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

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How did the letter Z become to be associated with sleeping/snoring?

In cartoons and comics it's not uncommon to see a series of Zs to indicate that a person is in deep slumber, such as in the following political cartoon. How and when did the letter Z become to be ...
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Why is there an “a” in “beggar”? Why not an “e”?

Why does beggar end in -ar? Many identically sounding words just use -er, if not all. Examples: bumper pepper tagger chanter pegger They all use the -er version. Also, history shows that beggar ...
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What does the fox say?

It is true that as a fox, I should know this, so consider this a spoilers warning. In a recent post, Geek Girl mentions that the mating call of the fox is a series of sharp, eerie barks and that this ...
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Hip Hip Hooray!

I am looking for the etymology and history of the cheer “Hip Hip Hooray”. I’m curious due to its interesting entry in Wikipedia, which reads thusly: The call was recorded in England in the ...
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What does the “s” in “thanks” mean?

I'm teaching English in a non-English-speaking country where plural "s" and third-person "s" get confused a lot with no "s" at all. The dialogue in the textbook was explaining how you should respond ...
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Is there any relation between the suffix “-ship” and actual ships?

I am curious if there is actual relation between all nouns ending in -ship, such as relationship, citizenship, sportsmanship, etc. with the vessel for transporting people or goods over the sea?
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Why is “pineapple” in English but “ananas” in all other languages?

Why is "pineapple" in English but "ananas" in all other languages?
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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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Is it correct to say Person A is the “spitting image” or the “splitting image” of Person B?

I understand that when trying to describe a person who has a resemblance to another, the common term is spitting image. As in: Person A is a spitting image of Person B. Here's my issue, I've ...
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Apart from place names, are there any Native American words used in English?

Apart from place names, are there any Native American words used in English?
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Etymology of a “pegged CPU”

There's a slightly obscure, slang meaning in tech circles of the word "pegged" as it relates to a computer's CPU. When it is fully utilised for a duration (at least several seconds), you can say that ...
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What does the phrase “Does the Pope sh** in the woods?” mean?

I heard this phrase in the GTA San Andreas game. Sounds pretty offensive, nonetheless I don't really get what he meant to say. The context was something like: "Hey do you wanna make some money?" ...
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“Whereäs” as an alternative spelling of “whereas”

Wiktionary shows whereäs as a valid alternative spelling of the word whereas (see here). It gives the following quotations to illustrate the usage: 1 Permanent International Association of ...
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How did “stuck-up” get to mean “snob”?

I was inclined to believe that the expression "stuck-up", meaning staying aloof from others because one thinks one is superior, had its origins with somebody's nose stuck (up) in the air and yet, ...
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What is the name for the process which turned “iced cream” into “ice cream”?

There are several words (mostly related to food) which are shortenings of their historical forms. For example, the cold treat ice cream was originally known as iced cream in the 1680s. The -ed ending ...
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What purpose does an '-o' serve?

I have been singing a lot of children’s songs lately, and this afternoon in the car I noticed three songs that add an ‑o to the end of words: “He had many a mile to go that night before he ...
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Why is it “on *the* one hand”?

According to all dictionaries I can see and everyday use by native speakers, this is the correct way: On the one hand, it's larger; on the other hand, it's more expensive. What makes no sense to ...
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What is the origin of “daemon” with regards to computing?

Daemon has an interesting usage in computing. From my local dictionary: a background process that handles requests for services such as print spooling and file transfers, and is dormant when not ...
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Is there a difference between “arse” and “ass”?

From a comment here, in frequent usage, arse and ass are often interchangeable when used to refer to buttocks or to a person of dubious charms. However, although “to arse about” has a vague connection ...
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Why “daily” and not “dayly”?

Checking how adjectives related to time are created, I see: year → yearly month → monthly week → weekly day → daily Why has “day” derivated into “daily” with an ‘i’ instead of “dayly” with a ‘y’? ...
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Why do we say that an obscene joke is “off-color”?

Why do we say that an obscene joke is "off-color"? Is a G-rated joke "on-color"? What color? When and how did this idiomatic expression come from?
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What is the origin of the term “ginger” for red-headed people?

I'd like to know the etymology of the word "ginger" in reference to red-headed people. In particular, if "ginger" in this context is related to the plant root used in cooking, I'd like to know how ...
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What word can I use instead of “tomorrow” that is not connected with the idea of the rising sun?

I'm working on a novel while trying to take into account the historical context surrounding it. It begins in 1140 AD, so the characters would use Old English, Latin, Old French, and other similar ...
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Where did “elbow grease” come from?

I was reading a French blog the other day and I came across the phrase l'huile de coude, meaning "elbow grease." Since "elbow grease" is something I've known about in English all my life (parental ...
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Is there any “swearword” in English not associated with excrements, the genitals, sexual activity or religion?

