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

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Spendthrift vs Thrifty - origins

I have always been curious to understand the origin of these two seemingly similar words. Looking at them for the first time, I thought they were synonyms, but ever since I learnt them, their meanings ...
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9answers
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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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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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What do 'drive' and 'hard' refer to in 'drive a hard bargain'?

If I have to say that "this person(X) does very good bargaining" in a more refined way, I should ideally write "X drives a hard bargain". (I saw it in a book). I know that I have to use 'bargain' word ...
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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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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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Why did “sceptical” become “skeptical” in the US?

Compare the following two Google Ngram Viewer charts for sceptical vs. skeptical in American English and British English: British English American English My interpretation of these charts is ...
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How did 'of' come to take on so many meanings?

TL/DR: How did of (a Function Word) spawn such diverse meanings, too numerous to list here? Optional Reading and Supplement: [OED:] The primary sense was ‘away’, ‘away from’, a sense now ...
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“Death comes in threes” origin?

With David Bowie and Alan Rickman dying within a few days on each other (RIP), I've heard some people say, "Death always comes in threes, I wonder who's next." What is the origin of this phrase? How ...
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Cute as a button

Since buttons aren't particularly cute (IMO), where did this common phrase come from? I know it's old; I've seen it in 19th century literature.
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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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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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Yikes! Where did it come from?

(humorous, slang) Expressing fear. (humorous, slang) Expressing empathy with unpleasant or undesirable circumstances. [Wiktionary] Yikes! Where did it come from? OED says "Origin ...
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What's the upshot?

Upshot has been used in my presence about six times today. I know what it means in the figurative sense, and I assumed it was derived from sports so I looked up its etymology. Dictionary.com ...
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Where did the phrase “used to” come from?

I used to wonder about these usages a lot: Why does "used to" mean "accustomed to"? Why is "used to" used to indicate a recurring past event? I used to be used to using it. In that example, ...
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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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“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 “paediatrics” but “pedagogue” in British English?

There's an account of the British ae/oe and American "e" spellings (as in diarrh(o)ea, f(a)eces, and other fun words) on wikipedia. What I'm wondering is why, even in British English, ...
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Origin of the word “spraunce”

I was recently talking to someone who said a restaurant was spraunce, meaning it was well-presented and high-quality (that being the sense I was familiar with). We briefly discussed the fact that he ...
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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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Why isn't “muscle” pronounced “muskle”?

It comes from the Latin musculus (meaning mouse) and Latin has only hard c's. The "c" has somehow become soft or silent during evolution. Why did this happen? Also, if muscle is pronounced mussle, ...
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Why is a mule driver called a “skinner”?

An AmE synonym for muleteer is "mule skinner". Where does "skinner" come from in this term, and why does it only apply to mule drivers and not cattle or oxen drivers? The closest I can come is some ...
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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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Is the plural of 'prefix' really 'prefixes' rather than 'prefices'?

It looks like the plural of 'prefix' is 'prefixes' - while I would expect it to be 'prefix' => 'prefices' like 'matrix' => 'matrices' or 'index' => 'indices'. Is 'prefix' an exception to the rule? ...
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What is the origin of “tall tale”?

A tall tale is a folkloric story that is generally wildly exaggerated and told for the amusement of the listeners. Tall tale tellers usually claim some sort of personal involvement in the story. I ...
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1answer
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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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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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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 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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Etymology of the phrase “cannot see the forest for the trees”

How did this phrase originate grammatically? I’m especially interested in the fragment “for the trees”. See http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/see_the_forest_for_the_trees for its definition.
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Where does the phrase “crazy like a fox” originate?

If you say that someone is "crazy like a fox", it means that their behavior appears to be insane or nonsensical at first glance, but there's actually something very clever and subtle to it that's ...
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Reason why tantalium became obsolete

A search in google clearly shows that the word tantalum is the correct spelling of the word and is widely used today. What made me curious was this Wikipedia entry wrote: Previously known as ...
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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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“By the Bye”: Etymology and Usage

In India we frequently use this term as a substitute for 'By the way'. Is the usage as popular in other countries? Can someone throw some light on the etymology?
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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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Where does the phrase “dead simple” originate?

It feels like there should be a story behind it, or perhaps a type of slang, but I can't find anything in various Web searches.
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First usage of the word “baby” to mean fetus or any synonym of fetus

Does anyone know of a source that would indicate the first (give or take) usage of the word "baby" to mean fetus or any synonym of fetus? Every reference I've found thus far points to the usual ...
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'want' vs 'want for' vs 'want of'

[OED:] want {verb} = 1. a. intr. To be lacking or missing; not to exist; not to be forthcoming; to be deficient in quantity or degree. In early use const. with dative or to. rare since the 17th ...
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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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Is there a difference between a TV and a TV set?

Why can a one-piece TV be called a "TV set" if a TV is a single item?
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Origin of the noun-forming suffix “-hood”

How did -hood evolve into the noun-forming suffix commonly used in words such as childhood, priesthood, or neighborhood— and including certain pseudonyms such as robinhood which could easily be ...
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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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Origin of “Plumb” to mean “absolutely”

"plumb" as far as I know is a predominantly American usage, as in "That was just plumb crazy!" I thought plumb meant some kind of weight in bricklaying or such like, so how did it come to mean ...
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Etymology of the phrase “Twenty-three Skidoo” as used in “Hey Arnold!”

The phrase “Twenty-Three Skidoo” has a very interesting and mysterious history described very thoroughly by the wikipedia article on the phrase. However, this article seems to indicate it’s usually ...
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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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What is the first known use of the words “out of sight is out of mind”

Shakespeare and Hopkins used the words "out of sight is out of mind." What is their first known usage?
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290 views

Adjective form of the verb despise?

Saw the title of the movie where minions come out - "Despicable Me" - I was curious, as despicable has the suffix -able, what would be its verb form? Then, I thought, is it de-spice? Which made me ...
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The origin of the term half assed

Does this slang originate from half asked, since the difinition means exactly that. You only did half what I asked you.
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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. ...