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

learn more… | top users | synonyms (2)

18
votes
4answers
618 views

Is the verb “to steer” derived from driving oxen?

While answering another question, I read through the Online Etymology Dictionary's entry on steer: steer (v.) "guide the course of a vehicle," Old English steran (Mercian), stieran (West ...
5
votes
8answers
14k views

Where does the phrase “red herring” come from?

I understand that "red herring" means something like a clue or indicator that is misleading. But where does this come from? What does a misleading clue have to do with smoked fish?
2
votes
1answer
116 views

The meaning of the word 'Han'?

In referencing Webster's dictionary of 1828 I came across the entry for the word 'Han'. The definition was stated as: "for have, in the plural." Source: Spenser. What does this mean and how was it ...
6
votes
4answers
7k views

Origin of the idiom “butt of jokes”

What is the origin of the phrase "butt of (all) jokes"? I'm wondering whether 'jokes' are being personified here (as per the origin of the term) with 'butt' being used as it's not exactly the most ...
68
votes
3answers
7k views

Why is it “behead” and not “dehead”?

The be- prefix in behead doesn't seem to match similar words like become, besmirch, or befuddle. Of course, the same prefix could serve different roles depending on the word. What role is be- serving ...
1
vote
2answers
67 views

Does 'lending' an object require its relocation?

I was recently in an argument with a friend who - equipped with an apparent understanding of the etymology of the words lend and borrow - insisted that to lend an object required not just the ...
2
votes
2answers
38 views

Etymology of type cast

What is the etymology of cast in the sense of type cast in programming languages? In Merriam Webster I found nothing suitable: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cast
5
votes
5answers
3k views

Do you know the meaning of the American idiom “pot calling the kettle black”? [closed]

I would like to know something more about this American idiom and how north American or English speaking people use it. Can you guys answer my questions? Do you know the meaning of this idiom? Are ...
6
votes
5answers
8k views

“Be mother” - Etymology and usage

I recently came across the idiom "Be mother" in a crossword. It is supposed to mean 'to pour tea'. I was surprised by the meaning, and want to ask if there is any etymology or history behind this ...
3
votes
3answers
3k views

The Cobbler's children have no shoes

What is the origin of this phrase? Does this also apply in case of other professions? Like the goldsmith's children have no jewels or the baker's children don't eat cake?
27
votes
3answers
10k views

How does the “be-” prefix change the words to which it is applied? How did it come about?

What does the be- prefix change when applied to adjectives and verbs? There are many such words that seemed to be coined of this process, for example: behold, beget, befallen, beridden, ...
7
votes
3answers
2k views

Where did the expression “to up the ante” come from?

I know what it means, but I cannot understand where it could have come from.
6
votes
3answers
13k 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 ...
0
votes
1answer
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 ...
3
votes
4answers
6k views

What are the origins of “what's up”?

How did this begin? Did it really start with Bugs Bunny?
1
vote
1answer
96 views

“Sport” vs “Sports” Origin

I was recently reading this article on the use of "math" vs. "maths" as a collective noun (Americans use the former, Brits the latter). However, the trend seen in "math/maths" is reversed in ...
5
votes
4answers
644 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
1k views

Convolve vs. convolute

I understand that for common usage these words have distinct meanings. However in mathematics there is a process called convolution, and sometimes you hear "you need to convolve X" and sometimes "you ...
-1
votes
1answer
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 ...
4
votes
3answers
2k views

Why do we refer to the floors of buildings as stories?

Why do we refer to the floors of buildings as stories? Example: I live up on the sixth story.
4
votes
7answers
2k views

Antonym of selfie

I am looking for an antonym of selfie, meaning a photo/portrait of others. The ancient Greek word for self is like auto, and what I am looking for is an English word for hetero (its opposite). Do you ...
8
votes
4answers
5k views

Chuffed - happy or unhappy?

I was looking into the word chuffed this morning, and came across this:- chuffed 1 /tʃʌft/ adjective British Informal. delighted; pleased; satisfied. Origin: 1855–60; see chuff2 , ...
2
votes
1answer
145 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 ...
1
vote
2answers
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?
1
vote
2answers
85 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
82 views

How do I use “The screaming abdabs”?

I have recently come across the phrase "the screaming abdabs". It is used in sentences such as "it gave me the screaming abdabs", abdabs being and old-fashioned word meaning 'a case of extreme ...
5
votes
3answers
117 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?
10
votes
1answer
6k views

“Buff” and “Nurf” from video games etymology

In video games when the makers increase the power of something it is sometimes refereed to as a buff. If they decrease the power of something it is called a nurf or a de-buff. This also applies to ...
7
votes
2answers
3k views

Different Meanings of 'Jumper' (Transatlantic embarassment)

I'm originally from Wales, now living in the USA, and as the cold weather is approaching I'm determined, this year, to start using the word sweater to describe the item of clothing I'm wearing, as ...
0
votes
2answers
87 views

What is the origin of “choke in the clutch”?

I've seen this phrase in several sports stories recently, and I believe it goes back several decades. The phrase can probably be broken into two parts: choke and clutch. I know choking refers to ...
5
votes
6answers
19k views

Origin of the phrases “third time’s the charm” and “third time lucky”?

What would the origin of the saying “Third time’s the charm”? I’ve also heard “third time lucky” used as well. Are these two expressions related to each other?
3
votes
1answer
100 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 ...
-5
votes
2answers
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. ...
4
votes
3answers
1k views

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 ...
4
votes
4answers
114 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 ...
24
votes
3answers
5k views

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 ...
6
votes
6answers
10k views

Where and when did “Bucket List” come to mean what it does today?

I'm not sure I had even heard the term "bucket list" until the movie came out. I get the feeling though that the term long predates the movie. Can anyone identify how "bucket list" came to mean what ...
11
votes
1answer
745 views

How did “When” become the customary answer to “say when”?

When a waiter at a restaurant comes by with pepper or Parmesan cheese, he says, "say when" and starts putting it on your food. Many people will say "OK" or "that's enough," but it seems that the ...
-2
votes
2answers
75 views
4
votes
3answers
3k views

When did “y’all” become improper?

It is my understanding that the contraction y’all was considered correct American English in times past. At what point was this word removed from valid American English?
68
votes
10answers
8k views

Is “denigrate” a racist word? [duplicate]

A few years ago I was told not to use that word because, in addition to its negative meaning, it comes from Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare, which means to blacken. Therefore, "to ...
3
votes
4answers
5k views

Origin of the term “by the way”

There are many other terms and expressions and relating to "way" for example, sidetrack, out of the way, roundabout way of speaking, etc. Where did the term by the way come from? I've googled it, to ...
2
votes
2answers
150 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
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 ...
10
votes
1answer
180 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 ...
0
votes
0answers
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 ...
5
votes
1answer
176 views

What is to be made of “e” ending so many Middle English words?

I was recently reading about the life of Robert I (the Bruce) of Scotland. On his deathbed, since he had been unable to go on crusade to the Holy Land as he had once pledged to do, he directed that ...
4
votes
2answers
108 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 ...
-3
votes
2answers
112 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 ...
4
votes
4answers
29k views

What's the origin of “flipping the bird”?

What is the origin/meaning of the phrase "flipping the bird"?