have to say for yourself?". The conversation spun off in some other direction, but I momentarily ...
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56 views

Trendline for historical usage of “prick” [closed]

How can I view one of those handy-dandy trend lines for the historical usage of the word "prick"? I am currently editing a book and need to know when and how (or how common) the use of the word was to ...
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86 views

Does 'knockoff', meaning 'copy', come from the German word 'nach'? [closed]

Does the English expression 'knockoff', meaning 'copy', come from the German word 'nach'? I am researching an old flute which is marked 'nach Myer', and it turns out that it signifies something like ...
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300 views

What does the verb “nig” mean?

I have seen a photo on the Internet of a customer filling a large empty jug from a soda fountain at a fast food restaurant. It had caption that someone is "gonna nig". What does "nig" mean? Among ...
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118 views

What is the origin of auxiliary verbs?

When and why did we start using auxiliary verbs, particularly "do", to ask questions and make negatives?
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56 views

Which came first, “Inception” or “inception” [closed]

Most people will know about the film Inception, about planting an idea into a mans head so that he thinks that it is his own. Possibly fewer people will know that inception is actually a real word. ...
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1answer
146 views

Isn't the term bully pulpit an oxymoron? [closed]

bully pulpit: A public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue. bully: A person who uses strength or power to harm or ...
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101 views

Does rational come from ratio or ratio come from rational?

Going through law school we often used the latin phrase ratio decideni - meaning the reasoning of a decision. In this context we took the latin word ratio to mean thinking process. Recently I saw an ...
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78 views

How, when and where did the phrase 'state of the art' originate? [closed]

How, when and where did the phrase 'state of the art' originate?
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154 views

origin of “gingerly”

For years I thought gingerly meant "with spirit or liveliness," I suppose because "spirit and liveliness" define the noun ginger. But no; gingerly means "cautiously or carefully." How did it take on ...
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78 views

Etymology: Dutch Curry [closed]

I've heard of Continental's Dutch Curry and Rice Soup; and I've seen it mentioned here and there... I'm soon to have it later tonight... But seriously, what makes a Dutch Curry... "Dutch"? It's not ...
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116 views

Since the Latin for 'manus' is 'hand' - does that make 'mankind' a non-sexist expression? [closed]

I heard the following view expressed today: Mankind is not a sexist expression, because it comes from the latin manus, which means hand, as in [genderless] means of action. Is this a false ...
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183 views

Relic as a verb: why the spelling relicing, reliced?

I just discovered the verb relic, meaning “to make something look worn” and used as far as I can tell only about guitars. (Examples: 1 2 3 …) I was surprised to see that its participles are pretty ...
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57 views

How did the adjective “just” come to take on so many adverbial meanings?

Just is a pretty useful adverb. It can carry several different meanings: very recently: I just finished the novel. exactly: That’s just what he meant. by a narrow margin: He just missed me ...
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115 views

Source for tracing evolution of specific polysemes, e.g. “catamaran”?

Does anyone know a dictionary (or other resource) that traces the etymologies of words in such detail as to show how two, three ... different meanings may have come to apply to a given word? This ...
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1answer
72 views

Cloud nine Vs. Dante's Inferno!

I looked for the expression to be on cloud nine on Etymonline; it is stated 'of uncertain origin or significance'. My question is could there be a connection between the origin of cloud nine and ...
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1answer
173 views

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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647 views

If it's incorrect to “learn” someone, then why is “learned man” correct?

I am well aware that "learn" is incorrect when used as "teach" (referenced in Is 'learn' the new 'teach'?). So why is "learned" common fare, since it is apparently just a participial ...
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3answers
231 views

Is there a relationship between “boxing” (sport) and “box” (packaging)? [closed]

How is boxing (the sport) related to box (packaging)? Is there a relationship between the words which I am not aware of?
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1answer
61 views

Origin of Jessie

What's the origin of the name Jessie referring to an effeminate, weak, or cowardly boy or man. Since English is a gender neutral language, it strikes me as curious to see the female name Jessie ...
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1answer
53 views

Is there a categorization of different kinds of words like loanwords, compound words, slang… etc? [closed]

Is there a categorization of different types of words in which the following categories would fall for example: loanwords, compound-words, slang words, ...? Is there a hierarchical parent of these ...
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1answer
88 views

Why do the French say “dent” where the English say "tooth? [closed]

I am preparing for an exam in "Earlier Englishes" and I have following question out of a mock exam: Why do the French say dent where the English say tooth? The answer gives 3 points, so may be there ...
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1answer
141 views

What is the origin of “Boxing Day”?

OED gives the definition and a quote from 1833 as the earliest reference as below: The first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of ...
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Nannicock - a young woman, a fool or something else?

