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

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What is “Broken Britain”?

It's not a flattering term for Great Britain but due to its catchy alliteration it has not run out of steam among newspaper editors. Wikipedia says Broken Britain is a term which has been used ...
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327 views

Is “Holy” in “Holy s**t” an intensifier or a euphemism?

I asked this question two days ago: Why is the word “Holy” used before swear words? I got many answers, but now I have a new doubt after reading all the answers and comments. For Example, one ...
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195 views

What really is a “Yester” in Yesterday or Yesteryear?

Apparently, Yester cannot be used alone in a sentence, except when accompanied by "day (yesterday) or year (yesteryear)". It cannot be used incombination with other portions of time like; yestermonth, ...
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87 views

Where did the word “yourn” originate?

"Yourn" as in yours. Where did it originate? I think from the southern US, but not sure.
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108 views

When did “lesbian” become well-known as a noun, not an adjective?

A friend asked me earlier why it was that "gay" is an adjective, but "lesbian" is a noun. I've been doing some searching online, because it's an interesting question. According to etymonline, ...
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Origin “Treat (somebody) like a dog”

Dogs are often considered as man's best friend. However, the aforementioned phrase has a certainly negative meaning. The same phrase exists in French as well. Other negative phrases with dogs ...
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74 views

to bar vs to debar

1. These words seem to mean the same, so what does the de- prefix mean? Did I overlook any nuances? 2. What's this phenomenon called, when a prefix or suffix affects nothing? Etymonline: 15c., ...
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Why is there an “a” in “beggar”? Why not an “e”?

Why does beggar end in -ar? Many identically sounding words just use -er, if not all. Examples: bumper pepper tagger chanter pegger They all use the -er version. Also, history shows that beggar ...
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84 views

The origin of the word “Breaker” referring to waves

I am trying to understand the history and etymology of the word breaker as it relates to ocean waves. I found a citation to the 1680s which ties it to "break" which dates to the Old English and the ...
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28 views

How did 'resent' evolve to connote negativity?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning? to resent = Feel bitterness or indignation at (a circumstance, action, or person): Etymonline: ...
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50 views

Are new diseases without “Syndrome” in its name being added to English? [closed]

I can think of new syndromes being added to English in recent times. For example, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a syndrome, as is SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome). By contrast, ...
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116 views

Faddah vs. Father

There is a Seinfeld episode which contains the following dialogue: Father-priest: Are you ready my son? George: Yes faddah. Father-priest: What did you say? George: What? ...
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“I've gotten better-looking as I get older” When did “gotten” re-enter the BrEng vernacular?

This summer I went to Ireland, to be more precise Dublin. Overall good weather and good fun. Anyway, while I was staying in Dublin I'd buy the local newspaper and one tabloid headline caught my eye. ...
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37 views

How did 'circumscribe' evolve to mean 'Restrict (something) within limits'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 1 that helps to remember its meaning: 1. circumscribe = Restrict (something) within limits: Etymonline: late 14c., from Latin ...
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94 views

How did 'milieu' evolve to mean 'social environment'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning: milieu = A person’s social environment: Etymonline: "surroundings," 1877, from French milieu, ...
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63 views

Origin of “gimble”, “brillig”

I just noticed that "gimble" and "brilig" show up well before, and always more than "jabberwocky" in ngram I thought that these words originated in the Jabberwocky poem ... but apparently not? ...
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106 views

What is the origin of the phrase “trouble in paradise”?

Does anyone know where the phrase "trouble in paradise" comes from? The earliest usage I can find of the phrase is the title of the 1923 movie Trouble in Paradise, based on a Hungarian play called The ...
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253 views

Just as there are a few nicknames for the U.S. (“Uncle Sam”, “Columbia”, “Yankee Land”), are there nicknames for England, or the U.K. for that matter?

This may look like General Reference, but I've googled "list of nicknames for England", "list of nicknames for the United Kingdom", and all I got was "list of city nicknames in the United Kingdom" or ...
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48 views

What is the meaning of “highway shops”?

I was curious what the meaning of "highway shops" is. It's related to the software industry, but I could not find much information about it. Also, I only found it being used in 2 places. From this SO ...
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Why is it a “gene pool”?

Isn't it a bit odd to say that genes belong to or are a part of a "pool"? A pool is normally a body of water, e.g. a swimming pool Wikipedia explains The gene pool is the set of all genes, or ...
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73 views

aberrant vs errant

Aberrant seems a subset of the word errant. Thus, what's the effect of the Latin prefix 'ab-'? What are the similarities and differences? What's this phenomenon called, in which a prefix or suffix ...
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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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247 views

What is the origin of “have a gander”? (When meaning “look”.)

The phrase "have a gander" meaning "have a look" is common in the UK. (Also can be "have a goosey gander" or just "have a goosey".) What is the origin/meaning of this phrase? I always assumed that it ...
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64 views

When did “sale” become “sales event”?

It seems like during this generation somebody decided that a "sale" wasn't adequate to describe the selling of discounted goods. Can anyone shed light on the emergence of the "sales event," which ...
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105 views

How did the meaning of “come off” as “succeed” or “take place” originate?

Example sentences: A television series that never came off (from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) He tried his Chaplin impression, but it didn't really come off. (from Wiktionary) The match ...
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What is the origin and sense of the phrase “put up or shut up”?

