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

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Does “Mafia” come from Sicilian meaning “death to the French”?

Someone once mentioned to me (must have been a Sicilian patriot or something) that in some kind of ancient long-forgotten Sicilian slang the word "mafia" actually meant "Death to the French!" I mean, ...
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1answer
137 views

How did “ass” lose the 'r'?

The word "ass" (usually marked as "vulgar"; the one that means "buttocks," "butt," etc.) comes from Sanskrit, one would think, since the old Germanic version is not a stand-alone, but has its ...
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341 views

Etymology of “corny” [closed]

Why do we call dull, old-fashioned or banal things corny? As in corny movie scenes or corny jokes; not, vegetable or corn related characteristics.
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How are Old English participles declened to English participles? (both present and past) [duplicate]

I'm trying to learn about differences between English and Old English and I found that there are some noticeable differences in the use of participle markings. I think historically, there had been the ...
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160 views

What is etymology of “let sleeping dogs lie”?

While I know what it means, it doesn't make much sense. How can a dog lie while sleeping? Quite curious where this came from.
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How could “iota” become “hooter”?

We say we do not give a hoot or care a hoot when we do not care very much or at all. On the "hoot" that we do not give, Etymonline has this to say: [...] Slang sense of "smallest amount or ...
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What are the origins of the phrase “field day” as used to refer to cleaning of a military barracks?

Having served in the United States Marine Corps, I have often wondered about the origins of the word "field day," but I am not referring to its meaning as 1.a. a day for military exercises or ...
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57 views

Origin and Meaning of “just for namesake purpose”

I found some online references to the phrase "just for namesake purpose", and as per namesake's definition, this seems to be wrong usage of the term. Can anyone explain the origin and meaning of the ...
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51 views

How are Old English participles declined to English participles? (both present and past)

I'm trying to learn about differences between English and Old English, and I found that there are some noticeable differences in the use of participle markings. I think that participles were declined ...
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2answers
102 views

Is there a name for this phenomenon? [duplicate]

I'm looking for a term to describe the phenomenon where a term with a once literal and direct meaning is carried on or borrowed to refer to something that is either only remotely related or completely ...
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2answers
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Why “No smoking” works but “Yes smoking” doesn't?

No smoking is a formula used to indicate smoking is not allowed. Why can't we use Yes smoking to indicate smoking is allowed? (Although, we might use humorously but I've never heard actually.) ...
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For words that can be a noun or not a noun, why does the noun have the emphasis at the start?

There are some pairs of words that can act as a noun or not a noun (a verb or an adjective. For instance: rebel present compact Why is it that the noun version of these words have their emphasis ...
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133 views

Why is research called research if it is newly searched? [duplicate]

Why does the word "research" sound like one is "re-searching" if it is meant to product original findings? Surely it is just searching? What is the etymology of the word research? Thinking about it, ...
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38 views

On the right track -> to distract

It sounds that distracting and being on the right track are related not only by meaning but also by common roots. Is the track that we see in distracting related etymologically to the track in the ...
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89 views

Why is Major League Off-Season called “Stove League”?

With Kansas City winning the Wordl Series, we can no longer watch baseball games until next Spring except for international games "Premier 12" or Australian League. Stove means: a portable or ...
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Origin of the word “glitch”

glitch /ɡliCH/ noun: glitch; plural noun: glitches 1. a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or irregularity of equipment. "a draft version was lost in a computer glitch" ...
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92 views

What is the origin of the phrase “to give up”

How did "give up" start to mean to quit?
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710 views

Why do we talk of 'spoiling for a fight'?

According to the OED the sense of spoiling for a fight/argument etc is of US origin. Does anyone know the provenance of this use? OED to be spoiling for (a fight, etc.), to long for, to desire ...
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Hallowe'en and shell out

Growing up in Canada, in addition to "trick-or-treating" as a description of kids' activities on Hallowe'en evening, I often heard the verb "shell out", conjugated as "shelling out" or "shellouting". ...
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Origin of “Trick or Treat”

In North America, trick or treating is a Halloween custom, in which children go door-to-door to say "trick or treat" as a way of asking for treats. I'm wondering if there are any common or at least ...
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Origin of -est verb ending

In PIE the corresponding second person verb ending was "-si" and it remains similar in Slavic and Romance. Wiki also states Proto-Germanic ending as "-si", but in German it is "-st", and so it is in ...
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“Coward” vs. “cowardice” — why was France labeled a “cowardice” rather than a “coward”? [closed]

Listening to a BBC News Podcast today, there was interesting part that started with Jeb Bush's remarks on Marco Rubio (in the Republican debate) that he should resign from Congress because of his poor ...
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What does “Give a chicken in every pot” mean?

There was the following statement in October 29 New Yorker’s article that came under the title, “Why the G.O.P. Candidates Don’t Do Substance”: Did any of the candidates detail how they would pay ...
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When did “I could care less” (rather than “I couldn't care less”) become popular?

