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

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Origin of “riff”

What’s the origin of riff, a repeated musical motif? Wikipedia and the Online Etymology Dictionary both state that its origin is uncertain, possibly an alteration of riffle, refrain, or rhythmic ...
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Why isn't the letter 'W' used to describe co-ordinates? [closed]

From my understanding, UV is used to describe the co-ordinates for 2 dimension and XYZ is used to describe the co-ordinates for 3 dimension. why was the letter 'W' skipped which is between these 2? ...
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112 views

Why is the word “being” used as a suffix with “human”?

Why is the word being used as a suffix with human, as in human being, instead of creature? Please answer philosophically.
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441 views

What is the etymology and reasoning behind the US Military term,“D-Day”?

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the day Allied forces in WWII invaded Normandy. It just occurred to me that I have nothing better than guesses for what the "D" actually stands for, and my ...
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83 views

What is the difference between “universal” and “generic”?

I hear lots of time the words universal and generic being used in similar contexts (especially in software engineering) - what is the difference between them?
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63 views

Origin of 'acle' ending in words [closed]

What is the origin and meaning of the acle ending in words like oracle, debacle, tabernacle, miracle, spectacle. Or are there more than one explanation/meaning here?
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Origin of the word Waddy and how it came to mean “unappealing, unattractive.”

From the first decade of the 20th century and up till the 1940s, the word waddy was a popular word meaning unappealing and unattractive. Can anyone help me better understand this word and it's origin? ...
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Where did the 1920s slang word “grungy” (meaning “envious”) originate, if the modern word “grungy” (meaning “dingy”) doesn't appear until 1965?

I've heard grungy used to mean envious in old motion pictures and books. Here is one reference, and there are several more on the internet. However, when I researched the etymology of the word grungy ...
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Is it right to say “my curiosity was intrigued by that strange symbol”?

Technically, it seems wrong as "intrigue" by itself means "to arouse the curiosity or interest of", but I see plenty of articles and books all over the internet with that usage. Please enlighten!
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Rag and Razz--slang for teasing/ridiculing--which came first and what's the etymology of the words?

Hopefully everyone understands to razz and to rag as meaning to tease/ridicule on account of I don't have anything specific to reference. I'm curious to know which word came first and why both ...
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78 views

Why does “mash me a fin” mean loan me/give me five dollars?

I've heard mash me a fin used before and understood it to mean "loan me five dollars"; however, I don't understand why mash me a fin means loan me five dollars. The only example I could find of it was ...
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54 views

Does it make sense to apply the quality of “Identicality” to one or multiple objects?

I'm writing a script which involves the comparison of two objects. I keep finding myself referring to this sort of test as an "identicality" check. From my preliminary research, "identicality" does ...
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192 views

What is the origin of “breaking bad”?

Wiktionary gives the meaning of "break bad" but does not mention about the origin: 1. (colloquial, of an event or of one's fortunes) To go wrong; to go downhill. 2. (colloquial, chiefly ...
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129 views

The origin of 'ghetto'

It seems that the term ghetto was used for the first time at the beginning of the 17th century to specifically indicate an area in Venice where Jews were restricted. According to the Etymonline ...
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1answer
245 views

First use of the slang term “Scrub”?

The slang term "scrub", when referred to a person, can mean several things. It seems like the original usage as an adjective is someone who is not good at something - video games, sports, etc. I am ...
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One word for “saying ‘Farewell’ to someone”

We have, for example, phrases like, “When I was greeting …” in which greeting is essentially shorthand for “saying ‘Hello’ to someone” derived from a related verb (to greet). However, to my ...
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102 views

Do the words with non-palatalized pronunciation of g/c (“get”, “give”) always have a Germanic origin?

In English, ge/gi is sometimes pronounced as [ge]/[gi], but mostly as [dʒe]/[dʒi]. The second form is explained as palatalization in the topic What is the origin of the different pronunciations of C ...
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Origin and meaning of the “-tar” suffix in photography

A very large number of photographic products have names ending in "-tar." Most of these are camera lenses, but there are examples of film and even camera brands that follow the same pattern. The ...
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Is the word “Ray” related to the Egyptian “Ra”

My Communications professor was quite adamant that the word "radio" could be traced back to the Egyptian word for sun, "ra". Radio comes from the Latin "radius" and I could find no sources that ...
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Name for when an adjective modifying a noun leaves the class of objects the noun describes

When adjectives modify nouns, usually they restrict the class of objects that the noun refers to. For example: Red car A red car is, in particular, an instance of a car. However, in specialty ...
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182 views

Origin of doolally [tap]

I've used doolally since I was a child, but I'd rarely heard the tap version until a few years ago in the company of several Welsh people (who all agreed the two-word version was their "standard"). ...
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When do Americans began to use practice instead of practise?

I am writing an historical novel, and I try to make my characters speaking and writing as everybody did at the time. But I don't know when we began to use "practice" as a verb instead of "practise". ...
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386 views

What is the geographical origin of the idiom “be a fly on the wall”?

Does the following expression originate from English? I'd like to be a fly on the wall I discovered today that a similar expression exists in Brazilian Portuguese: "I'd like to be a fly" (with ...
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Is there an original etymology for “Xenomorph” outside of the origin in the movies?

