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

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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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Etymology of “cut someone some slack”

Teenagers. All the literature tells you one thing and one thing only – that whatever they are doing, give them a break, cut them some slack, it's normal. From the novel, Apple Tree Yard I'm ...
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Phrase: “Colder than a witch’s kiss!”

The following was used in a radio broadcast (The Adventures of Harry Lime, 14th December 1951, episode 20 “An Old Moorish Custom”) as Harry was hit on the back of his head with a rifle butt by a giant ...
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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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The “F-word” in N-gram Viewer

I was simply fiddling with Ngram viewer when my apparently naughty mind made me type the (real) "F-word" onto the text field, (the time was also chosen randomly, (1750-to-1993)), the results baffled ...
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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 do we call an instruction book a “Manual”?

"Manual" is used for many things: "Manual Labour" - work done with the hands; "Organ Manual" - hands again; and I can see the link to the Latin "manu". But why would a book of instructions be a "...
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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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Why is it called a 'feminine rhyme'?

While researching for the rhyme scheme used by hip-hop artists (Hail Eminem!), I found this wikipedia article: A feminine rhyme is a rhyme that matches two or more syllables, usually at the end of ...
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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 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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“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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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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Why is the spelling of “pronounce” and “pronunciation” different?

Why is the spelling of pronounce and pronunciation different? If one originally did not know the spelling of pronunciation, one would when hearing it verbally deduce its spelling to be pronounciation, ...
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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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Is “kip” Chinese in origin?

While looking up the history of kip, 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 wishes to take a short sleep or a ...
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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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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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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 “muscle cars” called so?

Merriam-Webster defines muscle car as: any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving Why is this term restricted to American-...
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Where does the phrase “run code” or “run software” come from? Why “run”?

Historically speaking, it makes sense to me someone would say run "the computer". Early computers (not a human computer) were mechanical machines with moving parts that could achieve a velocity deemed ...
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Why does Germany's English name differ from its German name?

Germany in German is Deutschland and the language is Deutsch. I'm used to words being anglicized, but why is there a complete replacement in this case?
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How did “lobster” mean two different species?

This live crustacean is called astice in Italian. The one on the right is aragosta. They look very different from one another. The Italian dictionary describes the astice as having a deep (intense) ...
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Why did Old Testament scholars choose to employ “to know” in a sexual sense?

For those of us not familiar, the verb to know once had an archaic sexual sense, often found in the Old Testament, and as illustrated in the following story found in Genesis 19: 4 But before they ...
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What is the origin of “analogue” as a term meaning “non-digital?”

This question came up when having a pun-ridden discussion with some of my colleagues: When and why did we start using the word "analogue" to mean "not using numerical digits?" Etymonline only has an ...
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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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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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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 is “text” in “textbook”?

Why is textbook not just book? While I suppose it could contrast with a picture book, a book for academic purposes containing nothing but pictures would still be called a textbook. It doesn't appear ...
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Why is the term “depressed” often used to describe a button which is pressed?

In several books that mention GUI, keyboard, or mouse buttons (e.g. the book Programming Windows by Charles Petzold), the authors refer to the state of a pressed button as depressed. Why is this term ...
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Where does “pizza pie” originate?

The Italianissimo pizza—pronounced /ˈpiʦ:a/—is not always spelled or called pizza around the world: In Bosnia, Belarusian, Macedonia, Serbia it's spelled pica but pronounced /pîtsa/ In Estonian;...
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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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Common English Surnames ending in S

A number of common English surnames are the same as common English given names, with the addition of an "S." Examples are Peters, Daniels, Michaels, Matthews, Roberts, Phillips, Isaacs, Williams, etc....
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What is the etymology of the term “Cockpit”?

I have always been intrigued by the word cockpit and have wondered where it originated. I have heard that it originated in the times of cock fights; is this true? If it is, how did the word evolve ...
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Why “ain't I” and “aren't I” instead of “amn't I”?

Why do we say "ain't I" or "aren't I" instead of "amn't I"? What's the history of this usage? Are there any other similar patterns in English? I'm guessing it has something to do with the ...
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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 has the word “thrice” fallen out of common usage?

I'm an American living in America, but my workplace has a lot of immigrants from India here. They all use "thrice" very commonly, which is wonderful to my ears! Thrice is such a delightful word. ...
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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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Origin of “he's 6 feet tall if he's an inch”

I have heard this pattern used before in American English: She's 6 feet tall if she's an inch. It was a gallon of blood if it was a drop. The baby was 10 pounds if it was an ounce. I ...
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“Bob's your uncle” … no he's not!

What is the origin of the phrase "Bob's your uncle"? Is it used internationally or is this just a term used in the UK? I have often heard an extension of this phrase: "Bob's your uncle and Fanny's ...
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Why are so many important verbs irregular?

In many languages, including English, the most important verbs are irregular. Examples include: to be to do to get to go to have to make The same applies (roughly) to many other languages I ...
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Etymology of “nick” in, in the nick of time?

We have the nick meaning prison, as in "he served time in the nick", then we have the verb to nick, meaning to steal; but if the police catch you red-handed, then "you've been nicked". And if you led ...
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Is “curiouser” in fact a word (like in the famous phrase “curiouser and curiouser”)?

Is curiouser, in fact, a word?                                 (Yes, this question is very short, but that’s really all I need to ask.)
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Why do we say “as it were”?

In English we often add "as it were" to indicate that a phrase is not to be taken literally; for example: He's flown from the nest, as it were. ... would indicate that a boy has left his parent'...
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“I'm on the brew”

A conversation between two Scots: — What do you do for a living? — I'm on the brew. Assuming that I have the phrase right, what exactly does "on the brew" mean here? Based on the context, I ...
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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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How did English get the “What is your name?” construction?

As a dabbling polyglot, I've found myself learning the basics of several languages over the course of my lifetime. One of the first things that is taught in any language is personal introductions. I ...
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Why is the word 'number' abbreviated to 'No.' in UK English and '#' in American English?

Why the disparity? And why use 'No.'? Is it from the French? And the hash or pound sign seems a weird choice too, is there a history or any reason involved?
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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 web-...
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Origin of the term “wizard” in computing

In computer user interfaces a "wizard" is a set of screens that guide the user through a process. Does anyone know the origin of this term? I personally associate wizards with magic more than a ...