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

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What purpose does an '-o' serve?

I have been singing a lot of children’s songs lately, and this afternoon in the car I noticed three songs that add an ‑o to the end of words: “He had many a mile to go that night before he ...
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What is the origin of the word “goodbye”?

I've heard that goodbye comes from God be with you. Is that true? If so how did it become good? Did goodbye always have the same meaning it has now?
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What are the nuances of the British expression “gone” used with time, as in “gone 8” or “gone midnight”?

An expression I have run across in British novels is "gone [hour]" like this: "It was gone midnight, and the house was quiet." The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston "It's only just gone eight ...
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Why are knobs called “pots” by some sound designers?

I was recently introduced to the term "pots" to mean "dials" or "knobs" in the field of sound design and audio engineering. (It rather took me by surprise; I had no idea what the sound designer was ...
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Apart from place names, are there any Native American words used in English?

Apart from place names, are there any Native American words used in English?
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How did 'sanction' come to have two opposite meanings?

Sanction is an unusual ambiguous word to me. In some cases it means to approve some action, while in other cases it means to prohibit or punish some action; and there being near opposite meanings, ...
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Where did “elbow grease” come from?

I was reading a French blog the other day and I came across the phrase l'huile de coude, meaning "elbow grease." Since "elbow grease" is something I've known about in English all my life (parental ...
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Raper vs. Rapist; Why the shift in suffix?

I’ve always been vaguely aware of raper as an alternative to rapist, as a vaguely wrong sounding, possibly archaic formulation. Nowadays, it’s most often heard from speakers of English as a second ...
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Why do we call a computer or TV display a “screen”?

I was wondering about why we call TV and computer displays "screens", and couldn't find any clear etymology for the term's use for displays. A screen is used to prevent things like bugs and leaves ...
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Is there any “swearword” in English not associated with excrements, the genitals, sexual activity or religion?

SWEARWORD - A popular term for a word or phrase that is obscene, abusive, and socially offensive. For some reason, all of them seem to be associated with excrements, sex and religion. This ...
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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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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 do we say that an obscene joke is “off-color”?

Why do we say that an obscene joke is "off-color"? Is a G-rated joke "on-color"? What color? When and how did this idiomatic expression come from?
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Where on Earth is “penguin” from?

Fact or fallacy? It's one of those things you hear or casually read somewhere that sticks with you. The word penguin is derived from Welsh; pen refers to "head", while gywn means "white". Well, it's ...
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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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Where do “shenanigans” come from?

Shenanigans, or shenanigan, also with several variant spellings, can be dated to 1855 USA in both the OED and Etymonline, but the OED simply says "Origin obscure" and Etymonline throws a few guesses ...
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What causes the euphemisation of medical terms?

George Carlin has a famous sketch where he laments the dehumanising of ailments by “euphemisation”, illustrated by the use of “shell shock” during World War I, followed by “battle fatigue”, then “...
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Why is the “ph” pronounced like a “v” in “Stephen”? Is this the only word like that?

While I know how my name is pronounced, I've run into many non-native english speakers who have stumbled over this unique exception to English. Even in the female name, "Stephanie", the ph is ...
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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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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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“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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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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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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When did “while” and “whilst” become interchangeable?

I think most folk happily use either "while" or "whilst". I've a vague recollection that at one time "while" indicated the passing of time and "whilst" was essentially the same as "whereas" or "...
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Where did the expression “my two cents” come from?

I've seen "$.02", "2¢", "just my two cents", etc, similar in meaning to IMHO, except usually appended to the main text. As the Ngram shows, it is only "two cents" that is popular in this usage: ...
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Did Shakespeare really invent 1700 words?

I am having a discussion with colleagues about a recent news article relating to new words in the dictionary (cleggmannia? really?) and got onto the subject of evolution of language, and how many ...
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Is the “-b” to be pronounced in the word “limb”? What about “thumb”? “Crumb”?

I'm confused about the differing pronunciations of words that end in "-b". For example, I remember being told by some of earliest teachers that the "-b" in limb was meant to be silent, and one ...
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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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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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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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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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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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Where does the term “Smurfing” come from?

In multiplayer online gaming, the term "Smurf" (noun) is used to refer to an experienced player who creates a new account for the purposes of being matched against inexperienced players for easy wins. ...
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“Awesome” vs. “Awful”

How did the English language come to this? The play was awful. Is the complete opposite of The play was awesome. But if you break it down to awe followed by ful or some, it doesn't ...
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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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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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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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Why “Greater Toronto” rather than “Great Toronto”

Many big cities have their names preceded by Greater. Why not just Great? Does Greater indicate that the city is ambitious to expand itself? Why is Greater not used for country names such as Great ...
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Origin of “bug” in reference to software

What is the origin of the expression bug when used to refer to software? Wikipedia says it's from 1843 in Ada Byron's notes on the analytical engine. Another source I found was on dictionary.com: ...
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“Take a photo” — why “take”?

I don't understand why it's "take a photo". Why take? Is there any rule for this?
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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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Origin of the term “driver” in computer science

According to Wikipedia: … a device driver or software driver is a computer program allowing higher-level computer programs to interact with a hardware device. What is the origin of the term ...
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“Fluctuates widely” or “fluctuates wildly”

I think changes to phrases that don't change their meaning are interesting. Example: an ice cold beer and a nice cold beer mean pretty much the same thing. I heard another one this morning on the ...
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What Indian words appear in cricket's vocabulary?

One of the things I find surprising is that India seems to have had little influence on the vocabulary of cricket. Notwithstanding India being arguably the world's greatest cricketing nation, I can't ...
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What is the origin of “hot” as “good-looking” or “attractive”?

I'm not sure if "hot" as "warm" or "heated" existed before "hot" came to mean "good-looking" or "attractive", but if so, how did this new meaning come to be?
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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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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 ...