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

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Etymology for “Mc‑” and “O’‑” prefix in surnames

There is clearly a prefix in names like McDonald, McChrystal, O’Brian, O’Neal. What does this Mc- and O- prefix signify? It looks like Donald, Chrystal, Brian, Neal are perfectly fine names on their ...
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Why place a hand on the Bible instead of the Judge's genitals when taking an oath?

Etymonline gives the etymology of testify as ...from testis "a witness".. + root of facere "to make"... Biblical sense of "openly profess one's faith and devotion" is attested from 1520s. Related: ...
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Why does “impregnable” mean *cannot be impregnated*?

Well not exactly, but according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, impregnable means: ADJECTIVE: 1. Impossible to capture or enter by force: an impregnable fortress. ...
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What's the literal meaning of “Real Estate”?

Today I realized that the word "Real" in "Real Estate" might be about "royalty" instead of "reality". English is a foreign language to me, so I don't really know the literal meaning and origin of the ...
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Why does “puce” mean two different colors depending on where you live?

I always thought puce was green, then saw on Wikipedia that it is purplish-brown. Further research tells me that it's generally regarded as purplish-brown in the United States, whereas Europeans think ...
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Why are nicknames called “nicknames”?

Where did this term originate from? According to Etymonline.com, it originates from O.E. eaca, which means to "increase". However, I can't see how the "n" got stuck in there too. Does anyone have ...
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Where does the use of “why” as an interjection come from?

Examples: Why, I'd love to. Why, of course! I get the concept of starting a sentence with a word not completely related to the overall response, but this one seems to be a particularly ...
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What were nightmares called before “nightmare” was used in that sense?

Apparently the word "nightmare" has only been used in the sense of "bad dream" since c. 1829. Before then the term referred to the agent causing the dreams—a mare < mera, mære 'goblin, ...
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What is the origin of the “-th” suffix? What is the linguistic term for the meaning it adds to words?

I was teaching my young nephew some math the other day, and from discussing the typical sort of word problems he's encountering in class, I noticed that the "-th" suffix adds a distinct meaning to ...
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King James Bible archaic style

I am currently reading the King James Version of the Bible and I have noticed some features that I would like to know more about. Almost every verse of the First Book of Moses starts with “and”. ...
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Why are female wizards called “witches”?

I was looking up these two words in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: Wizard: Witch: It's mentioned in the Word Origin section that Wizard comes from "Wise", while for "Witch" it ...
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Why do we “get cold feet”?

A sudden loss of nerve when embarked on a venture is called cold feet. Does anyone know why that should be? An etymology is suggested at englishdaily626. If your 'feet' are 'cold', you can't walk ...
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What is the meaning of the phrase “The morning constitutional”?

What exactly is the meaning of the phrase “The morning constitutional”? Is it an early morning walk or the first visit to the bathroom during the day? What is the origin of this phrase? What is the ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “I'll take a raincheck”?

What is the origin of the phrase I'll take a raincheck?
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Paucity of words for relationships

Please refer the following questions asked elsewhere on this site: Is there a word that means "the wife of one's brother"? What is the relationship name of my wife's brother to me? ...
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Why is “subpar” not “superpar”?

My understanding is that the "par" portion of "subpar" comes from the sport of golf, as in the phrase "par for the course". However if this is the case, then the construction of the word doesn't seem ...
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What's the origin of “yo”?

I have some friends, and they say “Yo!” when I call them. I haven”t heard this response until quite recently (somehow), and I thought it was some word coined by rappers in their songs, and was adopted ...
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Origin of “Too Clever by Half”

The phrase "Too Clever by Half" is used to criticize someone for being overconfident in their thinking. What is the origin of this phrase? I read somewhere that it started as a backhanded compliment ...
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Origin of “ballpark estimate” to mean a very rough estimate?

I'm wondering where the term "ballpark estimate" comes from? Sometimes "ballpark" is said stand-alone to mean a rough estimate, as in "these numbers are a ballpark". I understand it must come from ...
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What's up with the word “egregious”?

According to Google's dictionary (and MacOS/iOS dictionary), egregious has the following definitions: I've seen words with multiple definitions, but not ones that are exact contradictions. Some ...
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Why is it “Merry” Christmas, but “Happy” New Year?

Happy Christmas just sounds wrong to my American ear. (I do get that it is customary in England.) Merry New Year, equally so. Of the two, Christmas is the younger holiday and yet its greeting seems ...
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Why are there two pronunciations for “either”?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an individual who told me that pronouncing the word "either" is wrong when pronounced like \ˈī-thər\ instead of \ˈē-thər\ , but I didn't argue the point ...
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Why “homophobia” and not “sexualism” or similar?

A phobia is an irrational fear of something. An intolerance to something is usually an -ism, not a -phobia, as in sexism racism ageism Yet people who object to homosexual practices or discriminate ...
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Why does “for good” mean “forever”?