In researching the recent EL&U question Origins and Interpretations of "Put your money where your mouth is", I repeatedly came across the seemingly related but older phrase “put up or ...
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420 views

Origins and meaning of “Put your money where your mouth is”

I heard this phrase uttered by a Canadian (from Vancouver) once; it left me in awe and elicited my curiosity. Wikipedia was not helpful. What is its origin? Is this expression used more in certain ...
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Italian vs Italic

Although English is not my mothertongue, I am pretty sure the adjective for the modern country Italy is Italian as in Italian restaurant or Italian cars. I have just used the italic font for emphasis ...
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How did 'inure' evolve into these two disparate meanings?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 1 with object that helps to remember its meaning: 1. inure = (usually be inured to) Accustom (someone) to something, especially something ...
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1answer
62 views

Which language do most polysyllabic words in the english language come from?

I am doing an english project and can't find any information on this topic. Help is much appreciated!! thanks
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138 views

How/why was the word “organic” chosen to represent natural foods or foods without chemicals?

I've always understood an object or item to be organic when carbon is a component of its composition, as noted in the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry. Now I see organic foods, and ...
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1answer
256 views

Where did the slang word “basic” come from?

How did the word basic come to be used as slang for "the majority" or "the conformed." Where was it's first usage as such a word? Is it a new internet frenzy or has this word been used as slang ...
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159 views

Origin of phrase “pulling for you”

When somebody is going through a difficult life situation, people will commonly say, "We're pulling for you." Where did this term come from? It sounds rather strange!
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60 views

'Communication" as a verb

I've seen the word 'communication' as a verb. Going by the provenance of the document, I'm reasonably sure that the author meant to use it in this context and that it wasn't a typo. E.g.: How ...
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1answer
680 views

What is the origin of the phrase “wind your neck in!”?

I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on the origin of the phrase in title.
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60 views

What's the etymology for the term “greensheet”?

I've been looking for the etymology of the word "Greensheet", specifically when used in the context of academia. I know it's just another way to say "syllabus", but where did the "green" in ...
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1answer
130 views

What is the origin of the phrase “the eleventh hour”

Someone happened to use the phrase "the 59th minute of the eleventh hour" just now on IRC (#lisp on Freenode). I remarked that that should be "the twelfth hour". This then started me wondering where ...
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When did people start “boinking”?

Is "boinking" an onomatopoeic and/or a blend word? I would have said so, I believe the word boink refers to the sound of the mattress springs squeaking under the weight of a couple making love. A ...
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What is the etymology of “floccinaucinihilipilification”? [closed]

I recently encountered this word, "floccinaucinihilipilification" while watching Jason Bateman's directorial movie debut "Bad Words", in which he stars as a 40+ year old participant in a spelling bee ...
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2k views

Why is it spelled “curiosity” instead of “curiousity?”

I have been spelling the word "curiosity" with a u, "curiousity," my whole life, and only today was Chrome's spellcheck bold enough to highlight my lifelong error. I have two questions: The root ...
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1answer
50 views

How could one quantify the typical modern non-literal usage style? [closed]

I was thinking, "'Nobody' (joke) uses words literally in English any more -- but, could we quantify that somehow?" So for example with "nobody," the word now only means "almost no-one". If you want ...
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A second crack?

Where does the word "crack" originate from in the phrase "Give me another crack at that"? Curious to know if it's in reference to driving horses? Perhaps a derivative of "craic" in Irish? Or in a ...
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1answer
173 views

Where does the word “good” come from? [closed]

According to Google, and a few other sources, "good" was originally the verbal and adjective equivalent of "god" (hence the good news') but I was wondering where the word originally came from and what ...
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1answer
102 views

Was “God be with ye” grammatically correct at the time?

Several dictionaries I have consulted, as well as another question here on English.SE, state that the origin of the word goodbye is “God be with ye”. Shouldn’t it be “God be with you” or perhaps “God ...
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1answer
104 views

Words starting with “touch”

There are several words in English starting with touch, such as touchwood, touchstone, touchline, ect. (a list can be found here : http://www.scrabblefinder.com/starts-with/touch/ ) I would like to ...
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3answers
1k views

Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coin the proverb “A change is as good as a rest”?

The proverb a change is as good as a rest is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: A change of work or occupation can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation Cambridge ...
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49 views

Why two 'be's in 'be bereaved'?

Isn't the infinitive be in be bereaved redundant? Etymonline looks complex and refers to bereft. 'Origin' on ODO suggests to 'see be-, reave', but doesn't the prefix 'be-' already suffice? reave ...
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459 views

Reversal of the meaning of the word “restive”

According to google etymology the word restive originally meant inclined to remain still. But then it changed the meaning to the opposite. I would like to know if such phenomenon of revresal ...
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1answer
53 views

Are “Speculate” and “Speculum” related? [closed]

I wonder if any etymology buffs can shed some light into this one. While commonly a speculum is a medical instrument, I know it has other uses in literature and history. Is speculate a verb extending ...
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1answer
101 views

Why do we call it “gum arabic” and not “arabic gum”?

Not in use so much these days, "gum arabic" can still be found for sale in small bottles. Is there a reason why it is called "gum arabic" and not "arabic gum"? Gum Arabic - Gum arabic, also known ...