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

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Why isn't there a word for the super-type of people and businesses?

I was originally framing this question as a search for the 'right word' but the site's suggestions pointed me to a previous question that was almost identical. So I'll turn the question around and ask,...
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Origin of “island time”

Though it's only mentioned in Urban Dictionary, I know the meaning of "island time", which is more or less where the locals aren't too stressed about being on time. But what's the origin of the ...
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What was the usage of EModE’s four-form system for answering yes–no questions?

It is well-known that Early Modern English, if not earlier forms of English too, had a four-form system for answering yes–no questions. ‘Yea’ and ‘nay’ answered questions phrased positively (analogous ...
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196 views

Where does “the sky is falling” come from?

According to Wikipedia the common expression "the sky is falling" is from a folk tale: Henny Penny, more commonly known in the United States as "Chicken Little" and sometimes as "Chicken ...
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Does “Hang a Shingle” refer only to lawyers starting their own business?

I guess I've only heard it used to refer to lawyers. Is the term exclusive to lawyers?
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272 views

What did Terry Pratchett mean by “avec”?

Terry Pratchett used in his disc world novels the word "avec" as a common food ingredient for french (in his books named "quirmian" or "Quirm" for the country) food. Excerpt from "Snuff" by Terry ...
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Does the idiom “in check” come from chess? [closed]

I was recently arguing with a friend that the idiom "in check" comes from chess. With the meaning that keeping someone or something "in check" restrains its choices and limits its actions, this seems ...
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53 views

Origin of phrase “passing the trash”

In broadest terms, the phrase Passing the Trash describes dealing with corrupt individuals by giving them transfers, new job titles or even promotions. However, a quick search with Google suggests ...
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Idiom whose etymology involves misunderstanding the original meaning

I found this question on a rather fascinating (if unapologetically prescriptivist) website: Is there any idiom -- not a single word, but a full phrase -- whose meaning has changed over the years, ...
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Up in Annie's room behind the wall paper

My dad had a lot of phrases which I have not been able to identify the origins of. He would use "up in Annie's room behind the wallpaper" in much the same way as "to see a man about a dog" is used - ...
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the usage and etymology of the expression “I bags that”

This expression is used when you want to reserve or secure the right to do or to have something: he bagged the best chair. I see this listed as Australian slang but also have noticed references its ...
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Meaning of phrase “Early/late in the piece”

I've heard people say "this early in the piece" or "this late in the piece". It seems to be spoken as a kind of idiomatic expression, but I'm not sure what it really means. What is the meaning of the ...
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What made the “worst case scenario” a popular expression?

A worst-case scenario is a cliché that refers to: the worse possible future outcome. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms) Though the meaning is quite intuitive, the ...
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107 views

Yod dropping - Why is there a distinction in the pronunciations of “sewn” and “hewn”?

"Sewn" is pronounced /sōn/, whereas "hewn" is pronounced /hyo͞on/. Is there a reason for the difference in their pronunciations despite their spellings and origins being similar?
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Metaphysician vs Metaphysicist

A practitioner of physics is known as a physicist. It seems like it would logically follow that a practitioner of metaphysics would be known as a metaphysicist; yet, in every text I've read, a ...
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What's the origin of the word “nachos”? [closed]

Just like it says on the tin! Looking for root words or early usages, ideally "first usage" or an unambiguous etymological origin.
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1answer
77 views

Is there any relation between the meanings of the word “cataract”?

Oxford defines "cataract" as "a steep waterfall" as well as gives the more common meaning of the word i.e. the medical condition that causes a loss of sight. Also, "cataract", as meaning "waterfall",...
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Etymology: predicament

Can anyone explain how predicament from the Latin word family dicere ‘to say’ and praedicare, can develop the meaning precarious situation? Etymonline can't. early 15c., "category, class; one of ...
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Was “sexting” an Australian slang term originally?

To sext, (usually as noun sexting) refers to: sending (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone: Its earliest usage appears to be from 2005, thought other ...
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Preservation of the en- prefix form of Latin negative prefix in-, in enemy & enmity

The en- in enemy is a prefix meaning "not": the origin is Latin inimicus, from in- + amicus — a "not friend" or an "unfriend" (Online Etymology Dictionary—enemy). The Latin in- changed to en- when ...
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Were tongue twisters meant for fun? Or were they intended for improving speech?

Of late, I have been reading and saying out loud a few tongue twisters in English after picking them up in one of the Facebook shares. While tongue twisters probably exist in all languages ever spoken,...
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What does plaster in “plaster saint” refer to?

The saying plaster saint is used to refer to: A person who makes a show of being without moral faults or human weakness, especially in a hypocritical way. (ODO) The expression is ...
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Origin of the “to hit someone” definition of “clocked” [closed]

Google's second definition for "clock" is: informal hit (someone), especially on the head. "someone clocked him for no good reason" What is the origin of this usage of the term?
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“Should it go through the formality of actually happening …”

When did phrases such as go through the formality of taking place and its logical equivalents (such as going through or experiencing the formality of actually happening or existing or ...
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103 views

“All-American” … which usage came first?

