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

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“Healthy” vs “healthful”— Do fruits and veggies work out?

The OED doesn't say much other than the two words have long been synonyms since the 1500s. healthful - promoting good health healthy - being in good health/condition Why do we say that ...
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130 views

What is the origin of the place name Privett vs. plant name Privet?

The Ligustrum vulgare, the English Privet, seems to have a confused history. It was known to the ancient Greeks as an important plant in making their formal gardens or topia "places" which gives us ...
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471 views

Origin of the phrase “mother's ruin”?

I was under the impression that the phrase "mother's ruin" came from the England in the 1800's, where many people living in London did so in absolute poverty, and gin (the so-called "mother's ruin") ...
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Why “daily” and not “dayly”?

Checking how adjectives related to time are created, I see: year → yearly month → monthly week → weekly day → daily Why has “day” derivated into “daily” with an ‘i’ instead of “dayly” with a ‘y’? ...
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Why is “agnostic” pronounced “ag-gnostic” as opposed to “a-gnostic”?

Gnosticism, for example, is obviously not pronounced with a hard g. As far as I know the modern English use of agnostic is said to have originated with Thomas Huxley, who surely would have been aware ...
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85 views

Etymology of “manhole”

I don't think man stands for male here, I think it stands for human—it is a humanhole. Does it have this name because its purpose is to provide access to the sewer for men?
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31 views

How did the word “settings” acquire its modern meaning?

When did it pass into common usage to refer to a device's "settings"? It makes perfect sense to call them that, since you "set" them, but such things didn't really exist until the age of electronics. ...
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67 views

Why does the phrase “to take the rag off” mean to excel in the classroom?

A Collection of College Words and Customs (1851) by Benjamin Homer Hall defines to take the rag off as "to excel; to compose much better than one's classmates." I understand the phrase is quite old; ...
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comfiture and discomfiture - etymology

discomfiture anxious embarrassment comfiture a candy containing a nut or piece of fruit. Are these two "false friends", words seeming to be related but of completely different ...
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66 views

Origin of “Knocked” in “Have (Got) It Knocked”

I read the 11 Nov. 1978 panel of Garfield, in which the phrase "have got it knocked" is used. Transcript: Panel 1 [Garfield is in bed but mobile] Garfield: Oh-oh. I feel a nap attack ...
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Knocked up, two very different meanings. But why and how did the phrase split? [duplicate]

In American English, "Knocked up" means "pregnant." I just found out via an article regarding jobs that no longer exist that in British English, they use use the phrase "Knocked up in a completely ...
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311 views

Why is it called “slippery dick”?

No, no, it is not what you think! It is a poor fish called slippery dick: The slippery dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, is a species of wrasse native to shallow, tropical waters of the western ...
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381 views

What's the origin of the word party pooper?

A party pooper is defined as: a person who refuses to join in the fun of a party; broadly : one who refuses to go along with everyone else I'm interested to know about the origin of this term and ...
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72 views

Where did the term 'moral fiber' come from?

I was reading a novel that used the term moral fiber - defined as strength of character - the other day and it occurred to me that it was a somewhat strange conjunction of terms. It sort of conjured ...
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201 views

Bora Bora, Here We Come

Saw this phrase/expression in CIBC advertisement. The pleased client asked, "should we re-investment or expand", and the bank clerk said, "you can do both", then the old lady in the back happily ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On”?

I hear this too many times at work and figured it meant is this the battle I choose to fight today? But this is used too many times on the interwebs to google down to the origins of it. Can some one ...
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Where did the phrase You “have a really punchable face” originate?

MS Paint Adventures references this phrase on this page in homestuck: http://www.mspaintadventures.com/?s=6&p=002224 I also distinctly remember hearing the same phrase in one of the three first ...
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Why are social drinks referred to as cocktails?

Why are social drinks referred to as cocktails?
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314 views

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood! What is the origin of this ...
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What is the origin of the term “In Spades”? [duplicate]

Near as I can tell, this phrase seems to be based on the idea that the suit of spades is of higher value than any other card - which I believe is only true in the card game "Spades". Is this card ...
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regarding “Oriented” vs. “orientated” [duplicate]

I couldn't help but add an additional frame of reference. Though I personally find the utterance of "orientated" to be a failed attempt at the proper word "oriented", the collective commentary is ...
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4answers
156 views

Why do the words ducky and jake mean fine or satisfactory?

Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary acknowledges both ducky and jake as acceptable terms meaning fine or satisfactory and it dates the word ducky back to 1897 and jake to 1914. Does anyone know how ...
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Why is the English devil “old”?

Looking up the etymology of the Devil's nickname, Old Nick, I came across this article in OUPblog written by Anatoly Liberman For some reason, devils, at least in English, are often called old: ...
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Is Shakespeare really the source of our modern meaning for odd?