SWEARWORD - A popular term for a word or phrase that is obscene, abusive, and socially offensive. For some reason, all of them seem to be associated with excrements, sex and religion. This ...
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Origin of the term “driver” in computer science

According to Wikipedia: … a device driver or software driver is a computer program allowing higher-level computer programs to interact with a hardware device. What is the origin of the term ...
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How did “sinister”, the Latin word for “left-handed”, get its current meaning?

Sinister is the Latin word for left-handed. What evolution of meaning turned left-handed into evil and threatening?
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Why is 'sheep' the same when talking about one or more than one?

I am trying to find out why sheep has the plural sheep. I have found different explanations, such as, "it is because they were seen as uncountable, as in 'a herd of sheep'", "because it comes from ...
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How did 'sanction' come to have two opposite meanings?

Sanction is an unusual ambiguous word to me. In some cases it means to approve some action, while in other cases it means to prohibit or punish some action; and there being near opposite meanings, ...
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Raper vs. Rapist; Why the shift in suffix?

I’ve always been vaguely aware of raper as an alternative to rapist, as a vaguely wrong sounding, possibly archaic formulation. Nowadays, it’s most often heard from speakers of English as a second ...
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Why is “primer” pronounced with a short “i” sound?

This word—used to mean an elementary textbook, not a painting material—annoys me to no end. Does anyone know why, exactly, "primer" is pronounced with a short "i" sound? I don't know why, call it ...
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“Take a photo” — why “take”?

I don't understand why it's "take a photo". Why take? Is there any rule for this?
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Is the “-b” to be pronounced in the word “limb”? What about “thumb”? “Crumb”?

I'm confused about the differing pronunciations of words that end in "-b". For example, I remember being told by some of earliest teachers that the "-b" in limb was meant to be silent, and one ...
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What causes the euphemisation of medical terms?

George Carlin has a famous sketch where he laments the dehumanising of ailments by “euphemisation”, illustrated by the use of “shell shock” during World War I, followed by “battle fatigue”, then ...
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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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Phrase: “Colder than a witch’s kiss!”

The following was used in a radio broadcast (The Adventures of Harry Lime, 14th December 1951, episode 20 “An Old Moorish Custom”) as Harry was hit on the back of his head with a rifle butt by a giant ...
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Where did the expression “my two cents” come from?

I've seen "$.02", "2¢", "just my two cents", etc, similar in meaning to IMHO, except usually appended to the main text. As the Ngram shows, it is only "two cents" that is popular in this usage: ...
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When did “while” and “whilst” become interchangeable?

I think most folk happily use either "while" or "whilst". I've a vague recollection that at one time "while" indicated the passing of time and "whilst" was essentially the same as "whereas" or ...
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Did Shakespeare really invent 1700 words?

I am having a discussion with colleagues about a recent news article relating to new words in the dictionary (cleggmannia? really?) and got onto the subject of evolution of language, and how many ...
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Origin of “bug” in reference to software

What is the origin of the expression bug when used to refer to software? Wikipedia says it's from 1843 in Ada Byron's notes on the analytical engine. Another source I found was on dictionary.com: ...
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Why do we call an instruction book a “Manual”?

"Manual" is used for many things: "Manual Labour" - work done with the hands; "Organ Manual" - hands again; and I can see the link to the Latin "manu". But why would a book of instructions be a ...
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What is the origin of “hot” as “good-looking” or “attractive”?

I'm not sure if "hot" as "warm" or "heated" existed before "hot" came to mean "good-looking" or "attractive", but if so, how did this new meaning come to be?
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What's the literal meaning of “Real Estate”?

Today I realized that the word "Real" in "Real Estate" might be about "royalty" instead of "reality". English is a foreign language to me, so I don't really know the literal meaning and origin of the ...
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Why does “impregnable” mean *cannot be impregnated*?

Well not exactly, but according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, impregnable means: ADJECTIVE: 1. Impossible to capture or enter by force: an impregnable fortress. ...
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Why does “puce” mean two different colors depending on where you live?

I always thought puce was green, then saw on Wikipedia that it is purplish-brown. Further research tells me that it's generally regarded as purplish-brown in the United States, whereas Europeans think ...
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What is the origin of the word “goodbye”?

I've heard that goodbye comes from God be with you. Is that true? If so how did it become good? Did goodbye always have the same meaning it has now?
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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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What is the origin of the “-th” suffix? What is the linguistic term for the meaning it adds to words?

I was teaching my young nephew some math the other day, and from discussing the typical sort of word problems he's encountering in class, I noticed that the "-th" suffix adds a distinct meaning to ...
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Why “Greater Toronto” rather than “Great Toronto”

Many big cities have their names preceded by Greater. Why not just Great? Does Greater indicate that the city is ambitious to expand itself? Why is Greater not used for country names such as Great ...
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King James Bible archaic style

I am currently reading the King James Version of the Bible and I have noticed some features that I would like to know more about. Almost every verse of the First Book of Moses starts with “and”. ...