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

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What is actually being doubled when someone has to “double back”?

I have frequently heard this phrase and used it myself when I've gone in a wrong direction either physically or at work metaphorically. However, I wonder why the phrase is double back, since once you ...
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What is the word - A secret that passes on from a person to person

I forgot this word. I tell a person a secret and ask him not to tell it to anyone else. That 2nd person tells another person and tells him not to disclose it to anyone else. But this goes on. ...
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Etymology of 'doylum'

Doylum was a word commonly used in Leeds, Yorkshire, North of England, where I grew up in the 1960s/70s. It basically means idiot - "What a doylum!" At the time I thought this was strictly a Leeds ...
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How did 'wise' evolve from 'to know' to 'manner/extent'?

Please explain the relationship between the existent adjective wise and the archaic noun wise? Etymonline shows that the noun originated 'from the same source as wise (adj.)', but how does '"to ...
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Etymology of “trumpet” and “triumphant”

With the lack of a good etymology search engine that I know of I'll ask this here. In classical music, the trumpet is often used to communicate a sense of victory, glory, or triumph. To my ...
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How did 'hold' evolve into its more forceful legal meaning?

5.6. [with clause] (Of a judge or court) rule; decide When I first encountered this meaning, I thought that it only meant the connotations of 'to contain, grasp; retain; foster, cherish'. For ...
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When did dogs start “wagging” their tails?

An earlier question of mine What does a cat's tail do? got me thinking. When did dogs begin to wag their tails? And do any other animals wag? According to Google, very few books have ever been ...
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The origins and usages of “waffle”

Scottish dogs used to waff American voters waffled in 2000 British politicians “waffle on” for hours And Swedish children eat them on March 25th Waffle nowadays has basically three meanings: ...
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Use of the phrase with abandon

I came across this phrase on Stack Overflow and I was a little confused as to its meaning: Every major browser now has a built in console which your would-be hacker can use with abandon... I ...
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How did “to lie” (i.e lie about something) and “to lie” (i.e. lie down) end up being spelled the same way?

I'm hoping to find out the history of how "to lie" as in say something dishonest and "to lie" as in rest horizontally end up being spelled the same way. To lie (lie, lied, lied): a false statement ...
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How to remember the terms for noun declensions?

I'm aware of the etymological fallacy, but would knowing the etymology of the following words help me understand them? I'm always confused as to which is which, and I need to consult a dictionary ...
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Why “sense of humour”?

I always had this question in my mind: Why people use the phrase "sense of humour" for the quality of being humorous and funny? The word sense suggests it is about perceiving and receiving something. ...
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Origin of the phrase “social justice warrior”

What is the origin of the phrase "social justice warrior"? RationalWiki says that the phrase "social justice" (without warrior) originated in the 1840s. Searching twitter for top tweets about ...
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Are “polite” and “politics” etymologically similar?

I read of the words "polite" and "politics" on Wiktionary. They originate from Latin word for "smooth" and Greek word for "state", so superficially i concluded they have nothing in common. But the ...
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When did “World War 2” start being called “World War 2”?

When did World War 2 start being called a "world war" and when did it start being called World War 2? Thurber's The Last Flower (copyright 1939) makes reference to World War 12 so I'm curious as to ...
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Where did the saying “Bite the dust” come from?

Hypothetical example usage: "Another one bites the dust." He said as he watched another building burn to the ground. It just means that something is destroyed. What does biting dust have to do ...
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What is the origin of the term “crash hot”?

The term "crash hot" is often used in the negative, such as "I'm not feeling too crash hot today". I am trying to find out when the term was first used and why. I have used Internet search but have ...
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How did “yours truly” become a euphemism for “I” or “me”?

Rarely but occasionally I've seen yours truly appear in text when the author wishes to refer to him- or herself. An example from The Cambridge Dictionary: Some folks, such as yours truly, can't ...
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Why are there no male or female terms for cousins in English? [duplicate]

In general English doesn't seem to cater well for identifying relationships between people, and the classic example seems to be the term 'cousin' because you can't really work out whether it is ...
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What does “Picadillo” mean

I've heard expressions such as "He's had his picadillos" or "The Picadillos of his youth". But I can't seem to find any definitions on google (Maybe I'm just spelling it wrong? haha), only examples ...
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How did 'undertake' evolve to mean 'take on'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning: undertake = [with object] 1. Commit oneself to and begin (an enterprise or responsibility); take on: ...
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“must”: obligation x certainty. Which meaning developed first in the English language?

ORIGIN OF MUST - Middle English moste, from Old English mōste, past indicative & subjunctive of mōtan to be allowed to, have to; akin to Old High German muozan to be allowed to, have to First ...
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How did 'milieu' evolve to mean 'social environment'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning: milieu = A person’s social environment: Etymonline: "surroundings," 1877, from French milieu, ...
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“Yard” in the sense of pulling hard on something

I'm from New England. Here we use the expression to yard on something meaning to pull hard on it. For instance, you might hear She's stuck up in that tree. If you want to get her down, you're ...
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Origin of “Fits [x] to a T”?

