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

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Etymology of “high” and “low” notes

The words "high" and "low" generally refer to magnitude or vertical distance. How did these words come to be associated with pitch? We can draw comparison to high ("large") or low ("small") ...
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1answer
62 views

The origin of “break of day”

I was quite surprised to know that "break of day" actually means "dawn", that is, the beginning of the day. But, the phrase "break of day" sounds much more like the end of the day, not the beginning ...
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245 views

Origin of “Stick to your knitting”

I know that "Stick to your knitting" means to stick with what you're familiar with/good at rather than giving your opinion or trying your hand at something out of your area of expertise. But I can't ...
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179 views

How to identify if a word is positive, negative, or neutral?

I am studying for SAT and English is not my first language. I really struggle with vocabulary. I memorized about 1000 words for the test, but only a few showed up on the test. I am planning on taking ...
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207 views

Most of us had a piggy bank! But what is the origin of its name?

Piggy (n.): "a little pig," 1799, from pig (n.) + -y (3). Related: Piggies. Piggy bank attested from 1941 (pig bank from 1937). (Etymonline) The origin of this expression in unclear. ...
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98 views

Why did English adopt both 'estrange' and 'strange'?

I'm not asking about the definitions of estrange and strange, and I realise that modern usage isn't a strict function of the original meaning of a word. I wish to know why English appropriated both ...
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338 views

What is the origin of the phrase “hot take”?

I've been seeing this phrase pop up more and more in social media. I wasn't sure of what it meant, so of course I googled it: http://www.vox.com/2014/12/29/7417055/best-worst-words-2014 ...
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88 views

How did 'estate' evolve to mean 'area of land or property'?

The following are definitions of the word 'estate': estate {noun} = 1. An area or amount of land or property, in particular = 3. {archaic or literary} A particular state, period, or condition ...
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213 views

What is the origin of “woof!”?

We know that woof is the sound a dog makes when barking. It is used both as a noun and a verb. The word is onomatopoeic but it is also used as an interjection. People woof too when they are attracted ...
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198 views

What is the origin of the phrase “playing hooky”?

What does the word "hooky" mean in the phrase "play hooky" (skipping class/truancy) and where did it come from?
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We might have to do some “fiddling”

I like the word fiddle, and I quite like the musical instrument too. If you're fiddling with a device, it means you're trying to repair it. It might be tricky because of all the tiny bits and pieces ...
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79 views

How did French “cacher” divide into English “cache” and “cachet”?

I encountered Merriam-Webster's article on cache vs cachet (while researching another word). I understand it and other websites that broach the confusion caused by these two nouns, but none explain ...
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65 views

Broth of a boy etymology

Could anybody explain the etymology of the phrase broth of a boy? I know the meaning but cannot understand how it happens that it means what it means.
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88 views

Is the “B” in Brussels Sprouts capitalized? [closed]

It's not standard to capitalize "F" in french fries... In that case what is the proper way to write it?
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5answers
6k views

Where on Earth is “penguin” from?

Fact or fallacy? It's one of those things you hear or casually read somewhere that sticks with you. The word penguin is derived from Welsh; pen refers to "head", while gywn means "white". Well, it's ...
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72 views

What is origin of suffix '-stan', as in Hindustan, Afghanistan? [closed]

As a supplementary, is -stan related to 'sthan' (Sanskrit)?
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2answers
814 views

Where does the expression “cod indignation” originate from?

I've bumped into the expression "cod indignation" now and again, for example: "And just when Ed has upped his personal ratings by proving not to be as gawky as the media pretend, he blows it by ...
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693 views

Etymology of “let us” and “let's”

The verb let means “allow”, “permit”, “not prevent or forbid”, “pass, go or come” and it's used with an object and the bare infinitive. Are you going to let me drive or not? Don't let ...
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1answer
152 views

'pescatarian': synonyms & etymology

Even if most Americans would take 'pescatarian' to be some odd Calvinist sect, according to MW it is a noun which means 'one whose diet includes fish but no other meat' and its derivation is 'probably ...
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Milanese Loop - origin of term?

A company is using the term "Milanese Loop" for one of the watch armbands for the digital Watch. I understand that Milanese is related to the Italian city of Milan. Yet my Internet research has not ...
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1answer
55 views

'to be concerned to'

ODO: 1.4. be concerned ... to do something = Regard it as important to do something: OED: III. Passive, to be concerned. This occurs in some senses which are non-existent or obsolete in the ...
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1answer
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How did “Matron” and “Patron” come to mean different things?

Matron: (1) a married woman, especially one who is mature and staid or dignified and has an established social position; (2) a woman who has charge of the domestic affairs of a hospital, prison, or ...
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315 views

What is the origin/history of “you do you” (or “do you”)?

A recent New York Times Magazine piece focused on the expression "you do you" (and its variant "do you"), meaning something like a strong affirmation to "be yourself." The article associates the ...
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How did “sweet tooth” originate?

Given it's nearly Easter, I was eating some fruity Jelly Beans (I had forgotten how good they are) and my Indian friend said that he loved them because he had "sweet teeth". I corrected him, saying ...
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Etymology of the word 'choreography'

So here in India, in context of movies, choreography relates to direction of dance sequences, but I'm given to understand that in the west, the word is used to describe direction of fight sequences. ...
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193 views

The history of the phrase, “to drop the ball.” [closed]

How (if at all) does the phrase "to drop the ball" relate to the Times Square dropping of the midnight ball on New Year's Eve? If they are unrelated, where does the phrase come from?
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91 views

How does 'contingent' mean 'subject to chance'? [closed]

contingent = {adjective} 1. Subject to chance Etymonline: late 14c., from Old French contingent or directly from Latin contingentem (nominative contingens) "happening, touching," present ...
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1answer
54 views

How does 'to deport' mean 'to conduct oneself' ?

