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

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Is language inherently circular? [closed]

I looked up "Hallelujah" in etymonline.com today, and the result, as often happens with etymological research, ended in following a rabbit warren of possibilities. Take the word "Hallelujah" for ...
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3answers
2k views

Raper vs. Rapist; Why the shift in suffix?

I’ve always been vaguely aware of raper as an alternative to rapist, as a vaguely wrong sounding, possibly archaic formulation. Nowadays, it’s most often heard from speakers of English as a second ...
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150 views

Once bitten twice shy [closed]

What is the meaning and origin of the idiom 'once bitten twice shy'?
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2answers
55 views

Whistle-stop tour

I came across this phrase 'Whistle-stop tour' while reading an article. Please throw a light on it's origin and meaning.
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1answer
626 views

What is the history of “nil” in British football /soccer?

In British football if neither team scores a goal, the score is said to be: nil-nil or nil-nil draw. Curiously, the winning team's results are always spoken first. So if Arsenal are playing home the ...
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2answers
72 views

Should I wash my hands of this?

Should I wash my hands of this? Has this expression ever been used as a way of suggesting a bribe?
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1answer
118 views

Takeout vs Pickup, is there a difference?

A restaurant offers "Takeout or Pickup" and it appears the difference is that takeout are orders placed onsite to be consumed offsite, and pickup are orders placed offsite that are retrieved from ...
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3answers
211 views

Difference between 'crow's feet' and 'worry lines'

I came across the phrases 'crow's feet' and 'worry lines' several times. Please enlighten me about the origin of these two phrases and the difference between them.
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1answer
67 views

Etymology of progressive forms [duplicate]

In spite of English the German language does not have Present/Past Progressive, although both languages have the same root. When and why did the progressive tenses develop and became part of the ...
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1answer
49 views

Is William Blake's usage of “to break a net” idiomatic or metaphorical?

The following passage is from William Blake's 1793 work "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell": A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, ...
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2answers
208 views

Origin of the noun-forming suffix “-hood”

How did -hood evolve into the noun-forming suffix commonly used in words such as childhood, priesthood, or neighborhood— and including certain pseudonyms such as robinhood which could easily be ...
2
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1answer
98 views

Origin of “nose out of joint”

I was watching a TED talk on cartoons in The New Yorker, and the presenter used an idiom I've never heard. But like I said, you cannot satisfy everyone. You couldn't satisfy this guy. ...
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2answers
567 views

Done and dusted

I came across the idiom 'Done and dusted'. I would like to know what is the origin and meaning of this idiom.
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1answer
107 views

Concessive “as much as” and “much as”. Which came first?

Related: "Much though" vs "much as", Use of 'Much as' [closed], Using “as much as” at start of sentence Consider the following two variations: As much as I hate to admit it, I cannot swim. ...
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1answer
131 views

Origins of “tie the knot”

A common symbol in modern weddings it the image of knot. The phrase "tie the knot" as a euphemism for marriage that is also commonly recognized. Where does this originate from?
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5answers
933 views

Antonym of selfie

I am looking for an antonym of selfie, meaning a photo/portrait of others. The ancient Greek word for self is like auto, and what I am looking for is an English word for hetero (its opposite). Do you ...
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1answer
106 views

What's the meaning and the origin of “skewer a sacred cow ?” [closed]

I've read this idom from an article, and it seems that the phrase "skewer a sacred cow" mean "to criticize" but I am not very sure. Does anyone know the exact meaning and the origin of this idom?
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3answers
54 views

Why do we use the term “and how”?

What is the literal and/or figurative meaning behind the term "and how"? Example: Boy 1: "The sun is boiling today." Boy 2: "And how!" I get HOW it's used, but can't seem to find any info on WHY ...
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1answer
133 views

The origin word “English”? Language that dominated the beginning of English existence? [closed]

I've read so many questions in ELL on the origin of English words. But I've never found the origin of the word English itself. I'm also curious about the history of English as a language. I mean, in ...
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4answers
572 views

Why “English” but not “Anglish”?

Etymology of English from Etymonline: Old English Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island ...
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1answer
344 views

“An Ewt” to “A Newt”?

What is it called when English speakers, over a long period of time, start adding the letter "n" to the beginning of a word by accident, due to use of the article "an"? For instance, I read somewhere ...
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2answers
170 views

How did “yours truly” become a euphemism for “I” or “me”?