The above phrase is something I've known for as long as I can remember, though I don't know from where. What is its origin and usage?
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What is the origin of the phrase “it's a horse apiece”?

My wife from Wisconsin and her family use the phase "it's a horse apiece". This is used in place of something like "it doesn't matter either way" or "both are the same". Where does this come from?
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How does 'together + to bear' cause 'confer' to mean 'grant something'? [closed]

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning? confer = 1. [with object] [with object] Grant (a title, degree, benefit, or right): Etymonline: ...
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words derived from French that have re-entered French from English

I am looking for a few examples of words that originated in French (or in Latin and then entered French), entered English and were reimported into French.
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Origin of “minibeasts”?

What is the origin of the term minibeasts? Growing up in the UK I never heard the term, but recently I have heard it prolifically used in preschool education and children's television programmes.
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Do *appraise* and *apprise* come from the same root?

I am interested in the origin and usage of apprise versus appraise. There is overlap in usage. In one meaning the latter can be substituted for the former and this is recognised in sense 4 in the ...
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Is 'until' a tautology?

The OED's definition of the word 'until' lists the following as its etymology: Middle English: from Old Norse und 'as far as' + till (the sense thus duplicated) Etymonline similarly states: ...
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Where does the second “l” come from in “till”? [duplicate]

I've always wondered this: surely an abbreviation of until should abbreviate the word, without subsequently needing to double the last letter? Are there any reasons for this?
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How did the slang meaning of “flog” come about?

I've searched multiple dictionaries and Etymonline but the only origin for "flog" that I can find is: 1670s, slang, perhaps a schoolboy shortening of L. flagellare "flagellate." This clearly ...
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Where do we get the word “peanut”?

Alternative names, like groundnut and earthnut, make sense. In German, peanuts are called Erdnüsse, literally, earth nuts. Where did the word "peanut" come from, and how did it become the dominant ...
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What is the etymology of “first crack”

The meaning is "first chance", for example, "I gave my oldest son first crack at trying to fix the car"
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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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How did “pumpkin” come to be a term of endearment?

The logic of some terms of endearment is fairly clear. Sweetie, honey, cupcake all refer to food treats. However, the use of the term pumpkin as a tenderness seems somewhat counterintuitive. While ...
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How does 'be' + 'of' combine to mean 'possess; give rise to'?

I already understand and thus ask NOT about the definition, but instead want to dredge below it: to be of = Possess intrinsically; give rise to How does the juxtaposition of these two 'Top 1000 ...
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Origin of the expression “Dead to rights”?

I was watching a TV show and this term was used. I am familiar with the definition, but I was wondering the origin of the phrase. It does not make sense to me if taken literally. Reference
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Why do we say “rips and tears”?

For example, "Clothing must be free from rips and tears." It seems to me that the words "rips" and "tears" can be used interchangeably, and that using both is redundant. Is there a particular reason ...
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What is the source of “set”, meaning balanced?

In the sport of rowing, a boat is "set" if it's balanced and doesn't wobble. It can also be used as a noun as in "We had good set this morning", or as a verb- "Set the boat, gosh darn it". I've found ...
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Origin of the expression “skin of a rhinoceros”?

The Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has recently published an open letter where he says: ... It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros. I am wondering where this expression "skin of a rhinoceros" is ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “two nations divided by a common language”?

What is the origin of the phrase "two nations divided by a common language"? I have seen it attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill. The most likely looking source ...
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Origins of “tie the knot”

A common symbol in modern weddings it the image of knot. The phrase "tie the knot" as a euphemism for marriage that is also commonly recognized. Where does this originate from?
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What is the source of the phrase “phony baloney”?

The term baloney means Foolish or deceptive talk; nonsense: typical salesman’s baloney [corruption of bologna] [Oxford Dictionaries Online] Etymonline provides the following derivation ...
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Real estate derivation [duplicate]

The derivation of "real" in the term "real estate". Can it be literal in describing parcels of land as distinguished from other appurtenances that was added or exists on the parcel? Could it mean ...
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Why does modern English only have one affirmative response? [closed]

I learned that nearly all Germanic languages have two affirmative responses, one of which answers a positively framed question and the other answer a negatively framed question. In modern English, ...
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There is (there's) vs.There are

What are the roots of the creeping usage of "there's" for both singular and plural predicates? (This seems to be more common in spoken English.) I have 2 theories. Perhaps it is because spoken ...
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OED Appeals: Antedatings of “party animal”

The OED has made a public appeal for help in tracing the history of some English words, including: party animal noun earlier than 1982 When the OED added its entry for party animal, ...
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What is the origin of the expression “the big picture”?

The expression the big picture, meaning "the entire perspective on a situation or issue", is very common today. Where does this phrase come from? Was there a literal big picture that it once ...