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

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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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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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What is the etymology of “business” and “busyness”?

Did the word business originally mean “the condition of being busy” as the word busyness currently means? Why did it change? It was surely a very useful word, since the awkwardly-spelt word busyness ...
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What is the origin of the phrase ‘By the by…’?

What is the origin of the phrase 'By the by...'?
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Where does “Santa” in Santa Claus come from?

Santa Claus is a man, right? In this case, he may not be fine with the fact that people call him Santa, which is the Spanish and Portuguese word for female saint names. For example, Santa Barbara and ...
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Why the letter “g” discrepancy between *giant* and *gigantic*?

A little look through an etymology dictionary shows that the root is Latin gigas with adjective form gigant. So in its derivation to English, why did the second "g" get retained in gigantic but was ...
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“Pretty please with sugar on top”

Where does this expression come from? I understand when it's used, but I was wondering about its origin.
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“Insofar” or “in so far”

A quick search suggests that insofar is the American variant of the British in so far. I always assumed it belonged to the set of expressions like hitherto, heretofore, therefore and albeit. Is there ...
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Etymology of “embarrass”?

It would seem that the Random House dictionary and the World English dictionary have different ideas about the etymology of the word embarrass, neither of which make it particularly clear as to how it ...
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Where does the saying “made from scratch” originate?

I've heard the saying "made from scratch" many times in my life from living in the southern part of the United States. What is scratch in this context and how did this saying come about?
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“Decimate”: has it been used in the “classic” sense in modern writing?

In this question, I learned that "to decimate" meant to reduce by 10% (hope I got that right). And it is lamented that no-one uses it in this sense anymore. Now, given that I never until today knew ...
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Origin of the meaning of “à la mode”

In American English, à la mode means: in fashion, up to date. with ice cream. (of beef) braised in wine, typically with vegetables. While the first meaning matches the French meaning, the other ...
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Source of “-bie” in “freebie”

Freebie means free things. Why is there a post-fix -bie? Does it have meaning itself?
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Do “to pony up” and “to pungle” come from the same Latin root?

For to pony up, etymonline.com says 1824, in pony up "to pay," said to be from slang use of L. legem pone to mean "money" (first recorded 16c.), because this was the title of the Psalm for March ...
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Origin of “the wrong end of the stick”

If someone has the wrong end of the stick it means they've misunderstood something. If they've got the shitty end of the stick it means they've got a bad deal in some bargain or share-out. This ...
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Origin of current slang usage of the word 'sick' to mean 'great'? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: How and why have some words changed to a complete opposite? How did 'sick' come to mean 'awesome' or 'really good / cool' in modern U.S. slang? I'm interested in origins ...
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how did the epithet “nigger” come into usage?

My research has resulted in theoretical reasons for the usage of the term "nigger", and I have failed to uncover any evidence as to how this nasty little epithet evolved into the usage and connotation ...
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What is the origin of the term “woo”?

On the Skeptics StackExchange you quite often read users referring to certain things and practices as "woo". What is the origin of this word? How did it come to be synonymous with skeptics?
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Where did the expression “have at it” come from?

Couldn't find its etymology... anyone knows? What does its meaning break down to? Also, when should it be used best? Thanks.
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How does 'give it up for …' mean 'clap for …'?

Well, now I understand that this is so, but the first few times I heard this, I had no idea what 'giving it up' meant. What is the derivation? How do you get from 'giving it up' to 'clapping'?
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Last names that are English words with an extra 'e'

I noticed that there are a lot of last names that have an 'e' at the end. The pronunciation usually isn't changed from that of the base word. Poole Steele Browne Clarke Why do English words not ...
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Where does the word “wankers” come from?

The term wanker is derived from the verb wank in the sense of to masturbate. However, neither the OED nor Etymonline can trace it further back than that: both claim it is of “obscure origin”, which ...
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Why does “go spare” mean “get angry”?

I don't know whether the phrase "go spare" is used in the US, but it is very common in the UK. e.g. You're an hour late. Mum's going spare upstairs! I would like to know where the phrase comes ...
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Meaning of '-onomy', '-ology' and '-ography'

I have always wondered about the similarity of the two words Astronomy and Astrology that describe two very different things but have their beginning in common and are sometimes confused in ...
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Etymology of “seat-of-the-pants”

Where does the expression seat-of-the-pants come from? These dictionaries (1, 2, 3) don't give much insight. What is the etymology of seat-of-the-pants?
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What are the origins of the regional pronoun “yinz” of southwestern Pennsylvania?