Rarely but occasionally I've seen yours truly appear in text when the author wishes to refer to him- or herself. An example from The Cambridge Dictionary: Some folks, such as yours truly, can't ...
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5answers
354 views

How does “spanner” come to mean “a wrench”?

"Wrenching" refers to an injury in which some muscle is forcibly twisted. A wrench is a tool that applies a twisting force to something, so that seems consistent. "To span" means to bridge a gap. ...
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1answer
101 views

Etymology and meaning of the word “pizzled”

I heard of a term today called "pizzled" and am confused about it as there is a plethora of different definitions for the word. I first heard it in a speech by David Shing TNW Europe Conference. He ...
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1answer
101 views

Origin of “minibeasts”?

What is the origin of the term minibeasts? Growing up in the UK I never heard the term, but recently I have heard it prolifically used in preschool education and children's television programmes.
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2answers
246 views

Is the term “KTV” in use in any English-speaking country?

While travelling recently for two months in mainland China I noticed many buildings with the English letters KTV in their signage. At first I thought this was something to do with company names or ...
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1answer
70 views

The word “chemist” and its origins?

I know chemist means someone who sells medicines or drugs. However, we use physicist for someone who studies/researches physics, and so will anyone naturally understand. But it has always confused ...
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2answers
84 views

What is the origin of the word “What”?

Where does the word what come from? Why do we say wot when it's spelt the way it is?
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53 views

What is a bileue?

I was looking up the word "god" in the Oxford English Dictionary On-Line, which led me to this entry: d. the god of this world : the Devil, Satan. c1384 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce ...
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What French phrase is the origin of “gardyloo?”

The word gardyloo is a warning cry uttered before throwing wastewater (literally and euphemistically) out of a window. Every source I've found has traced this word back to some French phrase ...
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1answer
589 views

How should I parse the name of the UK? [closed]

I've grown up in the UK and always considered that it is a United Kingdom of four countries: the three countries on the island of Great Britain and the country/province1 of Northern Ireland. ...
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2answers
77 views

Origin of “So much for that idea”

When a concept is found to be invalid, someone might say "so much for" it, which roughly means "I'm throwing this idea away." Does anyone know where the expression comes from?
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3answers
151 views

etymology of eavesdropping [closed]

there's this word eavesdropping or eavesdrop, which I looked over in oxford and several other places. the closest I got to understanding it was that it originated from an obsolete noun "eavesdrop", ...
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3answers
414 views

Etymology: the wings of a bird

I just read about the symbol of Venice, the winged lion of Venice. As a German the German word die Schwingen for wings came to my mind. English has the word in the verb to swing.The connection between ...
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73 views

Spendthrift vs Thrifty - origins

I have always been curious to understand the origin of these two seemingly similar words. Looking at them for the first time, I thought they were synonyms, but ever since I learnt their meanings, ...
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Where does the second “l” come from in “till”? [duplicate]

I've always wondered this: surely an abbreviation of until should abbreviate the word, without subsequently needing to double the last letter? Are there any reasons for this?
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1answer
119 views

Pronunciation of the words 'height' and 'weight'

Why is "height" an "weight" pronounced differently, when the spellings are so similar? Is there any logical explanation or it evolved that way?
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What’s the etymology of “April”? [closed]

What is the meaning of the name April? Any ideas? I have a friend who wants to know the meaning of her name.
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1answer
119 views

early on, later on - How to explain “on”?

I have been thinking about these adverbials for a long time to understand this connection of "early/later" with "on". These adverbials are used for introducing a sentence or they are placed at the ...
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1answer
49 views

meaning of Republic [closed]

I've been thinking what might be the real meaning of the word Republic? As far as I know the prefix re- gives the base word the meaning of again; as in renew, replace, reclaim. I am wondering what ...
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Which is longer: snooze, nap, kip, 40 winks or siesta?

How long is a snooze? My boyfriend will invariable take an afternoon snooze which might last anything up to two hours. A nap on the other hand, can be short, quick or even long, and sometimes they are ...
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3answers
115 views

Origin of “to be in fat city”?

What is the origin of the phrase "to be in fat city" meaning "to do well" (financially or otherwise)? A search with an internet search engine suggests that it is of fairly recent vintage, as the two ...
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2answers
61 views

“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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1answer
141 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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570 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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5answers
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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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4answers
103 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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1answer
32 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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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; ...