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

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How did 'how' + 'ever' = 'however' ⟹ 'but'?

[ OED: ] Etymology: < how adv. + ever adv. 8e. Qualifying a sentence or clause as a whole: For all that, nevertheless, notwithstanding; yet; = but at the beginning of the sentence. ...
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Meaning of phrase “Early/late in the piece”

I've heard people say "this early in the piece" or "this late in the piece". It seems to be spoken as a kind of idiomatic expression, but I'm not sure what it really means. What is the meaning of the ...
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Why is the term “double-edged sword” used for something that can be favorable and unfavorable?

When something can have both favorable and unfavorable consequences, the term double-edged sword is often used to describe it. Why? Does a double-edged sword have unfavorable consequences? Are ...
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“Soccer mom”: why soccer?

...why not football mom, baseball mom, or basketball mom? Soccer mom, as far as I can tell, is an American term made popular during the 1996 presidential elections, used to describe a key demographic ...
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7answers
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Who were the 'pros from Dover'?

I was reading Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy this morning, and he compares his characters to the 'pros from Dover'. This was a phrase that I also remember hearing in the movie M*A*S*H - so it seems to be ...
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Why is “bombshell” used to describe attractive women?

Bombshell is a term used to describe very attractive women, similar to the term "sex symbol". The phrase was notably used as the title of a 1930's film, which incidentally lead to its lead actress ...
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Need someone to clear this up

If one is 'beyond reason to deal with' then wouldn't this mean that they are more than reasonable to deal with? In other words, I'm assuming to be 'beyond reason' or 'below reason' is the same thing, ...
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Does “tapall” or “tappies” mean “mail” in English?

I had been wondering about a non-native word in Tamil: Thabal, meaning post. This word has origins from elsewhere, and I had not been able to figure out the etymology. Searches in Internet had also ...
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Origin of 'a rising tide lifts all boats'

'A rising tide lifts all boats' is a saying that has become more and more common in recent decades and is often used in economic and political contexts: The aphorism "a rising tide lifts all ...
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1answer
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“Dis-” prefix meaning and etymology [closed]

Most native speakers are used to "dis-" as a prefix having a negative or opposite connotation (disengaged, dissatisfied, disinterested). However, in rare cases, "dis-" is actually an amplifying prefix,...
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41 views

How did the words classic and classical come to mean old?

I assume the words classic and classical have a basis in the word class — which is to say, of a category. Why do we use those words to mean old or historically important?
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Origins of “schoolboy error”

In the UK, at least, we use the term "a schoolboy error" to mean a simple or foolish mistake. Oxford has it as: British informal A very basic or foolish mistake. It is used very frequently ...
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Origin and usage of “graveyard slot”

The curious expression graveyard slot has two main connotations: (television) the hours from late night until early morning when the number of people watching television is at its lowest. (...
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1answer
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What's the etymology of 'of' after verbs?

(TL;DR) While reading about preposition of on OED (eg avail of, enquire of), I encountered a possible explanation: quoted below, OED claims that the postverbal of originates from the genitive case, ...
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4answers
712 views

What does “zingo” mean?

I'm doing some maintenance work on some software - whose original developers are unknown. There is a report called the "All Zingo Report", which basically dumps all the data for the primary "entity" ...
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Word usage in the phrase “life after death”

Who first coined the phrase "Life after Death"? And since the word "death" means "no longer living", and "life" means "living", I find the phrase and/or question to be a conflict of words. Wouldn't ...
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4answers
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Origins and meaning of, “Ham and Egg it”?

This term was used by a MLB sports announcer yesterday (5/10/2015 - Padres vs. Diamondbacks @ 2:10:41) talking about relying on relief pitchers. “Diamondbacks today trying to ham and egg it with ...
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1answer
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What are little boys made of?

"Snips and Snails and Puppy dogs tails" I've found several possible definitions for a "snip" such as: An insignificant person Something easily obtained, i.e. a bargain A piece of something that ...
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“bucking for” .. like Klinger

In the culturally referrent 1970s USA TV show "MASH", about the Korean war, character Corporal Klinger acts "crazy", specifically wearing female clothing, ... because he is bucking for a section 8 ...
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Are “adult” and “adulterate” cognates?

The word adult appear to have derived from the Latin term adultus, meaning grown up, mature, adult, ripe. Adulterate (and its cognate adultery) is reported to derive from the Latin adulterare - to ...
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2answers
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What does “Nine Below Zero” mean?

There is a Blues Standard "Nine Below Zero" and I wonder what the phrase means. The chorus is Nine Below Zero, she put me down for another And it would also be super interesting where this ...
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3answers
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Meaning of 'be bond to' in “since ye are bond to that magic” in 19th-century poem [closed]

I am reading a poem by Rudyard Kipling, Kitchener's School (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_kitchener.htm) and I am wondering about the precise meaning/possible connotations of the verb 'be bond ...
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Why is “toast” uncountable?

This is ‘English’ toast And this is some posh toast Pain Quotidien offers rye, walnut and sourdough toast at £2.95 for two slices, while Gail’s bakery chain, which opened its first café in ...
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Origin of Turn up one's Nose?