A common informal word used in southwestern Pennsylvania and the forefront example of what is commonly known as "Pittsburghese" is the word yinz, pronounced /jɪnz/ in IPA. Alternatively it is less ...
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“Freshwater” as opposed to salty water

I'm curious to find out why we talk of freshwater (or fresh water) when we refer to water with a very limited amount of salt dissolved in it. Looking at various sources, both online and in books, I ...
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Origin of “one man's trash is another man's treasure”

This might be tough considering the gesture is iterated so many ways, but it's worth a shot. What is the origin of the expression one man's trash is another man's treasure?
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Merging words into one. When is it allowed?

There are several words in the English which have been created as a "merging" of multiple existing words. e.g. Insofar- Merged from words "in, so, far". How do such words come about? It surely ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “to take a rain check”

I know what it means, but can't really see the reasoning of this phrase. Anyone with an insight?
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“Well” as an introduction to an argument

Say a child says: I want some ice cream! The parent's response is: Well, you can't have ice cream right now, we need to have dinner first. Why is the word "well" used as a conversational ...
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Why can 'kick back' mean 'get relaxed'?

I came across the following sentence in today's NPR news: In 2011, boomers start turning 65, the age when Americans traditionally stop working and kick back. A dictionary at hand gives the ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “and nothing of value was lost”?

What is the origin of the phrase "and nothing of value was lost"? Is this from a movie, book, or show, or did it get its start on Slashdot or some other online forum?
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Etymology of “dong” and “dongle”

Dong as in ding-dong is clearly onomatopoetic as confirmed by etymonline.com: ding dong imitative of the sound of a bell, c.1560. and similarly for ding: ding (v.) 1819, "to ...
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What is the etymology of the word teeter totter?

Seesaw and teeter totter are two names for the same piece of playground equipment. I grew up using the word teeter totter mostly, but was aware of seesaw, as it was used in books. I was ...
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Why do we spell “eureka”, not “heureka”?

Why is the spelling "eureka" by far more preferable to "heureka" in English? Greek vocabularies give "heureka" for the perfect to "heurisko".
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What's the difference between “jelly” and “jam”?

I've seen both words being used (peanut butter and jelly; peanut butter and jam), but I was wondering whether they were both words for the same thing, or if there's actually a distinct difference ...
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Why do you survive 'by the skin of your teeth'?

If someone does something 'by the skin of their teeth', it means they just barely managed to do it. What is this idiom supposed to be referring to exactly, and how did it originate?
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Origin of “spill the beans”

I believe this phrase means "to betray information". Could someone please explain its origin?
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Etymology of “fixing to”

As a Southerner, I completely understand the meaning of fixing to. It means I'm getting ready to do something. But what I don't understand is where this rather unusual usage of fix comes from. Nothing ...
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Etymology and meaning of the word “snog”

Having looked to urban dictionary, witionary, online etymology, dictionary.com, Wikipedia and wordfreaks.tribe.net, I have found a wide variance in the etymology and definition of the word snog. I ...
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What is the origin of the name “grammar nazi”?

What does Nazi have anything in common with those obsessively correcting other people's grammar? What is the origin of this expression?
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Etymology of “to coin a phrase” [closed]

Quite simply — who coined the phrase "to coin a phrase"? I'm sure it wasn't one person, but it's the origin that is of interest.
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Antonym of selfie

I am looking for an antonym of selfie, meaning a photo/portrait of others. The ancient Greek word for self is like auto, and what I am looking for is an English word for hetero (its opposite). Do you ...
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What's the difference between “speak” and “talk”, grammatically speaking?

There are a number of questions (example, example) that deal with the slightly different connotations of the words "speak" and "talk". However, there also seem to be some grammatical differences ...
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Why does “lactic” have an “-ic”, while “unique” have an “-ique”?

Lactic: "pertaining to milk," 1790 (in lactic acid; so called because it was obtained from sour milk), from Fr. lactique, from L. lactis, gen. of lac "milk" (see lactation) + Fr. -ique. Unique: ...
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Are there rules for constructing portmanteaux?

Lewis Carroll popularized the use and creation of (what may be considered to be) a special form of compound or conjoined words. I propose that these are different than other compound words (e.g., per ...
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What is the name of combination, in error, of similar or related words? (E.g.: segueway)

Is there a technical term for combination, in error, of similar or related words? This question is prompted by the following malapropism or solecism, from an article by Elizabeth Montalbano in ...
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Where did the name “English” come from?

How is the name for one's own language created?
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What is the origin of the phrase “forty winks,” meaning a short nap?

Inspired by the question How long is a 'wink'?, I did some work on the origin of the phrase forty winks. Though the OP at the wink question mentions the phrase, it does not ask about its origin. So I ...