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

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Usage and meaning of the word “Ragging” in India

This is my first post here on an unwelcome situation in India, described by a word, "Ragging". Wikipedia article states that: "Ragging is a practice similar to hazing in educational institutions. ...
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Polarly opposite connotations of 'head'?

Such aphorisms as 'Think With Your Head, Not Your Heart' connote positivity of the noun 'head', but such English words as heady and testy connote negativity. So why this clash and polarity of ...
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Where does the word mandate come from? [closed]

I am looking for historical information for the word mandate.
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41 views

Actual origin of the name Finagle's law

Finagle's law states that Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible moment. It is commonly attributed to SF editor John Campbell. Did he actually coin the phrase, or did he ...
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114 views

Where does the term “key-thong” (for flip-flops) come from?

In the east Bay Area of California, in the early '60's, we called flip flops key-thongs. (The spelling is likely wrong as I couldn't read at the time.) We moved to New Mexico in the late 60's, where ...
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229 views

Why do people say 'buck' for a dollar?

I grew up in South Africa. When someone said something costs 'two bucks' it meant two rand (like saying two dollars, but South African currency). It made perfect sense, as the 1 Rand coin had an ...
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Envy is the biggest tribute

The best football (soccer) coach in the world for the past 12 years said: Envy is the biggest tribute that the shadows do to the man. Where does the phrase come from?
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52 views

'suffuse': How can you pour something (from) below?

I already understand so ask NOT about definitions, below which I instead purpose to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. ODO: Late 16th century: from Latin suffus- 'poured into', from sub- ...
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129 views

What's the origin of “this is going to come to a head”?

I have used the phrases "This is going to come to a head" or "coming to a head". I think I know what they mean, I think I'm using them correctly. So...where do these phrases come from? And, ahem, ...
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How do I invent a word targeted to english speakers? [closed]

I'm looking for rules, guidance, and structure that will allow me to invent a word (or series of words) that would be easy for an English speaker to pronounce and remember. The intent is to generate ...
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Historical meaning of “program” as a verb

Frozen since 1837, some guy just thawed up and confronted me with the verb 'to program' in the context of CS. If by programming an automatic computer, we mean “to put instructions in main memory for ...
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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. ...
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What did it originally mean to 'bow and scrape'?

It is said, including in the OED, to refer to bowing, and at the same time drawing back the right leg so that it made a scraping noise. I don't recall seeing anyone scraping. I lived in Japan for a ...
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etymology and pronunciation of bowline knot

The wikipedia article for bowline gives two pronunciations /boʊlɪn/ or /boʊlaɪn/. The history section says: The bowline's name has an earlier meaning, dating to the age of sail. On a ...
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70 views

What do you call a pathway or hole made in a hedge or undergrowth by the track of an animal?

What is the word for a hole of pathway made by an animal in the hedgerow or undergrowth?
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618 views

How is “erogenous” incorrectly formed?

When I check the etymology of erogenous in OED, it is mentioned that it is incorrectly formed (along with erogenic). Etymology of erogenous from OED: formed as erogenic adj. + -ous suffix. ...
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168 views

Where did to “pore over” come from?

I used the phrase "pore over" the other day and realized that I have no idea where it came from (or how to spell it - I originally thought it was "pour over"). After looking it up, Merriam Webster ...
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97 views

Add the prefix A to various words [closed]

I've seen several threads about the prefix "a" and its various uses. Can we simply add this prefix to change the meaning of words to mean "not"? ie. asymmetrical, apolitical etc. As long as the word ...
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1answer
145 views

What's up with 'recapitulates'?

I am puzzled by the the use of the word in the sense of the phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". The meaning is taken to be 're-enacts' or 're-creates'. It's entirely different from what I would ...
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Is “fillet” a different word in “salmon fillet” than in “leather fillet”

In the question "Is there a name for words which are pronounced differently depending on which definition is being used?" it was suggested by two people that when the word "fillet" is used to describe ...
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root words and affixes lead to a limitless vocabulary?

Could anyone explain how a solid knowledge about root words and affixes ( which can alter words meaning presumably ) boosts one's vocabulary? I want to know how it works? I've read somewhere that good ...
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How did 'decree' evolve from 'to separate'?

What's an intuitive derivation or rationale to help remember the definition? I purpose to burrow below definitions, which I already understand so ask NOT about. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. ...
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Term or phrase for False etymology explanations

I'll try to make this make sense. I have heard of examples of people who take a word and wrongly explain its origin, usually in a way that makes sense; it is perfectly feasible for the word or phrase ...
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What Is the Origin of the Word “Sherpa”?

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Subscription-only says: Sherpa n. a Himalayan person who is often employed to guide people through mountains and carry their equipment Word Origin ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “grease the skids”?

What is the origin or derivation of the phrase "greasing the skids?" The phrase connotes preparation, in such a way as to make the subsequent activities easier. Definitions are available various ...
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How does 'for all that' mean 'in spite of that'?

