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

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The different uses of “-ing” in english [closed]

This may be a bad question, but I have noticed that the suffix, "-ing" is used in mainly three different ways (there may be more, I just haven't noticed them). The first way being the most common ...
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When did egregious become something bad? (archaic was something good) [duplicate]

The archaic meaning of egregious is something good. Now it means the opposite. When did this occur and is there any reasoning on why this occurred?
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Etymology of “nine-edge” and “twelve-edge”

Leafing through A Fortran Coloring Book (Kaufmann, MIT Press, 1978) I came across this passage, describing punch cards:- There are twelve rows that go across each card. For reasons known only to ...
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What's the origin behind the phrase “assume room temperature” which means “to die”?

I stumbled upon this phrase in Urban Dictionary and was rather taken by surprise to know that it is a slang expression for a person who has died (or will die in the immediate future.) Medical ...
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54 views

Term for appending “-esque” or “-ish” to a a word to form an adjective

What is the name of the term for when someone transforms a noun into an adjective by appending -esque or -ish to the end of the noun? I see this in cases where an appropriate adjective doesn't readily ...
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Why did -ful prevail instead of -full for adjectives?

A lot of adjectives in English are based on a noun + the ending -ful. The opposite adjective is usually constructed with the ending -less According to Wiktionary, both endings -ful and -full existed ...
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origin and first use of the word “comforter” when used to describe something worn around the neck?

What is the origin and first use of the word "comforter" when used to describe what, in the US, is known as a scarf?
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Did “white” in “decent white folk” originally refer to race?

Nowadays, the "white" in "decent white folk" can refer to race. But did it always refer to race, or did it have another meaning? I tried looking at Google NGrams, but it has very few hits.
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What is the etymology of 'Romanticism'?

[OED:] 7. Freq. as Romantic. Designating, relating to, or characteristic of a movement or style during the late 18th and 19th centuries in Europe marked by an emphasis on feeling, individuality, ...
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“olfactory” and “factory” - just a coincidence?

As a non native speaker I was always wondering is there is any relation between the words Olfactory and factory. They seem strikingly similar yet there is apparently no connection.
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Recent shifts in semantics which lead to misunderstandings [closed]

I was just answering this question. It is about a use of "should". The word seems to have undergone a semantic shift away from a simple first-person form of "would". Instead it is today most often ...
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What does “It is warmer on the peaks than those in the valleys will ever know” mean?

I was looking for a phrase to put at the end of a worksheet just as a nice to have for the students when they were doing work and I came across the phrase: "It is warmer on the peaks than those in ...
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What's the story behind “read my lips”?

The famous (or infamous) expression "read my lips" is often associated with a phrase spoken by then American presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention who ...
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230 views

Etymology of the “half your age, plus seven” phrase? [closed]

Stories vary online about the origins of this. It comes up in French in the early 20th century, and apparently American newspapers in 1931. What are the earliest known examples in the English ...
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How did English end up with names for days of the week like Monday, borrowed from latin but then also translated?

Learning about the origin of English names for days of the week, I found it it curious that some of them had an original meaning borrowed from Latin, but the words themselves were a translation. So ...
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What does the colloquial “b” mean? Is it a gangland expression?

If you watch The Wire, you'll notice that Stringer calls Avon "B" quite often. What does it mean? Is it short for "buddy"? When and where did people start using this expression?
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How did 'fast' evolve to mean 'quick', from 'firm'?

[ OED on 'fast' (adv.) :] 6.a. Quickly, rapidly, swiftly. For the development of this sense from the primary sense ‘firmly’, cf. 1d, 4, 5, and expressions like ‘to run hard’. It does not appear ...
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What is the word and/or process used to describe mashing two words together or inserting phonetic sounds to create new written words?

The question Portmanteau seems to apply in cases like: Phablet - Bigger than a smart phone, smaller than a tablet. Smog - Smoke and fog. Vlog - Video and blog. There must be another word for ...
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Meaning of once and while in “once in a while”

How did "once in a while" come to mean "occasionally, from time to time"? I understand it is an idiomatic usage, but "once" means "one time" and "while" means "in the meantime" , so how can the ...
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“On” and “Off” for Lights, Electrical Switches, etc

Simple question: Why were the prepositions "on" and "off" used for things like "The lights are on" and "The computer is off", and when did these words gain their new usage? I'm guessing back in the ...
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Etymology of the word “smaragd”?

I know that this word is used to describe a variation of an emerald, although many dictionaries do not include this word. One that does is Merriam-Webster: Middle English smaragde, from Latin ...
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What is the origin of 'as long as' meaning 'on condition that'?

According to dictionaries 'as long as' means "during a period of time" (as long as you live), but it also means "on the condition that" (I will attend the conference as long as I can arrive on time). ...
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What's the origin of the phrase - “For the life of me”?

The ODO definition is: (informal) However hard I try; even if my life depended on it I have come across this phrase quite a lot of times in EL&U: For the life of me, I can't remember that ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “triple threat”?

