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

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19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use?

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as "four-and-twenty", but the same text would also have the modern "twenty-four" in places (see e.g. Conan-Doyle for ...
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Origin of “continental breakfast”

What is the origin of the term continental breakfast? Was it originally from British English and meant to describe a sub-par breakfast eaten by mainland Europeans?
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Is there anything wrong with the word “denigrate”?

A few years ago there was a controversy over the word niggardly — a perfectly innocent word that unfortunately sounds like a racial slur. Given that controversy, is it safe to use denigrate, which ...
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Why do we say “[expletive] ALL” for “nothing”?

Damn all, Bugger all, Sod all etc., etc. What does all mean here? How did the expression originate? Was there a single original term (expletive or not) preceding all in this usage? At the risk of ...
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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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When did things like ‑fu start to spread?

I have looked at the answers to the question Can anyone tell me what the suffix “‑fu” stands for?, and I understand what it means. When, though, did it come into use? Does its spread coincide with ...
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I'm British, so should I take a rain cheque?

I want to write the phrase "take a rain cheque" and am British. Should I therefore use the British spelling of the word cheque, or respect the baseball origin of the phrase "rain check" and use the ...
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How did “pumpkin” come to be a term of endearment?

The logic of some terms of endearment is fairly clear. Sweetie, honey, cupcake all refer to food treats. However, the use of the term pumpkin as a tenderness seems somewhat counterintuitive. While ...
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“The whole nine yards”

What is the origin of the phrase "the whole nine yards"? Is it a reference to some game of sports I am not familiar with (as a continental European)?
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What's the origin of the idiom “cut corners”?

Cut corners is defined as to do something in the easiest, cheapest or quickest way, often by ignoring rules or leaving something out especially at the expense of high standards. What is the ...
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Why does the name 'John' have an 'h' in it?

I have always wondered this since I was little, and nobody seems to have asked or answered this before anywhere on the internet. What is the origin of the 'h', and why is it still with us?
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What is the origin of “earthling”?

What is the origin of the word earthling? Are there other words with a similar meaning (marsling, venusling)?
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Cottage Cheese: So called to differentiate from “expensive” cheese?

I have been unable to find an etymology for the term Cottage Cheese in English. Interestingly, the Hebrew Wikipedia lists the etymology as being due to cottage cheese being prepared from the wastes of ...
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What is the origin of “call a spade a spade” and does it have racial connotations?

Now that we know how to punctuate the phrase “call a spade a spade” I am curious where it originated and what the original meaning was. Also, the term “spade” can have negative racial connotations ...
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Why does left come before right?

For example in the idioms "left and right", "left, right and centre", and in many contexts where both left and right are mentioned, it seems that the left usually comes before the right. Why is this ...
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Where did “wired” come from?

I am not a coffee drinker, but I just drank some coffee. I said to my Hispanic friend, "I am WIRED!" and had to explain what the slang term means. However now that I think about it, that's an awfully ...
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“Carved from the living rock” — since when was rock ever alive?

According to Etymonline, living dates to the 14th century, and refers to "the fact of dwelling in some place," from O.E. lifiende, prp. of lifan But we hear the phrase "the living rock" used all ...
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Where did “snuck” come from?

Ages ago, I remember typing snuck into a word processor and being surprised to see it flagged as not a word. My current computer seems to be okay with it and my local dictionary has this in its ...
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How old is the word “prolly”?

Prolly is given this definition at Wiktionary: Clipped pronunciation of probably. I was reading an interesting article today that claimed prolly dates from 1947 and that surprised me. ...
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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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Etymology of the color name “orange”

Etymonline shows orange c.1300, from O.Fr. orenge (12c.), from M.L. pomum de orenge, from It. arancia, originally narancia (Venetian naranza), alteration of Arabic naranj, from Pers. narang, ...
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Did people ever use the word “cock” as a euphemism for “God”?

English has a lot of surprises. When I was checking the etymology of "cocksure", I found this entry in Oxford Dictionaries: 1 British A male bird, especially of a domestic fowl. Below is ...
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What's the deal with “fiery”?

How did English end up with the adjective fiery (instead of *firy) from fire, but miry from mire and wiry from wire? Are there any other words where the noun is -ire and the adjective is -iery?
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Why did “sceptical” become “skeptical” in the US?

Compare the following two Google Ngram Viewer charts for sceptical vs. skeptical in American English and British English: British English American English My interpretation of these charts is ...
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Where does the word “totient” come from?

In math we learn about the "totient function". It rhymes with "quotient" when math teachers pronounce it. But I cannot find the definition or etymology of this word in any dictionary, nor on any ...
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What's the difference between “Collaborate” and “Cooperate”?