In the U.S., "All-American" can mean two things. (1) It can be used as a general phrase, meaning simply clean-cut and middle class. "He's the all-American boy" is a cliché sentence. Note, this usage ...
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“Explicit”, “classified”, “graphic” - did these words originate as abbreviations of longer phrases?

Explicit means clearly stated. Classified means assigned to a class. Graphic means pictorial. But these words have second meanings (respectively: offensive, secret, depicting something violent). Can ...
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What is the etymology of the term “form factor”?

I'm a theoretical physicist, and am doing some work on quantities called form factors. To an expert, a form factor says something about scattering particles from fields. This probably originated from ...
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Origin of 'Dutch Courage'

I was wondering if anyone could shed some more definite light on the origin of the phrase 'Dutch Courage.' I have found two, almost certainly apocryphal, origins: 1: From the Thirty Years War in ...
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When did the phrase “eat sh*t” enter the English Language?

I'm reading a book, The Known World by Edward P. Jones. It is a very well written book about Black slave owners before the Civil War, that is, freed slaves who went on to own slaves themselves. The ...
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Etymology of “Wincolmlee”

In my travels around northern England I have found myself in Wincolmlee in the fair city of Kingston-upon-Hull, and also near Wincomblee in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. These places are both on the riverside ...
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Origin of “The first step is always the hardest”

I'm looking for the period when the American proverb The first step is always the hardest first appeared. Google Ngram won't let me do the search because the phrase contains more than 5 symbols.
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Why is it “description” but “describe” (b and p)?

I've just wondered by it is "description", but "to describe". It looks as if "to descripe" would be a more consistant choice. Is there any other explanation besides "this is how it is written for ...
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“Digital computer” in the 1940s

I was watching the DVD movie Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped crack the Nazi's enigma code in WWII. In one key scene, Turing uses the ...
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Dank memes. But why?

On the internet, when talking about memes, a "dank meme" means old and out-played. According to Wiktionary, "dank" means "to moisten, dampen; used of mist, dew etc.". This doesn't sound like the ...
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Why is German anti-aircraft fire called “Archibald”?

Reading The War Illustrated (January 30th, 1915 number), I came across this passage:- At this speed they offer a comparatively stationary mark for the German anti-aircraft guns, always known as ...
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Arcology (Paolo Soleri)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcology Says Paolo coined the word. But the concept was in use in SF as early as 1899. I'd like to know when this word was coined, so that I could check my old SF to ...
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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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Origin and usage of “stay the course”

The popular expression stay the course means: Hold or persevere to the end, as in: "No, he's not resigning; he's going to stay the course." According the AHD this metaphoric expression, ...
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Where does “contango” come from?

Contango is a very common term in financial business that originally referred to: (on the London stock exchange) a fee paid by a buyer of securities to the seller for the privilege of ...
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Since when do scouts look, rather than listen?

Scout (verb) seems to be attested in English from late 14c.: "observe or explore as a scout, travel in search of information," from Old French escouter "to listen, heed" (Modern French écouter). [...
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Is the name Germany derived from the Spanish “hermano”? [closed]

Could the current term "Germany" have any roots or derivation in the Latin germānus, Spanish hermano, hence "land of brothers," i.e. "Anglo-Saxon brothers? hermano From Old Spanish ermano, from ...
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Origin and usage of “celestial openness”.

I've recently come across the expression "celestial openness" used to refer to high receptiveness of a child's mind: Dr. Kuhl talks about the ‘celestial openness’ of a child’s mind, and ...
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Why is “build” spelt with a “u”?

I was just looking at build on Wiktionary and I noticed that in Middle English the word was bilden. Where did the u come from? I can understand why words such as guide have a u; it's to make the g "...
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Are there any “fake” French words used in English?

Are there any "fake" French words used in English? By "fake French" I mean words that are of French origin but are not actually correct French. This could happen if the word changes as it becomes ...
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How did 'of' come to take on so many meanings?

TL/DR: How did of (a Function Word) spawn such diverse meanings, too numerous to list here? Optional Reading and Supplement: [OED:] The primary sense was ‘away’, ‘away from’, a sense now ...
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“Death comes in threes” origin?

With David Bowie and Alan Rickman dying within a few days on each other (RIP), I've heard some people say, "Death always comes in threes, I wonder who's next." What is the origin of this phrase? How ...
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What's up with the use of the word “black” in reference to skin color? [closed]

I've never liked the word black to describe people with dark skin. Those of us with pigment-enriched skin are certainly not black in color. Why was the term black used to describe people with dark ...
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“the hell with” vs “to hell with”

What is the etymology of "the hell with", which on the face of it is a corruption of "to hell with" or possibly a shortening ot "to the hell with". (See below.) In my experience, the former is rather ...
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Why are there two “to”s in “from … to … to …”?

To denote that something applies to a wide range of items you can use the phrase "from ... to ... to ...", e.g. Animals can live anywhere, from forests to deserts to deepest pits of the oceans. ...
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Origin of “If the wind changes”

Please help settle an argument. There is a expression used by parents and teachers to threaten children who are pulling faces: If the wind changes, you'll stay like that! or simiarly If the ...