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

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Talkies, Motion Pictures, Movies, Films and 3D Films

The term, talkies, i.e. talking pictures, I was surprised to learn was not coined in 1927, after the release of The Jazz Singer, but in 1913. The term is now obsolete whereas motion picture, meaning ...
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1k views

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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Origin and Impact of “Blown” Meaning “Bloom”

According to MW, full-blown means having all of the qualities that are associated with a particular thing or type of person : fully developed Having used it in this sense recently and noting its ...
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Where does the term “heads or tails” come from?

I recently obtained a Silver Angel collectable coin, where the back side bears an image of an angel fighting a dragon: I sort of realized, as I was looking at it, that for probably the first time in ...
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107 views

Why is the word 'Hello' used frequently when starting a phone call? [duplicate]

Why is the word 'Hello' used universally to begin a phone call? What was the origin of it?
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1answer
61 views

confusion about the 'ch' sound [duplicate]

i am confused about using the "ch" as there are three sound starting with "ch" as-/k/sound, and like these. is there some important rules to find out word formation?.someone please help me.
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1answer
45 views

confusion about the suffix 'ence' and “ance” [closed]

I am confused about using the suffixes "ance" and "ence". Where would I use "ance" and where "ence"? Is there some important rule about this?
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57 views

idiom: much the worse for wear [closed]

idiom: much the worse for wear Somehow this expression seems twisted. The comparative worse is irritating. What words are lacking and how can it become a clear and logical expression? What ...
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63 views

Ascension and descent

Why is the opposite of 'ascension' still 'descent', and not 'descension'? (Reference. NB: fully aware the answer may be convention, as it is with many things in English.)
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102 views

Etymology of “Houston, we have a problem!” [closed]

Where did the phrase "Houston, we have a problem" come from? I have heard it used a lot in movies. In which situations would it be used correctly?
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1answer
66 views

What is the origin of the word 'Alien'? [closed]

How did the word Alien originate? Was it used only for pointing out extra terrestrials?
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4answers
108 views

Why is it called 'passive smoking'?

Oxford dictionary defines passive as accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance. What would we call a non-smoker who resists but still has to inhale ...
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1answer
142 views

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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76 views

The etymology оf “handkerchief”

I've heard that the origin of the word "handkerchief" is: hand (in the modern meaning), ker (old "cover"), chief (old "head"). In old French is couvrechief. Why these changes were take place? Can ...
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499 views

Where does the phrase “balls to the wall” come from?

I know the phrase means "going all out" but I can't figure out what it literally means or where it originates from.
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2answers
188 views

Where did the phrase “you're welcome” come from?

"You're welcome" as a response to "thank you" makes absolutely no sense. You're welcome to what?
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231 views

“Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” meaning and etymology

In my experience, referring to someone in an organization as "chief cook and bottle washer" has multiple possible meanings: person has a wide variety of duties in the organization person is very, ...
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158 views

Rationale behind pronunciation of “subtle”

I've read pronunciation, yet I'm still irresolute about the exposition/logic behind the pronunciation of subtle. Why is the b not pronounced? subtle = subtil(e) in French, in which the b is ...
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What is the origin and meaning of “racing to a red light”?

During the third episode of the HBO show "True Detective" the following dialogue is exchanged: Cop 1: "Certain linguist anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites ...
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1answer
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Time before now vs. time before us

We all know that before normally means "earlier in time", but I've been thinking about the opposite meanings of those expressions: The days before now (the past) The days before us (the future) ...
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1answer
43 views

Streamer/Ribbon Difference Question

Just a different question but it's bugging me, I need an answer. I used to come from France to the USA when i was a boy to visit my family, and to my great annoyance (they thought it would suit my ...
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1answer
75 views

Weir vs. Low water dam

I came across the word weir today. It appears that we here in the USA refer to this same device as a "low water dam". I'm curious why we don't use the same word the English do, instead preferring ...
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2answers
370 views

What is the origin of the phrase “zero, zip, zilch, nada”?

In the TV show Batman: The Animated Series, the character of Joker said the phrase "zero, zip, zilch, nada". Looking at Google results for that phrase, it seems to be more widely used, so I assume the ...
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162 views

What is the origin of the word 'mug up'?

What is the origin of the expression mug up? How did it originate? Does it give any meaning to its actual definition?
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What is the oldest trick in the book?

Is there one trick that is the oldest? I understand the Oxford definition of the idiom but when was it first used and what did it refer to?
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Etymology of “card” referring to an eccentric person

What is the origin of the use of the word "card" to refer to an eccentric person? How did this meaning develop?
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What's the origin of the word “saccharine”? [closed]

What's the origin of the word "saccharine"? Has it transformed from a different word or is it taken from a different language? Have any words originated from this word?
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Does the word “master” denote masculinity?