2. deport {verb} {archaic} = Conduct oneself in a specified manner: deport (v.1): late 15c., "to behave," from Old French deporter "behave, deport (oneself)" (12c.), also with a wide range of ...
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102 views

How did 'ply' evolve into these 4 different definitions?

ply = {with object} 1. Work steadily with (a tool) 2. {no object, with adverbial of direction} (Of a vessel or vehicle) travel regularly over a route, typically for commercial purposes ...
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50 views

Education begins at home

What (from where or whom) is the origin of the phrase, "Education begins at home?" I've tried a general "google" search but have not found any clear attribution yet. It is a basic statement many ...
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How did the spelling of 'mien' evolve?

I ask only about mien's definition of 'A person’s look or manner', and not the Yao people. OED: Etymology: Probably a merging of two words of distinct origins: (i) shortened < demean n.; ...
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51 views

Origin of using “left” as something we still have [closed]

People express a quantity of something they still have (but is finding away) by using the word "left". Time left: 2 hours Where does this usage originates from. If one depicts a timeline, it ...
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60 views

How did 'wan' evolve from 'lacking lustre' to 'pale' ?

I wish to delve into the definition, which I already understand and so ask NOT about. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. What are some right ways of interpreting the noun 'lustre', so that the etymology ...
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1answer
161 views

Is my name English? [closed]

I have a question regarding my name and English language. My family's last name is Maiorana and were from Yorkshire (or so I thought). The other day my new girlfriend asked where my name was from and ...
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269 views

What is the etymology of “run like a dog”?

I've used the phrase "runs like a dog" to mean that my car is on its last legs and can't, sometimes, run anywhere near as fast as a dog can. Can anyone shed light on where this meaning of the phrase ...
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“Sounds like a plan (, Stan!)”

"Sounds like a plan (, Stan!)" (idiom, used to agree to a suggestion that you think is good: OxfordLearnersDictionariesOnline) It seems to be of relatively recent origin, if there's really a sound ...
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196 views

Origin of the saying 'all wet'

All wet is slang expression (mainly AmE) meaning: entirely mistaken. (TFD) All wet: The Phrase Finder, referring to OED, suggests that its first usage was: "c. all wet: mistaken, ...
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1answer
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'insidious' : How does 'sit in' mean 'gradual, subtle' ? [closed]

insidious {adjective} = Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects: Etymonline: 1540s, from Middle French insidieux (15c.) or directly from Latin insidiosus ...
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138 views

did “born and bred” originally have different meaning?

Internet searching suggests the phrase "born and bred in Boston" means the same thing as "born and raised in Boston." But "bred" is the past-tense of "breed." Might "born and bred in Boston" have ...
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Origin of “janky” as in, “This setup is janky.”

The term "janky" is common in specific gaming communities and refers to using tactics that are bad or subpar. A specific example from Reddit: So Reynad just climbed about 800 ranks in legend with ...
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1answer
65 views

“hospitality”: does it refer to the guest or the host? [closed]

Is hospitality about being a good guest, or a good host? Or is it a little bit of both? Would it be the act of being a good host or is it different?
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1answer
54 views

What is the connection, if any, between 'adapt' and 'adept'?

The English adjective adept originates from the classical Latin adjective adeptus, to describe a person who has obtained knowledge of alchemy, magic and the occult. The verb to adapt would appear ...
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283 views

Does our word for [wrist] watch come from the 1735 English Longitude Prize?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson writes in the book Death By Black Hole on page 314: In 1735, the Board of Longitude's challenge was met by a portable, palm-sized clock designed and built by an English ...
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23 views

What is the origin of the verb 'to beef' (meaning complain)? [duplicate]

Why do we beef about things we are not happy with? The OED confirms that it is of US origin, and provides examples of its use from 1888 - to complain, grumble, protest.
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56 views

Where does the word “mean” come from in mathematics? [closed]

For the averages, mean, median and mode I can determine that median comes from latin for mid, mode comes from latin for measurement but cannot find where the word mean comes from. Is it an acronym? ...
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92 views

Where did the expression “falling down on the job” come from?

What is the origin of falling down on the job? What did it originally mean?
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'remit' {verb} : How does 'send back' mean 'to forward'?

remit {verb} [with object] = 2. Send (money) in payment or as a gift [Synonyms:] send, dispatch, forward, transmit, convey; ... [Etymonline]: late 14c., "to forgive, pardon," from Latin ...
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Etymology: The root of the words 'real' and 'reality'

I wish to identify the oldest known root from which we derive the words 'real' and 'reality', et cetera. I got as far as determining the origin of the English words real and reality is Latin res, ...
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56 views

Does 'fever' share an etymology with 'fervent, fervid, or fervour'?

The ODO entry for 'fervent' recommends to: Compare with fervid and fervour. I did read Etymonline's entry for 'fever' which doesn't explicitly answer this, but I think that I'd need to know ...
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Splitting of a word to create a past tense or verb

So, I was looking at the word "backup" recently. This is the only word I know of that splits the word to indicate an action("I'm backing it up now.") or for past tense("When was it last backed up?"). ...