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

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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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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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What are the correct spelling and regional distribution of “X, schmX” to indicate dismissiveness (e.g., “evidence, schmevidence”)?

There is a curious construct in American English in which a word is stated and then repeated with the prefix "schm-" or "shm-" in order to indicate the speaker's dismissive attitude toward a concern ...
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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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Why is the term “double-edged sword” used for something that can be favorable and unfavorable?

When something can have both favorable and unfavorable consequences, the term double-edged sword is often used to describe it. Why? Does a double-edged sword have unfavorable consequences? Are ...
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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 ...
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XOXO means “hugs and kisses” but why?

What's the reasoning behind abbreviating hugs and kisses as X's and O's? Some say X is for hugs and O is for kisses, and some say the other way around; but why X and O, and why are they doubled?
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ravel: opposite meanings?

From the definition found at Merriam-Webster and elsewhere, it seems that to ravel has completely opposite meanings; i.e. it means to unravel, to disentangle as well as to entangle. What's going on ...
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Proper usage/origin of the generic phrase “[action phrase] does not a [noun] make” [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Why is “xxxx doth not a yyyy make” considered valid English? I occasionally come across a sentence formulated in a manner similar to the following: ...
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What is the origin and use of “remember me to her/him”?

Is anybody familiar with the use of remember as in remember me to her/him? I think I've see it in 19th century literature. Most likely it's archaic. I believe the speaker is commanding someone to ...
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Etymology of 'slap-up'

Apparently this is a peculiarly British term, but we'll sometimes use the phrase 'slap-up' to mean 'excellent', as in: That's a slap-up meal! or They held a slap-up do. What's the origin ...
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History/connection/origin of using names as verbs/nouns?

There are a good few words in English that come from names: To jimmy a lock is to break it. To jack someone is to rob them. To peter out is to become tired. A john is a bathroom, or one who buys the ...
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“Pardon me French”

Even though the phrase pardon my French is used much more often, I do constantly run across pardon me French as well. What's the deal with that? Wikipedia does have an entry on Pardon my French, but ...
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Why does “information” not have a plural form?

Why doesn't the word information take an "S" in English even if the meaning is "plural"?
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Etymology of testosterone-charged men?

A couple of weeks back I read the story 2 States: The Story of My Marriage by Chetan Bhagat. In the story, I found a weird phrase: testosterone-charged men. What is the etymology of that phrase ...
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Which words may start with “al-”?

Is there a rule which determines whether it allowable for a word to be "merged" with "all" to make a new word starting "al-" e.g. 1)All together -> Altogether 2)All right -> Alright The ...
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Erf as term for plot of land in a town or city. Is this word only used in southern Africa?

The Free Dictionary website states and so does Wikipedia: erf [ɜːf] n pl erven [ˈɜːvən] (Engineering / Civil Engineering) South African a plot of land, usually urban, marked off for building ...
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I am concerned/worried that

"I am concerned/worried that I am losing weight." Could anybody analyze the function and meaning of the word "that" here in the above sentence? It seems to me that it has the meaning of "because" or ...
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What is the origin for meaning of “Wild-card”?

Please go through the below excerpt from "The tales of Kasi" by "Madhira Subbanna Deekshitulu" 'Kasyam maranam mukti', goes the sanskrit saying, which means dying in Kasi leads to liberation. ...
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What is the origin of the term “throw the book”? [closed]

I'm curious if "the book" in question is the bible? Does anyone know where this term first entered the lexicon?
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Etymology of the term “curse words” and “swear words”

I'm having trouble finding the origin of the terms "curse words" and "swear words" when used as a synonym what many call "bad words" (although I don't agree). I've found that "curses" when used as an ...
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What's the evolution of the phrase “milk it for all its worth”?

The phrase "milking it" seems to have originated in the context of finance. According to the OED, "milking" can refer to The manipulation of funds for (esp. unscrupulous or illicit) financial ...
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Is there a word for a person with only one head?

Reading this article by the fantastic Douglas Adams I came across this interesting quote: ‘[I]nteractivity’ is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal ...
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Feminism being referred to as equality for all, as opposed to equality for women [closed]

In a recent debate with a colleague, a self-proclaimed feminist, she described feminists as seeking equality for all, and not simply just women. I thought that this was inherently wrong considering ...
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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." ...