Can someone tell me the origin of the expression "Turn up one's nose"? As in "She turned up her nose at the frog's legs." The reason I ask is that I have seen our horses literally turn up their ...
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What does “let it bleed” mean in this context?

What does 'let it bleed' mean in the following sentence? Though the actors give their all, notably Stellan Skarsgård as the brother of the missing Harriet and Joely Richardson as an estranged ...
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Preservation of the en- prefix form of Latin negative prefix in-, in enemy & enmity

The en- in enemy is a prefix meaning "not": the origin is Latin inimicus, from in- + amicus — a "not friend" or an "unfriend" (Online Etymology Dictionary—enemy). The Latin in- changed to en- when ...
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How did 'equity' semantically shift to be used in 'Home Equity'?

[OED :] Draft additions 1993 The net value of mortgaged property after deduction of charges outstanding on it; more generally, the amount of a debt which has been paid off. Chiefly U.S. [ ...
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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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Origin of “moke,” used in the mildly derogatory term “you lil' moke”

Does anyone know the origins of this term? I have only managed to track one reference to it. I heard it from my Granny who was Romani. The Online Etymology Dictionary has this short entry: moke (n....
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Why is a black eye called a “shiner”?

I saw a photograph of Chris Robshaw, the Harlequins captain, in the paper yesterday sporting a magnificent shiner, and naturally started to wonder where the term originated. Consulting Etymonline ...
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Why is news said to be “breaking”?

I was just wondering what the origins of "breaking news" or "we broke the story" are.
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Use of “trying to” in place of “wanting to” in the US

Is the use of "trying to" in place of "wanting to" occurring nationwide or regionally? What is its prevalence and when did it start? I'm in my late 20s and live in New England. In the past 2-3 ...
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Source of the phrase “call [somebody] out of name”

I was introduced today to the phrase "Call out of name" as in: She claimed the other girl called her out of name. I had to ask what it meant and the answer was "she called her a bitch". I'm ...
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Why isn't the ‘P’ in psychology pronounced? [duplicate]

Why is the initial letter of some of the words like pneumonia, and psychology not pronounced?
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Where does “pizza pie” originate?

The Italianissimo pizza—pronounced /ˈpiʦ:a/—is not always spelled or called pizza around the world: In Bosnia, Belarusian, Macedonia, Serbia it's spelled pica but pronounced /pîtsa/ In Estonian;...
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Where did the phrase “a whole new world” come from?

"A whole new world" as in, "a new perspective." Yes, there's the song from the film Aladdin in the 1990s but the saying has been around far longer, hasn't it?
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Where does “contango” come from?

Contango is a very common term in financial business that originally referred to: (on the London stock exchange) a fee paid by a buyer of securities to the seller for the privilege of ...
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Origin of “a lot”

I am working on a novel set in the early 19th century and am wondering if the phrase "a lot" is too contemporary. That happened a lot with debutantes, he mused.
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Etymology of 'clinical' in 'clinical professor'?

I searched for the meaning of 'clinical' and I could not find any association with academia. Why are non-tenure track jobs referred to as 'clinical'? What is the etymology?
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Meaning of the “rupt” suffix/prefix

I was wondering the other day about the word corrupt, found that the suffix "rupt" appears in many words and as a prefix for another set and decided to ask this question: What does "rupt" mean? ...
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Who was Buggins of 'Buggins' turn'?

'Buggins' turn' refers to the practice of assigning appointments to persons in rotation, rather than on merit. The OED records this and gives examples of its use from 1901. As regards etymology it ...
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The “F-word” in N-gram Viewer

I was simply fiddling with Ngram viewer when my apparently naughty mind made me type the (real) "F-word" onto the text field, (the time was also chosen randomly, (1750-to-1993)), the results baffled ...
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wrecking vs wracking vs wreaking

What I understand so far: Wrecking - to trash/destroy/be destroyed Wracking - to be tortured, possibly from variant of "rack". http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=wrack also seems to mention ...
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What does “corrupt” etymologically mean? [closed]

I see that interrupt morphologically and semantically means 'to break something intermittently'. I see that corrupt is formed from prefix 'co-' (which I know means "(put) together") and 'rupt' which ...
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1answer
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How did 'attitude' come to mean 'orientation' in travel?

I read the question WHY (actually) did Rosetta have to go into hibernation for 2.5 years? that uses the term attitude to refer to the orientation of the Rosetta probe: It spun itself up to ...
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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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Origin of terms Passed Away and Deceased

I really dislike the expression “Passed away” and would like to know where it came from. I am not keen on “deceased” either. Died seems gentle enough. This from a Low Episcopalian.....
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Are there common etymological links to the words “judge”, “Jew”, “Jude” and 'justice"? [closed]

Are there common etymological links to the words "judge", "Jew", "Jude" and "justice"? One source cited "yew" and/or "yewes" as possible Proto-Indo-European links to "Jew". How about "jewel" amd "...
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Why is “renege” pronounced with a hard “g” sound?

The word renege comes from Medieval Latin renegare (source). It is the only English word of Latin origin I'm aware of that doesn't follow the soft g pronunciation rule. The g is hard even though there'...
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Idiom: to be at loggerheads

Idiom to be at loggerheads with someone over sth The meaning is to be in strong disagreement with someone struggling constantly as in The two governments are still at loggerheads over the island. ...