I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. 1. What part of speech is for all that ? for all that = in spite of that ...
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862 views

What does the prefix iso- mean in “isolate”? [closed]

My question is referring to the prefix iso- and its meaning in the word isolate. My question is, if the prefix means equal, how does that make sense in the word isolate?
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206 views

What is the etymology of “gatefold”?

What does the word "gatefold" mean? Sure, I know what it is (the whole internet is very eager to tell me what it is), but where does it come from? The "gate" part that is, I can guess the "fold" ...
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Origin of the phrases “out back” and “out front”?

I'm going through the Song of Ice and Fire books, and although it's mostly written in what appears to be British English, very occasionally Americanisms sneak in. One example that I just noticed is ...
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What is the origin of “dibs”?

Etymonline has this entry for dibs: Children's word to express a claim on something, 1932, originally U.S., apparently a contraction of dibstone "a knucklebone or jack in a children's game" ...
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Etymology of “hysteresis”

Wikipedia (correctly IMHO) defines hysteresis as the dependence of the output of a system not only on its current input, but also on its history of past inputs. The dependence arises because the ...
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I've said it once, I've said it twice, I've said it a thousand times: English doesn't make sense

I had a student moaning at me because I insisted he say twice and not "two times". And he asked "But why?" to which I replied, "Because that's how you say it!" However on reflection, his question was ...
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How did 'to purport' evolve to connote negativity?

I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. Please beware that I replicate the noun(al) etymology from Etymonline, and not ...
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Etymology of “save” in the meaning of “except”, “but”, “unless”

Why does save also mean other than : but or except "We had no hope save one." except for the fact that : only —used with that but, except —used before a word often taken to be the ...
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How to rationalise the legal definition of 'to procure'?

How can I resolve the contradictions below? What's the right derivation? I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. ...
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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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What is the relation between plastic surgery and plastic? [closed]

Reading some books, I am wondering if there is any connection between plastic surgery and plastic itself? One definition from OED seems to fit: (Of substances or materials) easily shaped or ...
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How did “s***” and “the s***” come to mean opposite things?

Your idea is shit Your idea is bad. Your idea is the shit Your idea is good. The same does not apply to "the crap" or "the poop", or other profanity like "the fuck". I can think of ...
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Where does the phrase “Job Lot” come from?

The phrase "Job Lot" is used in auctions to mean an often assorted quantity of something, for example a "job lot of bicycle parts" could be a load of tyres, wheels, handlebars, frames, chains, etc. I ...
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Adjective form of the verb despise?

Saw the title of the movie where minions come out - "Despicable Me" - I was curious, as despicable has the suffix -able, what would be its verb form? Then, I thought, is it de-spice? Which made me ...
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Etymology of “loose woman”

I was prompted to this question by the question on Skeptics SE regarding sex and stretching of vaginas. A general google search on etymology of "loose woman" did not turn up any reasonable answers ...
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What is the origin of “TX” as an abbreviation for “transaction”?

Acronymfinder.com lists TX as a rare abbreviation for "transaction", particularly in the context of computers. It use by the Bitcoin protocol may be its best-known application, but I've also found a ...
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To have the world “at your fingertips”

I was watching a YouTube video about eating disorders when the American TV presenter ended a pep talk with the following words: If I had the chance today to spend six weeks somewhere, to better ...
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Origin of “happy camper”

How did happy camper and not a happy camper originate? I have been unable to find a definitive source for this phrase.
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What is the difference in meaning between “complacent” and “complaisant”

They are both derived from the French world complaire, which means "pleased" According to this source, "the two words overlapped in meaning until the middle of the 19th century." How do they differ ...
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How did 'cordon bleu' come to be applied to cookery?

The cordon bleu -blue ribbon- was a ribbon worn by the Knights Grand Cross of the French Order of the Hoy Ghost, the highest order of chivalry under the Bourbon kings of France. The OED entry on ...
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142 views

Necromancy and nigromancy

Necromancy and nigromancy descibe the act of black magic/ spiritualism. It comes from Greek originally and laterly Latin, according to Wikipedia. The question is, is this the ancient source of the ...
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Origin of “kill the ghost”, “killing the ghost”

A British friend of mine who used to work with us came back from London for a short visit to the town.Before going back home again he showed me photographs of the town beach and hotel saying he came ...
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What is the origin of “rat”?

A simple little word for a common little fella. Yet, the origin is unknown (or not?). Both OED and Etymonline are bold enough to say "of uncertain origin"; but, of course, they try to explain the ...
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120 views

Why is “decimate” still linked to its number-specific definition when other similar words are not? [closed]

As any pedant will tell you, decimate means “to destroy a tenth of something.” Of course, its modern usage has been expanded to this: to destroy a large number of (plants, animals, people, ...