"Triple threat" means things in different contexts. For performers, it refers to someone who excels at acting, singing, and dancing. In basketball, it refers to a person who has the option to pass, ...
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Why isn't there a word for the super-type of people and businesses?

I was originally framing this question as a search for the 'right word' but the site's suggestions pointed me to a previous question that was almost identical. So I'll turn the question around and ...
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Origin of “island time”

Though it's only mentioned in Urban Dictionary, I know the meaning of "island time", which is more or less where the locals aren't too stressed about being on time. But what's the origin of the ...
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What was the usage of EModE’s four-form system for answering yes–no questions?

It is well-known that Early Modern English, if not earlier forms of English too, had a four-form system for answering yes–no questions. ‘Yea’ and ‘nay’ answered questions phrased positively (analogous ...
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127 views

Where does “the sky is falling” come from?

According to Wikipedia the common expression "the sky is falling" is from a folk tale: Henny Penny, more commonly known in the United States as "Chicken Little" and sometimes as "Chicken ...
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Does “Hang a Shingle” refer only to lawyers starting their own business?

I guess I've only heard it used to refer to lawyers. Is the term exclusive to lawyers?
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What did Terry Pratchett mean by “avec”?

Terry Pratchett used in his disc world novels the word "avec" as a common food ingredient for french (in his books named "quirmian" or "Quirm" for the country) food. Excerpt from "Snuff" by Terry ...
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Does the idiom “in check” come from chess? [closed]

I was recently arguing with a friend that the idiom "in check" comes from chess. With the meaning that keeping someone or something "in check" restrains its choices and limits its actions, this seems ...
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Origin of phrase “passing the trash”

In broadest terms, the phrase Passing the Trash describes dealing with corrupt individuals by giving them transfers, new job titles or even promotions. However, a quick search with Google suggests ...
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Idiom whose etymology involves misunderstanding the original meaning

I found this question on a rather fascinating (if unapologetically prescriptivist) website: Is there any idiom -- not a single word, but a full phrase -- whose meaning has changed over the years, ...
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366 views

Up in Annie's room behind the wall paper

My dad had a lot of phrases which I have not been able to identify the origins of. He would use "up in Annie's room behind the wallpaper" in much the same way as "to see a man about a dog" is used - ...
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the usage and etymology of the expression “I bags that”

This expression is used when you want to reserve or secure the right to do or to have something: he bagged the best chair. I see this listed as Australian slang but also have noticed references its ...
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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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What made the “worst case scenario” a popular expression?

A worst-case scenario is a cliché that refers to: the worse possible future outcome. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms) Though the meaning is quite intuitive, the ...
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Yod dropping - Why is there a distinction in the pronunciations of “sewn” and “hewn”?

"Sewn" is pronounced /sōn/, whereas "hewn" is pronounced /hyo͞on/. Is there a reason for the difference in their pronunciations despite their spellings and origins being similar?
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Metaphysician vs Metaphysicist

A practitioner of physics is known as a physicist. It seems like it would logically follow that a practitioner of metaphysics would be known as a metaphysicist; yet, in every text I've read, a ...
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What's the origin of the word “nachos”? [closed]

Just like it says on the tin! Looking for root words or early usages, ideally "first usage" or an unambiguous etymological origin.
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Is there any relation between the meanings of the word “cataract”?

Oxford defines "cataract" as "a steep waterfall" as well as gives the more common meaning of the word i.e. the medical condition that causes a loss of sight. Also, "cataract", as meaning ...
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Etymology: predicament

Can anyone explain how predicament from the Latin word family dicere ‘to say’ and praedicare, can develop the meaning precarious situation? Etymonline can't. early 15c., "category, class; one of ...
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Was “sexting” an Australian slang term originally?

To sext, (usually as noun sexting) refers to: sending (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone: Its earliest usage appears to be from 2005, thought other ...
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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". http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=enemy The Latin in- changes to ...
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Were tongue twisters meant for fun? Or were they intended for improving speech?

Of late, I have been reading and saying out loud a few tongue twisters in English after picking them up in one of the Facebook shares. While tongue twisters probably exist in all languages ever ...
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What does plaster in “plaster saint” refer to?

The saying plaster saint is used to refer to: A person who makes a show of being without moral faults or human weakness, especially in a hypocritical way. (ODO) The expression is ...
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Origin of the “to hit someone” definition of “clocked” [closed]

Google's second definition for "clock" is: informal hit (someone), especially on the head. "someone clocked him for no good reason" What is the origin of this usage of the term?
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“Should it go through the formality of actually happening …”

When did phrases such as go through the formality of taking place and its logical equivalents (such as going through or experiencing the formality of actually happening or existing or ...
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“All-American” … which usage came first?

In the U.S., "All-American" can mean two things. (1) It can be used as a general phrase, meaning simply clean-cut and middle class. "He's the all-American boy" is a cliché sentence. Note, this usage ...
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“Explicit”, “classified”, “graphic” - did these words originate as abbreviations of longer phrases?

Explicit means clearly stated. Classified means assigned to a class. Graphic means pictorial. But these words have second meanings (respectively: offensive, secret, depicting something violent). Can ...