What decade? Any particular reason? This is an etymological/historical question, not a grammar question.
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What is the origin of “Get a hold of the short/wrong end of the stick”? [duplicate]

I know this is a duplicate, of this question: Origin of "the wrong end of the stick" but none of the answers are can be considered fact. I propose this answer: The split tally was a ...
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How did you know when to say “thing haveth or something”? [duplicate]

I have been watching Hocus Pocus and wondered how people in the 1800s knew when to add eth on the end of words.
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What are the sources of the popularity of the urban slang term “shank”? [duplicate]

to shank to stab with an improvised knife How did shank evolve to its importance in popular culture? Has there been a key gangster rap with this word, perhaps taking off as an internet ...
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“Contesting the palm” — looking for a definition and possible origin of this archaic phrase

I recently ran across an odd phrase—"contest the palm"—and after doing some Google searches found it used by a number of individuals in England during the 1800s but I cannot seem to find it defined ...
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78 views

Is there sch a thing in English as “other payment for use of land” that is not, in the broad sense, “rent”?

I ask this as an inquiry into the validity of the logic behind the currently accepted answer to Do you still pay 10x the dice when getting the chance card that takes you to the nearest utility if the ...
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186 views

Where does the word “News” come from? [closed]

I'm just wondering where does the word "News" come from. Is it from the word "New" which means things that did not exist before?
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Armor glistening like glass in Chapman's Homer

I am trying to recover a lovely phrase that I only dimly remember. I think that it's in Chapman's Homer. I think that it's a simile: someone's armor or shield (perhaps Agamemnon's) "glistens like ...
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Why are grammatical subjects called subjects?

In a monarchical state a subject is "one that is placed under authority or control" (Merriam). If A is subject to B, A is figuratively beneath B. This meaning makes sense with the word's roots of ...
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Drywall “mud”: modern slang or continuous usage from ancient times?

"Drywall compound" is used to fill in the gaps between sheets of gypsum wallboard. In the trade this is referred to as "mud". At first I thought this was modern slang, but I am wondering whether the ...
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How did 'to quit' evolve to mean 'to behave or conduct in a specified way'?

[OED:] 8. a. refl. To behave or conduct oneself, esp. satisfactorily or in a specified way; to play one's part. Now rare and arch. Largely superseded by acquit. Etymonline lacks enough details to ...
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The two uses of “be”

I am reading a book about English verbs. The first chapter gives some basic definitions, and said that "be" can be used as a lexical verb and as an auxilliary verb. For example: "I am tall" or "I am ...
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How did 'wherewith' evolve from 'with which' to 'that with which'?

[Source:] [1.] Finally, and most importantly to this discussion, wherewith took the form of a noun meaning "that with which." [OED:] [2.] II. rel. With which. [3.] b. With ellipsis of ...
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Thoughts on today's article on “farther” vs “further”?

See the article for context. Seems like a plausible suggestion to me, but I'm curious what others think. Consider the house, tree, and sunflower in the illustration at the top of this post. The ...
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Safe as Houses - Popular consideration of this phrase's etymology

So as not to bury the lede (yes that's the spelling apparently): My question: According to the wiktionary the phrase "safe as houses" refers to something being as safe as investing in house ...
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The origin of “used to” and “supposed to”

Is anyone aware of where these phrasal modals that look like passive constructions come from? Were they originally passives (for example: "he was supposed to do xyz by someone else") that eventually ...
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Polish (the substance, not the language)

I'm talking about the stuff you use when you're polishing. According to etymonline.com, this usage has been around for less than 200 years: polish (n.) 1590s, "absence of coarseness," from ...
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477 views

Which “bitch” came first? [closed]

A female dog can be called a bitch, but "bitch" is also used as a vulgar adjective (usually to describe women). The question is, which came first? According to Dictionary.com and Etymology Online, ...
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Origin of the term 'smartphone'

Smartphone, an increasingly popular term, refers to: a device that combines a cell phone with a hand-held computer, typically offering Internet access, data storage, email capability, etc. ...
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When or where did “sth” come to mean “something”? [duplicate]

This is not the same question as What is meant by "sth"? although one of it's answers is a partial answer to this question. This question does not relate to "what does sth mean?" but those ...
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Why no 'b' in numeric etc

"Number" vs. "Numeric" Also "Enumerate" etc. If I were to guess, I might go for it relating to "Numeral", but I don't see why it should derive from the less common word, nor why Numeral has no b ...
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Origin/meaning of “I’m showing”

In some places (e.g. stories from call centers on /r/TalesFromTechSupport), I’ve seen the term “I’m showing (some text/output)…” – apparently as a synonym for ...
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58 views

Who was the first white person in media to use the phrase “Shout-Out”?

Jazz was created by African-Americans. It's impossible to say with any authority exactly where and how it started, other than to acknowledge that it started in Black-American culture. It is much ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “Leave your Mark”?

All I could manage to find on Google was this link: The phrase was originally used in archery – to “make your mark” was to hit the target with your arrow. Is there a more in-depth description ...
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What is the origin of the idiom “with all the bells and whistles”?

No major dictionary website carries the origin of this proverb. Some blogs speculate that it comes from a locomotive usage. In the days of the steam engine, engines would be equipped with bells and ...
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origin of the idiom “hair-raising” [closed]

What is the origin of the idiom in “A hair-raising story”? hair-raising: causing excitement, terror, or thrills American Heritage® Dictionary
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Why are plurals ‘*humen’ and ‘*Germen’ not conventional?

Studying English in school as a second language, I learned that human being would be the proper noun to describe a member of the Homo sapiens species, but it seems human is perfectly acceptable in ...