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

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Did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coin the proverb “A change is as good as a rest”?

The proverb a change is as good as a rest is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: A change of work or occupation can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation Cambridge ...
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49 views

Why two 'be's in 'be bereaved'?

Isn't the infinitive be in be bereaved redundant? Etymonline looks complex and refers to bereft. 'Origin' on ODO suggests to 'see be-, reave', but doesn't the prefix 'be-' already suffice? reave ...
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Reversal of the meaning of the word “restive”

According to google etymology the word restive originally meant inclined to remain still. But then it changed the meaning to the opposite. I would like to know if such phenomenon of revresal ...
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1answer
53 views

Are “Speculate” and “Speculum” related? [closed]

I wonder if any etymology buffs can shed some light into this one. While commonly a speculum is a medical instrument, I know it has other uses in literature and history. Is speculate a verb extending ...
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103 views

Why do we call it “gum arabic” and not “arabic gum”?

Not in use so much these days, "gum arabic" can still be found for sale in small bottles. Is there a reason why it is called "gum arabic" and not "arabic gum"? Gum Arabic - Gum arabic, also known ...
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100 views

Why “on the books”, not “in the books”

On the books means "part of the law". These changes would add little to the civil rights laws now on the books. I know the meaning of this idiom, and idioms are used as they are, but idioms ...
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64 views

How did 'provide' evolve to mean 'stipulate in a document'? [closed]

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 3 that helps to internalise its meaning: 3. to provide [with clause] = Stipulate in a will or other legal document: Etymonline doesn't ...
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1answer
27 views

What is the etymology of “Pasifika”?

What is the etymology of the term "Pasifika", which can mean the Pacific Islands, people of Pacific Island heritage (in a New Zealand context), or a festival held in Auckland about Pacific Island ...
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What is the origin of “in a jiffy”?

What is the origin of "in a jiffy"? Etymology online Dictionary says origin unknown but speculates that it was slang (cant) for lightning and dates it as 1785. Wikipedia agrees but adds that the ...
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103 views

Dull as ditchwater (not dishwater) … specific questions thereon

(1) who specifically, or at least when specifically, did originate the phrase? {Example answer - "that was one of Shakespeare's!"} (2) why? (3) when first did someone screw up and use ...
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1answer
315 views

Words that changed meaning in past hundred years [closed]

I am looking for a list of words that were used to mean something different from for what they are used now. some words are such that whose meaning has changed completely and some words have more ...
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56 views

How did 'patriate' develop to mean 'transfer … from a mother country to its former dependency'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to internalise its meaning: to patriate = Transfer control over (a constitution) from a mother country to its former dependency: ...
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69 views

The origin of “It's just one of those things”?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "It's just one of those things" means: said about an event or situation that you cannot explain, or do not like but cannot change But what is the origin? ...
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Duane “Dog” Chapman, what is the word for the part in quotes between forename and surname?

Apologies if this has been asked before, I found it quite difficult to phrase what I meant! As the question title states: Duane "Dog" Chapman. What is the correct word to describe the part that is ...
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1answer
97 views

How did the verb 'leverage' evolve to mean 'use borrowed capital'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to internalise its meaning: to leverage = Use borrowed capital for (an investment), expecting the profits made to be greater than ...
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1answer
345 views

Where did the phrase “drop the hammer” come from?

Where did the phrase "drop the hammer" come from? It's what you do when you start to go balls to the wall. I've only heard it rowing.
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135 views

What's the reason of having prefix “re” in the word “republic”? [closed]

Does that mean there was an even earlier form of government called "public"?
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341 views

What is the origin of 'koumpounophobia'?

I discovered that the fear of buttons is called koumpounophobia. I've been trying to look up it's etymology, but my usual sources are failing me: etymonline, wiktionary and wikipedia don't provide any ...
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118 views

Does the “elbow-handshake” have any relation to the phrase “rubbing elbows”?

This is probably answerable with a general reference (or a pair of such references), but I have not been able to find one. Etymology Online does not cover the origin of "rubbing-elbows" as meaning ...
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1answer
69 views

How does 'so much as' develop to mean 'even'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to internalise its meaning: so much as = [with negative] Even: I couldn't find the etymology for this adverbial phrase? Is this ...
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1answer
50 views

Etymology of “age of majority?” [closed]

What is the etymology of the phrase "age of majority," meaning, e.g., 18 in the US? Does it have something to do with democracy, the age at which one can vote, and the fact that democracy is based on ...
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4answers
209 views

How does “not least” mean “in particular; notably”?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to internalise its meaning? not least = In particular; notably I couldn't find the etymology for this ??adverbial phrase?? I ...
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3answers
859 views

The etymology of “redhead” vs. “ginger haired”

All my life I have known people with reddish, orangey hair, to be termed ginger haired. Just as you don't call a blonde a 'yellow head' red head just wasn't a word that was said (wouldn't orange head ...
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315 views

Why is the surname Gray more common than the surname Grey in the UK?

An EL&U question from 2010 asks Which is the correct spelling: "grey" or "gray"? The answers very sensibly point out the split between the UK and former British commonwealth ...
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1answer
66 views

Etymology of the “Chicago Seven” construction

There are many examples of a construction of the form "City + Number" used to refer to an incident involving a particular small group of people. It is often used when it is alleged that the people in ...
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Why are redheads called “gingers” when ginger is yellow? [duplicate]

The term "ginger" is often used as a slang term for someone with bright red hair. But ginger (the spice) is actually a bright yellow in color. Where does this term come from, then?
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Why does “smashing” mean “very good”?