This question on a different SE site asks the question of what the etymology of the word "Xenomorph" is, and the consensus, from the comments at least, is that it has none - that it was purely ...
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Etymology of “Feeding the dragon”

I have heard the phrase "feeding the dragon" used to describe pouring time, resources, and energy into a situation that is self-perpetuating, caught in a positive feedback loop with negative ...
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Regions and reasons for the usage of “sleep” as “go to sleep”

This question is very closely linked to this english.SE question, which discusses the usage of "sleep" as a verb meaning "go to sleep" and inspired by this ell.SE question, in which the accepted ...
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68 views

What is the origin of “journal” to mean a mechanical shaft?

What is the origin of "journal" to mean a mechanical shaft? A more common modern use is in "journal bearing" which refers to the sliding surface between a rotating shaft and a hole it passes through ...
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Can the term “G-Man” be used to describe a Government official who is not an FBI agent?

Earlier today I was doing Merl Reagle's crossword and one of the clues was "Fraud fighting Fed." The answer turned out to be "T-Man," being short for "Treasury Man." So, this got me thinking... ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “do a line with someone”?

What is the origin of the phrase "do a line with someone", meaning "have a regular romantic or sexual romantic relationship with someone"? I learnt this phrase from an Irish colleague of mine the ...
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Why would you “throw” a party?

Where does this "throwing" action come from when talking about hosting a party? Throwing usually has to do with hurling something, usually an object (but it could be an emotion: throwing a tantrum). ...
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265 views

Etymology of “bridge” (the card game)

I've always thought that the name of this card game comes from the English word "bridge" (the structure) but it is not quite like that. It's the English pronunciation of a game called Biritch, which ...
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What is the source of the expression “nothing at all”?

I'm looking for the source of the distinction between "nothing" and the nearly equivalent phrase "nothing at all." In common usage the two are synonymous, but the preposition "at all" seems to ...
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are astronomy and astrology apt names for their concepts?

Or be switching them be correct, since the original assignment was a historical convention? Or do neither suffix convey enough meaning; we can create 'bionomy' if 'biology' was already taken?
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What's the origin of “water under the bridge”?

What's the origin/background of the phrase "water under the bridge"? To what does it allude? I understand it means to let bygones be bygones--to move on from the past. But I don't think I understand ...
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Where did the word “proc” originate?

The word "proc" is used to describe an event that occurs at various intervals and seems to be a term unique to programming and gaming: When does that event proc? If that trigger procs it will ...
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How did “stiff” mean cheating someone?

When someone gets taken advantage of, we would say "he got stiffed", where "stiffed" means "cheated". What is the etymology of the word "stiff" used this way?
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What is the origin of the culinary term “escabeche”

What is the origin of the culinary term or dish "escabeche"
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94 views

Origin of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”

One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (according to Stephen Covey) is: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood What is the origin of this phrase? My guess is that it was ...
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94 views

How did oxytonic come to mean “final accent” rather than “acute accent”?

In Samuel Martin's Reference Grammar of Japanese (1975), the author describes the location of lexical accent on Japanese words using the following terms: Prototonic: The accent is at the beginning ...
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Etymology of using 'joint' to mean a place

What's the etymology of using 'joint' to mean a place? Like burger joint or juke joint...
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235 views

Ne'er cast a clout till May be out. Meaning?

Today across southern England, it was one of those glorious May mornings of which the poets wrote. The darling buds in bloom, the scent of the blossom hanging like nectar in the air, and the sun up in ...
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83 views

Where does the term “hardware” in computer science comes from?

The term Software was coined in 195x. And it was opposed the term Hardware, physical part of a computer system, which is tangible. But where does the term Hardware comes from (from which of the ...
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Cute as a button

Since buttons aren't particularly cute (IMO), where did this common phrase come from? I know it's old; I've seen it in 19th century literature.
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Is “kip” Chinese in origin?

While looking up the history of kip for a previous question of mine, I realized that the information about its origins is rather scant. The noun and verb to kip in BrEng is often said when a person ...
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47 views

Who was Buggins of 'Buggins' turn'?

'Buggins' turn' refers to the practice of assigning appointments to persons in rotation, rather than on merit. The OED records this and gives examples of its use from 1901. As regards etymology it ...
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293 views

“Under/straight from the horse's mouth” — etymology?

I'm reading Kim Philby's autobiography, My silent war, where in the early pages he describes an acquaintance as being under the horse's mouth, the proverbial horse being some high-ranking official. ...
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101 views

Can someone provide an explanation regarding the etymology of the adjective “hell-bent?”

It's etymology is given as: hell-bent, 1835, U.S., originally slang, from hell + bent How do the the words "hell + bent," when taken together, form the definition "determined to achieve ...
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“Maths” for “Mathematics”; where does the S come from?

So in US English we shorten mathematics to math, and in the UK they say maths. Where does the 'S' come from in the UK version? For some reason I had it in my head that this was just because it's ...
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113 views

Differentiate and Integrate

Further to my last question about the history of calculus terms, I am wondering about the etymology of differentiate the etymology of integrate why we speak of a "derivative", but we "differentiate" ...
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Fluents and Fluxions

When calculus was first being developed, the terms "fluent" and "fluxion" appeared quite often in the Newtonian works. I am wanting to know the etymology behind these words. I assume that "fluents" ...