Both of these words seem to mean much the same thing: working together to achieve some goal. I can instinctively feel a difference between them, but I can't easily put it into words. Can you help me? ...
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Why is “Chop Gate” pronounced so strangely?

I was passing through the hamlet of Chop Gate (in North Yorkshire) the other day, and heard it referred to as "chop yat" (tʃɒp yæt). This source here concurs with that pronunciation. Does anyone know ...
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Where did the term “cheesy” come from?

Why do we call frivolous, lame or naff things cheesy?
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Why “unequal” but “inequality”?

The opposite of "equal" is "unequal", yet there is no word "unequality". Why do we use "inequality" instead?
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Etymology of “div”

Acting like a div yesterday:- a stupid or foolish person I started to wonder how this term of abuse came about. Urban Dictionary has a quaint tale:- Actually originates from prison slang in ...
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“Broken my duck”? Is this a common idiom/phrase?

I steal this phrase from a comment on Meta Stack Overflow: yep, I think I've broken my duck or so to speak :) – Kev♦ 51 mins ago The context is one of having been basically broken into a ...
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Who, what, where, when, why, how. Why so many “Wh”s?

Journalists are taught to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how. If you answer all of these chances are you have the bones of a story. Why do all these words, with the exception of "how" start with ...
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Why is “guinea pig” used as the colloquial term for test subjects?

Why do we refer to people as guinea pigs when discussing the subjects of an informal experiment? Surely mice, rabbits and rats are much more common experimental subjects. Indeed, it's rare that you'll ...
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What's the etymology of the noun “temper tantrum”?

Can anyone tell me where the phrase temper tantrum came from? I found a couple of my usual online sources that just say "origin unknown".
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Since when did kidnapping come to include adults too?

As per this link, the word 'kidnap' originated to denote nabbing away of a child. When and how did kidnap come to denote nabbing of adults? Update: Just found a link to a 1650 book that mentions ...
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Where did the “trick” in the phrase “turning tricks” come from?

Or in other words, can anyone make clear the etymology and the history behind the coinage of the word trick in the phrase turning tricks? (Why am I interested you may ask? Well, turning tricks is a ...
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Why is a restaurant bill called a “check”?

Why is a restaurant bill called a "check" (as in "Check, please!")?
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Why is news said to be “breaking”?

I was just wondering what the origins of "breaking news" or "we broke the story" are.
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Where did the word “umpteenth” come from?

Where did the word "umpteenth" come from, and why is it a "teen", if it is supposed to represent a very large number?
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Why is putting some spin on a ball described in some circles as giving it some “English”?

Why is putting some spin on a ball often called "putting some English" on it? Does it have anything to do with the history of billiards, the sport I most often see this phrase used? What's special ...
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Why “shrink” (of a psychiatrist)?

I know it originates from "head shrinking", but it doesn't help me a lot to understand the etymology. Why are psychiatrists called that? Is it like "my head is swollen [from anguish, misery, stress, ...
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Can the word Gentoo be used in a derogatory way?

I was reading a Wikipedia article on Gentoo Penguin and came across the following Paragraph. The application of Gentoo to the penguin is unclear. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Gentoo ...
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Why do words like “expectorate” sound more posh than words like “spit”?

I think English is unique in having a set of "bad words" each which has its "more refined" equivalent, e.g.: spit -> expectorate piss -> urinate shit -> defecate f*ck -> ...
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Why do we “chalk it up” to something (or someone)?

What is the etymology and meaning of the phrase "chalk it up"? For instance: "I will chalk it up to a colloquialism" (source). "Just chalk it up as an odd case and move on" (source). "I would chalk ...
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How (and when) was it that the verb 'go' began to mean 'say' in common usage?

i.e. "So then she goes, 'Hey!' and I go, 'What?' because I was on my way out..." I was musing about this the other day, so I decided to try to find out. Unfortunately, my skills lie in different ...
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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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Etymology of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs'?

This is such a strange idiom, all I could find with a Google search was the meaning of it, but not where it came from. When you're telling somebody something they already know well, it's sometimes ...
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“Hear hear” or “here here”

Which one is it really: hear hear or here here? Where does the saying really come from?
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Why “half past” and not “half to”?

When telling time and 30 minutes has gone past an hour, we say “half past”. For instance, half past 4 or half past 5. Why can’t we also say “half to”. For instance, half to 5 or half to 6? Shouldn’t ...
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Why do we say “honeymoon” instead of “honeymonth”?

I was curious about the etymology of the word honeymoon and found out that its sense was partially literal (serving honey for the couple), and partially metaphorical (sweet and happy times). But I ...