In a recent article, the Guardian states that Shakespeare is also responsible for the modern meaning of "odd". What is the evidence for this? The textual evidence alone is thin and unconvincing. ...
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What's the reason, words like “Thou” and “Thee” are no longer used in English language

When going through old English literature, especially stories and poems, we can see they have been full of words like "thou" and "thee" etc. Some of my English teachers told me that they were used ...
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What is the origin of the reference to the “ancient Marks”

From the historical reference included: "Kemble, in his (appendix) list of "patronymical names," which he regards as "those of ancient Marks," has two references, from the "Codex Diplomaticus"...", ...
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Bike Race question - Loser gets to be the girl [closed]

I don't remember which movie it was in, but there were two men (filled with testosterone), and they had this bet that the loser would be the girl. It was never specified what ''gets to be the girl'' ...
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What does “no love lost” mean and where does it come from?

I have trouble with the idiom "no love lost". I understand that it is used when people are at odds or don't get along, but I don't understand why. Interpreted literally it sounds like there should be ...
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Does “eff” mean to describe in words?

If one dissects the word "ineffable", there are three main roots in - not able - able to be done eff The meaning of the root able implies that some part of the word before it must refer to an ...
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Where does “incensed” originate from?

I was wondering whether the adjective "incensed" meaning "enraged" had any relation with the noun "incense" meaning "a product producing a smell when burnt" Can anybody answer this ? Maybe it has ...
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Origin of oe pronounced as /i/?

/i/ is usually pronounced in English with the vowels: e, ee, ea, ei, ie, and y. What is the origin of the pronunciation of words such as amoeba, phoenix or onomatopoeia? I got curious about this ...
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Where does the word “button-down” come from?

I was wondering where the term 'button-down' comes from. I tried to do some research but I was not very successful... How was the word button-down formed? Is it a compound ? Does it originate from ...
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On the evolution of the meaning of “few”

Was the word "few" used exclusively to refer to groups of eight people (or things) at some point of time? There is a well-known verse in the New Testament which implies the plausibility of such a ...
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Wer, wie, was, wieso, weshalb, warum, all start with W in German. In English they don't, why?

Wer, wie, was, wieso, weshalb, warum. Wer nicht fragt bleibt dumm. This is the theme song to the German Sesame Street, IIRC It roughly translates to: Who, how, what, why, why ,why. If you ...
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About the etymology of Bachelor

I ran across this while I was browsing some Arab websites: The Arabic Origin of ‘Baccalaureate’ and ‘Bachelor’ By: Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif When Oxford and Cambridge Universities were erected as ...
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Where does “my ass” come from?

The usage of my ass to mean me is now relatively common. My impression is that it originated from AAVE and has since been included in various other dialects. The NGram below implies it became popular ...
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Which is the older sense of the word “linguist”?

I have been listening to some rants on YouTube against people learning a bunch of languages calling themselves "linguists". I'm personally interested in both linguistics and languages as a hobby but ...
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“In the open sea everything must be recorded in the Log. ”

Why the book where the record of a ship's speed, its progress, and any shipboard events of navigational importance is called Log?
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Why is something fried on a griddle called grilled?

To my understanding, to grill is cooking with a heat source located beneath an open slatted grate (or ribbed closed pan). (For example, using a barbecue grill on one's patio.) The word grill is ...
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Origin and usage of “nu-” (e.g. nu-metal)

Not every dictionary I checked has "nu-" but here are a few examples: nu- dictionary.com — indicating an updated or modern version of something: nu-metal music Bing — new: ...
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Does the etymology of the word “government” mean “to control the mind”?

I've heard some conspiracy theorists say that government, when broken down into its root Latin words, means "to control the mind". I'm wondering if this is really true or not. Is it? Edit: My own ...
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Idiom: in my neck of the woods, AmE

Idiom: in my neck of the woods, AmE The meaning of this expression is: in the region where I live. Once I tried to find out how a word meaning a part of the body can develop an expression where it ...
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What is the origin of “scrilla”?

scrilla (uncountable) (slang, African American Vernacular) money scrilling: making money. I'd buy a car, but I don't have any scrilla! That car is worth mad scrilla. So what is the ...
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How can a written language develop with unspoken letters? [duplicate]

English is a language in which you write quite a few letters that you do not pronounce, or you write letters in one order and pronounce it in another. For example, centre. It is pronounced ...
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What's the origin of the “surprise!” interjection?

This interjection is perhaps most commonly associated with surprise parties, where the person in whose honour the party is held is made unaware, until an opportune moment where the participants leap ...
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What is the derivation of “out like a light” meaning “to lose consciousness quickly”?

The idiomatic relationship between out like a light and falling asleep (or being rendered comatose) quickly is easily understood in the context of electric lights extinguished instantly by a switch. ...
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Etymology of “French fries”

In Belgium there are three stories about the etymology of French fries. And I'd like to know once and for all which one is correct. The most popular story is probably the following, because it allows ...
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113 views

“Holy Spirit” or “Holy Ghost”? [closed]

Until today I believed that both terms are basically the same. But our English teacher told us that the correct term is Holy Spirit. Is there any difference between Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost? I ...
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Does milk toast, milk-toast, or milktoast mean the same as milquetoast?

So of late I've been hearing a lot of people call other people (or their actions) milk toast. I thought it was weird because those two words should conjure up breakfast food and not "spineless". So I ...
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What are some non-Greek/Latin hybrid words? [closed]

Most etymological hybrids in English are a mixture of Greek and Latin. I'm interested in hybrids from other languages, French and German, say. Can you think of any good examples? I'd be especially ...