Smashing is a BrE slang which means "very good" or "impressive". Most folks might know this already, due to its use as a catch phrase by various BrE characters in media. However, from the usual ...
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How does 'to partake of' develop to mean 'be characterized by'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind definition 3, that helps to internalise its meaning: 3. partake of = Be characterized by (a quality) [ODO] 1. How does the etymology (listed in that ...
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1answer
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Batman vs. Maxwell Smart. Who said, “Good thinking, …!” first?

Recently, I've come across the catchphrase, "Good thinking, [name/noun]!" three times on ELU. The first was in a question referring to Terry Pratchett's catchphrase "Good thinking, that man!" 1 The ...
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1answer
56 views

How does 'to obtain' develop to mean 'to prevail'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind definition 2 of obtain, that helps to internalise its meaning: 2. [no object] [formal] Be prevalent, customary, or established [ODO] How does the ...
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2answers
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How does “to entail” develop to mean “involve (something) as an inevitable part”?

What's the logical derivation behind definition 1 of to entail: Involve (something) as a necessary or inevitable part or consequence: How does the etymology (listed in that link and here) ...
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1answer
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How does “to consist in” develop to mean “to have as an essential feature”?

What's the logical derivation behind this definition of consist in [Definition 1.1]: have as an essential feature: How does the etymology (listed in that link and here) lead to the foregoing ...
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How did “stuck-up” get to mean “snob”?

I was inclined to believe that the expression "stuck-up", meaning staying aloof from others because one thinks one is superior, had its origins with somebody's nose stuck (up) in the air and yet, ...
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Is the phrase “awaiting customer” bad English?

In customer support software, issue tracking systems and the like, I frequently see a state titled awaiting customer to signify no action is required until the person (customer) who raised the issue ...
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What does it mean to drag something in “by the stamp?” [closed]

In a 1944 radio skit, Fibber McGee says another character dragged something in "by the stamp." Is the stamp a reference to rationing stamps used during WWII?
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2answers
564 views

What is the origin of “Pipped at the post”?

Why pipped? I guess that the post is to do with horse racing - as in the post was the finish line? I could be totally wrong there.
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63 views

ten versus teen [duplicate]

Why is it "teen" instead of ten? Where did the word "teen" originate? When you say "sixteen" you are obviously saying six and ten. How did it become six and teen? I already saw the post on "Why do ...
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Eww! Has it crossed the pond yet?

I hear eww (sometimes spelt as ew) fairly regularly on American sitcoms, usually uttered by a scatterbrained beautiful blonde girl when she sees or hears something disgusting. I don't recall it ever ...
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Oneteen, Twoteen, Threeteen, Fiveteen [duplicate]

I was wondering why we say eleven, twelve, thirteen and fifteen instead of oneteen, twoteen, threeteen and fiveteen? And where does "teen" come from? I would assume it derives from ten making me ...
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138 views

Why does 'threescore' mean sixty? [closed]

I wonder why threescore means sixty. I only found it means three times twenty, the math is correct, yet what link between twenty and "score" ?
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2answers
322 views

The words “objective” and “subjective”

We say subjective to indicate that something is based on feelings and opinions, and objective to indicate the opposite. Why are these the same words as objective and subjective referring, in grammar, ...
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318 views

Distinguishing between “opposites” of “ortho-”

There is a class of transformations in physics called "orthochronous", meaning that they preserve the direction of time's flow. ("Ortho-" from the Greek for 'straight' or 'right'?) As far as I am ...
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How come “wise man” and “wise guy” have opposite connotations?

wise man: a sage a wise and trusted guide and advisor wise guy: a smart aleck a person who is given to making conceited, sardonic, or insolent comments ...
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The U in “Glamour”

Why, in US English, does the word glamour retain its u while humour, neighbour, and others have shed it?
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589 views

“Sober as a judge” vs. “Drunk as a lord”. Why judge? Why lord?

Sober as a judge is a simile that is used for someone completely sober. Drunk as a lord is a simile that is used for someone completely drunk. Why is judge equated with sobriety and lord with ...
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1answer
99 views

Did “brushwoodsmen” exist?

While talking to someone about surnames and ties to various jobs in the past ("Coopers" worked on barrels, "Smiths" made things, etc.) I asked about "Brushwood". He said that name tied to ...
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Trans vs Transgender vs Transsexual

As I understand it, trans means "an individual whose gender identity is different than what they were designated at birth". However, I also hear the terms transgender and transsexual used for similar ...
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The antonym of Schadenfreude is “fribbly” - the joy in other people's joy. What is the origin of this new meaning?

For many years the word fribbly has been used, in various communities as the antonym of Schadenfreude. Rather than harm-joy or "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others". Fribbly is "Joy-Joy" ...
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1answer
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Origin of “as all get out” meaning “to the utmost degree”

At reference.com, all get out is glossed as “in the extreme; to the utmost degree”, and at thefreedictionary.com as an unimaginably large amount; “British say ‘it rained like billyo’ where ...
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Origin of “go into hock” [closed]

We will have to go into hock to buy a house. What is the origin of the idiom?