The other day, I had a little argument with a friend. He asserted that if the principal of a school is a female, she would not be called a "headmaster", rather - a headmistress. But I disagreed with ...
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Did the slang term “The Bomb” meaning “Very Cool” come from the American Jazz scene?

Searching Google for the history of the slang term "the bomb" (as in "That song is the bomb") yields a number of results in 40s/50s jazz glossaries, but they tend to at best give an artificial example ...
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Why are the bleachers called the bleachers?

While I was reading about why the 'nosebleed' seats are called such a preposterous name at the ballpark, my curiosity was piqued in reference to another ballpark term that has troubled me over the ...
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Why does “quadratic” describe second power while “quad” usually describes “four”?

In mathematics, quadratic means "involving the second and no higher power of an unknown quantity or variable". But the prefix quad- usually describes something that has to do with four, such as ...
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Why is it called a “bank balance”?

When describing how much money is in a bank account, we'll often say that the account "has a balance" of a certain amount, as in: Your bank balance is currently £13,550. Why do we describe this ...
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Why does English spoken by a native Spanish speaker sounds pleasant but not so pleasant when spoken by a native Indian/Arabic/Chinese? [closed]

When in fact, both are non-English speakers and are at same level of understanding of English language. Could there be any etymological reason behind this? Added later- As i can see, people are not ...
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1answer
119 views

Is “gypped” really (historically) a racist term? [duplicate]

It has only been recently that I have even been aware of the connection between "gypped" and "Gypsy". Perhaps because I've always seen it spelled with a "J", I had no idea that the word had racial ...
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121 views

The drone as autonomous vehicle

Why are these 21st century autonomous vehicles called drones? Why was this zoology inspired name chosen for this kind of technology? And who was the first to call this technology by this name?
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“Dob the pill” (Child's phrase)

In some British private schools the phrase "dob the pill" is a request that someone should throw the ball to you. The Internet is almost completely silent on this phrase with the only use I can find ...
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Quis? Ego! (Child's phrase)

In British private schools children shout "Quis?" and the person to shout "Ego!" in reply first gets whatever was on offer. The Latin derivation is clear but I have two questions. First, when did ...
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313 views

What does “sex sells” mean? (and its origin)

The meaning might look obvious but I'm asking in a broader sense. Is it only pertaining to sex in advertising and is it only related to selling products? What is the origin of this phrase? When did ...
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337 views

Why are pot-holes called pot-holes?

Why are pot holes called pot holes? By pot holes I mean those holes in a road surface.
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130 views

Etymology of “chain rule” (calculus)

In calculus there is a formula known as the chain rule, used for differentiating composite functions. What is the origin of this expression?
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Did “didactic” go through Latin before arriving in English or did it come directly from Greek?

Did the word didactic go through Latin before arriving in English? How could it not have? Yet Websters says it came to English directly from Greek! I think they are wrong. There is a Latin word, ...
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483 views

Origin of “eat my hat”

I recently came across this expression: eat my hat I googled and found some results. I agree that eating a hat is not easy. But why hat? They could have chosen shoes, gloves, shirt, to name a ...
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Old English Etymology

Recently in my research I came across an O.E. word, 'ingebringan' out of a dictionary wherein the scholar translated it as "to bring in". It seems to me that in a verbatim translation, he left out the ...
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Isn't “chuckle” the frequentative of “chuck”?

Wikipedia indicates that the frequentative word "chuckle" has no original form, but Dictionary.com lists chuckle originating from the third form of chuck, meaning "to pat or tap lightly, as under the ...
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If a word has two different meanings, is it two different words or one word with different meanings?

My brother and sister-in-law are arguing about whether "train" meaning locomotive and "train" meaning teach constitutes one word with two different meanings or if it's two different words. I said ...
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What is the meaning of the expression?

What does "Get all you can, can all you get, sit on the can." mean? It seems that Google can't help me with this one. Could you also explain its origin and how it is related to the meaning?
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How meanings of “dis” and “play” construct the meaning of word “display” [closed]

In what way do meanings of "dis" and "play" construct the meaning of word "display"? As I understand it, the prefix "dis" negates what follows e.g., disability, and disadvantage. But I can't quite ...
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132 views

How did the phrase “hear you out” or “hear me out” come about?

How did the phrase "hear you out" or "hear me out" come about? The phrase means "listen to whatever I have to say before you pass judgment on me," or "tell me whatever you want; I don't mind and ...
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2answers
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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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“At the Drop of a Dime” Origin

I am reading The Maltese Falcon. Though the book was written in the 1920s, the edition I'm reading was printed in 1992. The back cover blurb uses the phrase "at the drop of a dime" to describe the ...