What definition(s) are there for the word Nannicock and what it's the etymology for each definition. (I've checked OED already). I came across Nannicock recently and on looking it up in OED their ...
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40 views

Origin of ZZZzzz [duplicate]

How did ZZZzzz in texting, in comic strips, or online come to mean sleeping or something boring? What's the connection between the repeated letter Z and sleep? And when did it start to be used?
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1answer
138 views

Why does English have a word for pink? [closed]

We have a word for light red (pink), but not light blue. Why is this? Russian, for example, has specific words for light and dark blue.
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103 views

So which “wich'” is it? [closed]

It's generally not confusing to most the obvious differences between a sandwich, a witch and the word "which", but are they related in any way? While a sandwich can be defined jokingly as,"in my ...
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1answer
114 views

’Tis the season

Google has a new doodle that says ’Tis the season when you put your cursor on it: What is the origin of this usage? or even the contraction ’tis? Details: There is a popular carol called “Deck ...
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95 views

“all the virtues in the calendar”

Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "all the virtues in the calendar"? Doing a phrase search (with quotes) gives many example usages. Questions: 1. Is there an actual calendar of virtues ...
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468 views

Sultanas and raisins, I'm confused

Most Christmas pudding recipes call for both sultanas and raisins. It is my understanding that a raisin refers to any dried grape. A sultana is both the name of a seedless grape, originating from ...
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166 views

How does 'notwithstanding' mean 'in spite of'?

notwithstanding = [preposition] In spite of [adverb] = Nevertheless; in spite of this: Etymonline: late 14c., notwiþstondynge, from not + present participle of the verb withstand. A ...
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51 views

What does 'spite' mean in 'in spite of'?

in spite of = 1. Without being affected by the particular factor mentioned [From the same page as above:] spite = [mass noun] 1. A desire to hurt, annoy, or offend someone I ...
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126 views

A frog in the throat

While the French refer to the temporary hoarseness caused by phlegm in the back of the throat as having a cat in the throat, the English version of the expression is to have a frog in the throat. I ...
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109 views

How did “party” come to mean “gathering”?

Is it just related to the fact that people participate in it? UPDATE. Judging by the comments, dictionary articles are absolutely exhaustive, and it just must be obvious to everyone how 'to take the ...
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381 views

How did the term “X's finest” come to mean the police force of a city X?

I have often come across terms like London's finest, New York's finest, etc., intended to mean the police forces of the respective cities. I think in the case of Scotland Yard, the term even has some ...
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1answer
85 views

What is the origin of 'bird'

Bird: (Brit.) a girl or young woman, esp one's girlfriend (Collins Dict. ) According to Etymonline, bird: "maiden, young girl," c.1300, confused with burd (q.v.), but felt by ...
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192 views

What is the origin of “Kris Kringle”?

In Canada, we use the term "Kris Kringle" for gift exchange tradition in Christmas. It is also spelled as "Kriss Kringle". In US and UK, it is called Secret Santa. Wikipedia says "Secret Santa" is ...
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53 views

Where does the response “Anytime” come from? [closed]

When someone says "Thank you" whenever I have helped them out, I naturally respond with "Anytime". I recently started thinking about this and couldn't quite figure out where this word originates from. ...
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What’s a “handegg”?

What’s a handegg? NOTE: This question is primarily related to the etymology of a compound noun which is not in The Dictionary. There is a hat this year called “Handegg”, given out for a posting that ...
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1answer
50 views

Etymology of 'commencement' (as in university commencement)

Some guy claims that I'll tell you why graduation is called Commencement (and no, it's not because it's the beginning of your "real life"). In the large halls where students and faculty ate, the ...
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1answer
62 views

Origins of “up the duff”

In British English, the term "up the duff" is used to describe a pregnant lady. I've tried to research as to why this is the case but I can't find anything concrete. Oxford has it as: 1940s ...
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14k views

What does “fleek” mean and when was it first used?

The word fleek is all over Twitter. The @lovihatibot Twitterbot routinely finds it in searches for "I love the word [X]" and "I hate the word [X]", in fact it's the third most hated word over the ...
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1answer
43 views

How did the “erogation” word end up on displays of coffee machines?

According to many dictionaries, erogation comes from the Latin for "the art of giving out or bestowing", but currently seems to be heavily linked to the coffee business. I'd like to know how this ...
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1answer
95 views

When was “emoji” first used?

Emoji is a small digital image or icon used in electronic communication. It is also mentioned as a standardized emoticon (emotion + icon) but emojis are usually depicted as pictographs and emoticons ...
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66 views

Origin of the phrase: “they went back to the well”

I am fairly happy with the meaning of this phrase but am wondering are there any good theories on where it originated? I have one theory that makes sense in an Irish context. Dotted around Ireland we ...
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2k views

Why is the action of removing a digital file named “Delete”?

After reading these questions: Difference between "delete" and "remove" How much use did the word 'delete' get before the technological boom? Delete or Remove (ell.SE) ...
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When did “phone” become accepted as its own word?

In older print publications, I have come across telephone shortened to 'phone, with an apostrophe to mark where the beginning of the word had been omitted. Now, however, phone does not need an ...
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128 views

Etymology of orchard

Etymology of orchard As a German I would assume that orchard is related to German Obstgarten (a garden with fruit trees), and as Obstgarten has a consonant group of four consonants bst+g the bst was ...