A very recent and similar question was closed asks what "for good" means. While general reference can answer the question, I became curious as to the etymology of the idiom. Googling around got me ...
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When should I say “thee”?

If I want to be posh, old school, when I'm writing, and decide to use "thee" then what is the correct technical usage for it? Does it simply replace "the" ?
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What does “thy” mean?

I read a sentence containing the word thy, but I cannot find the meaning of that word. Is it older English, or is it still used in contemporary English today?
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Why “e.g.” and not “f.e.”? Why “i.e.” and not “t.i.”?

As a non-native English speaker without a classical education, it took me quite some time to appreciate the "e.g." and "i.e." abbreviations. What is wrong with "f.e." ("for example") and "t.i." ...
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The origin of the term “Baker's Dozen”?

There's a "hot question" at the moment about the use of the apostrophe in the phrase Baker's Dozen, and it got me to wondering: where did this phrase originate? Did bakers really offer 13 in a dozen? ...
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Why do we call our lovers “baby”?

It is common in American English and culture to refer to one's lover or significant other as "baby" or "babe", for example: Come on baby, light my fire! 1 or I got you, I won't let go. I got ...
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Where did the “ue” in “tongue” come from?

How I remember being told over and over how to spell tongue! I didn't understand it then; I don't understand it now. What evolution might put a silent "ue" at the end of a word?
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Origin of the phrase, “There's more than one way to skin a cat.”

The meaning is clear, but where did this phrase originate? Was it always such a gruesome reference?
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Who coined the term “Holocaust” to refer to the Nazi “final solution” for the Jewish people?

Before World War II the word "holocaust" referred most often to a huge inferno. Who first used the term to describe the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews? When and where?
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Eww! Has it crossed the pond yet?

I hear eww (sometimes spelt as ew) fairly regularly on American sitcoms, usually uttered by a scatterbrained beautiful blonde girl when she sees or hears something disgusting. I don't recall it ever ...
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A murder of crows?

I love the subset of collective nouns known as the terms of venery. These are collective nouns specific to a particular group of animals. Some of the more inventive examples are: a murder of crows, a ...
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How does “pussy” come to mean “coward”?

The word pussy is often used to mean "coward". This guy is a pussy. and I am wondering why. How are woman's genitals related to being a "coward"?
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Etymology of the idiom “by and large”

The idiomatic phrase by and large means largely; generally; mostly The two earliest usages listed in Google's ngram, from 1812 and 1837, appear to use it in its current form and meaning. What ...
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What is the “Ap” in the surname “ApSimon”?

There are two questions here (1,2) concerning names with “Mc” in them (such as McGregor), revealing that Mc comes from Mac, which is Gaelic for “son of”. I have now come across the last name ApSimon. ...
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Origin of “Fits [x] to a T”?

The above phrase is something I've known for as long as I can remember, though I don't know from where. What is its origin and usage?
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Why is the action of removing a digital file named “Delete”?

After reading these questions: Difference between "delete" and "remove" How much use did the word 'delete' get before the technological boom? Delete or Remove (ell.SE) ...
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How nutty are the terms “nut case”, “health nut” and “sports nut”?

If someone is nuts about something/someone it means they are a very enthusiastic— sometimes bordering on obsessive—devotee of that particular thing or person. To be nuts is a colloquial term meaning ...
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What is the origin of “holy smoke”?

What is the origin of holy smoke? To what is holy smoke referring?
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“Clean as a whistle” — why is a whistle considered appropriate for describing cleanliness?

Every time I hear this idiom, I cogitate to no avail as to its sense. Why is it a whistle, and not a lantern, or an axe?
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“Fire” a weapon before firearms existed?

Did the verb “fire a weapon” exist before the actual introduction of firearms on battlefields? More specifically, does it make sense for a creative work to have archers (or whatever ranged weaponry) ...
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Gay (homosexual) and gay (happy)

When did the main meaning of the word 'gay' shift from happy to homosexual? How did the meaning evolve, if there is a relation between the two?
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What is the meaning and origin of the common phrase “the world is your oyster”?

What does the world is your oyster mean, and where does it come from?
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Hump, Rump, Lump, Bump

I’m referring to the similar definitions of these four nouns – something raised and rounded. Why do these four rhyming words have similar meanings? I have not found very specific sources for these ...
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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 ...
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Does “candlelight” mean “compare side by side”?

Some of my colleagues use the word "candlelight" to mean "directly compare similar things". A specific example is comparing two lines on a line chart like this: "We can use this chart to ...
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If I invent a word, what language is it?

I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English ...
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Where does “patching through” come from?

Where does "patching through" come from? And what did it originally mean? Usage: "I'm patching through a call from Mr. X"