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

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Why does left come before right?

For example in the idioms "left and right", "left, right and centre", and in many contexts where both left and right are mentioned, it seems that the left usually comes before the right. Why is this ...
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How old is the word “prolly”?

Prolly is given this definition at Wiktionary: Clipped pronunciation of probably. I was reading an interesting article today that claimed prolly dates from 1947 and that surprised me. ...
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Etymology of the color name “orange”

Etymonline shows orange c.1300, from O.Fr. orenge (12c.), from M.L. pomum de orenge, from It. arancia, originally narancia (Venetian naranza), alteration of Arabic naranj, from Pers. narang, ...
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Did people ever use the word “cock” as a euphemism for “God”?

English has a lot of surprises. When I was checking the etymology of "cocksure", I found this entry in Oxford Dictionaries: 1 British A male bird, especially of a domestic fowl. Below is ...
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What's the deal with “fiery”?

How did English end up with the adjective fiery (instead of *firy) from fire, but miry from mire and wiry from wire? Are there any other words where the noun is -ire and the adjective is -iery?
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Where “summat” came from

In Scottish English, I know that the word summat is used in place of standard something. But what's the etymology of this pronoun? It seems unlikely to me that summat could be merely a variant ...
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Why did “sceptical” become “skeptical” in the US?

Compare the following two Google Ngram Viewer charts for sceptical vs. skeptical in American English and British English: British English American English My interpretation of these charts is ...
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Origin of the term “wizard” in computing

In computer user interfaces a "wizard" is a set of screens that guide the user through a process. Does anyone know the origin of this term? I personally associate wizards with magic more than a ...
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Why is “Chop Gate” pronounced so strangely?

I was passing through the hamlet of Chop Gate (in North Yorkshire) the other day, and heard it referred to as "chop yat" (tʃɒp yæt). This source here concurs with that pronunciation. Does anyone know ...
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Where did the “odd” in “N odd years” come from?

I was reminded this usage by the recent question asking about the origin of "-ish." Odd is often used in a similar way in the stock phrase "odd years" to mean "around" or "about" a certain length of ...
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“Broken my duck”? Is this a common idiom/phrase?

I steal this phrase from a comment on Meta Stack Overflow: yep, I think I've broken my duck or so to speak :) – Kev♦ 51 mins ago The context is one of having been basically broken into a ...
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Where did the term “cheesy” come from?

Why do we call frivolous, lame or naff things cheesy?
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Etymology of “div”

Acting like a div yesterday:- a stupid or foolish person I started to wonder how this term of abuse came about. Urban Dictionary has a quaint tale:- Actually originates from prison slang in ...
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“Awesome” vs. “Awful”

How did the English language come to this? The play was awful. Is the complete opposite of The play was awesome. But if you break it down to awe followed by ful or some, it doesn't ...
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Trapezium/trapezoid — why are the US/UK definitions swapped around?

These are the US definitions... Trapezoid — a 4-sided flat shape with straight sides that has a pair of opposite sides parallel. Trapezium — a 4-sided flat shape with straight sides and NO parallel ...
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Who, what, where, when, why, how. Why so many “Wh”s?

Journalists are taught to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how. If you answer all of these chances are you have the bones of a story. Why do all these words, with the exception of "how" start with ...
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What is etymology of the term “right up the Wazoo”?

I'm sure everyone here has heard the expression "right up the Wazoo", meaning "in large or excessive quantities, to disgusting excess". I was wondering if anyone knew exactly where "the Wazoo" ...
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Since when did kidnapping come to include adults too?

As per this link, the word 'kidnap' originated to denote nabbing away of a child. When and how did kidnap come to denote nabbing of adults? Update: Just found a link to a 1650 book that mentions ...
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What's the etymology of the noun “temper tantrum”?

Can anyone tell me where the phrase temper tantrum came from? I found a couple of my usual online sources that just say "origin unknown".
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Is “Dutch wife” one of those “Dutch words”?

The term "Dutch wife" is listed as having several somewhat related meanings. Wiktionary describes it as meaning 1) a body-length pillow, 2) a wicker or bamboo tube that someone sleeps in (also called ...
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The history of “softcore”

Over lunch recently, my colleagues and I were discussing the term "hardcore," and speculating on its origin. Our speculations evolved into "What has either a hard or soft core, where the hard cored ...
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Where did the “trick” in the phrase “turning tricks” come from?

Or in other words, can anyone make clear the etymology and the history behind the coinage of the word trick in the phrase turning tricks? (Why am I interested you may ask? Well, turning tricks is a ...
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Why is a restaurant bill called a “check”?

Why is a restaurant bill called a "check" (as in "Check, please!")?
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Why is news said to be “breaking”?

I was just wondering what the origins of "breaking news" or "we broke the story" are.
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Where did the word “umpteenth” come from?

Where did the word "umpteenth" come from, and why is it a "teen", if it is supposed to represent a very large number?
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Why has the word “thrice” fallen out of common usage?

I'm an American living in America, but my workplace has a lot of immigrants from India here. They all use "thrice" very commonly, which is wonderful to my ears! Thrice is such a delightful word. ...
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Why is putting some spin on a ball described in some circles as giving it some “English”?

Why is putting some spin on a ball often called "putting some English" on it? Does it have anything to do with the history of billiards, the sport I most often see this phrase used? What's special ...
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Can the word Gentoo be used in a derogatory way?

I was reading a Wikipedia article on Gentoo Penguin and came across the following Paragraph. The application of Gentoo to the penguin is unclear. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Gentoo ...
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What do rodents do?

I wonder if there is a English verb to express the way rodents (rats, mice, etc.) bite on something they are trying to eat or bite. In Portuguese we have the verb roer which comes from roedor which ...
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Why do words like “expectorate” sound more posh than words like “spit”?

I think English is unique in having a set of "bad words" each which has its "more refined" equivalent, e.g.: spit -> expectorate piss -> urinate shit -> defecate f*ck -> ...
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Why do we “chalk it up” to something (or someone)?

What is the etymology and meaning of the phrase "chalk it up"? For instance: "I will chalk it up to a colloquialism" (source). "Just chalk it up as an odd case and move on" (source). "I would chalk ...
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How (and when) was it that the verb 'go' began to mean 'say' in common usage?

i.e. "So then she goes, 'Hey!' and I go, 'What?' because I was on my way out..." I was musing about this the other day, so I decided to try to find out. Unfortunately, my skills lie in different ...
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Etymology of “Easter”

I’ve heard claims that the word Easter has the same Bronze Age root as east, Ishtar, Astarte, and ultimately star. Is this the correct etymology of the word Easter?
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Why does Germany's English name differ from its German name?

Germany in German is Deutschland and the language is Deutsch. I'm used to words being anglicized, but why is there a complete replacement in this case?
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Why “half past” and not “half to”?

When telling time and 30 minutes has gone past an hour, we say “half past”. For instance, half past 4 or half past 5. Why can’t we also say “half to”. For instance, half to 5 or half to 6? Shouldn’t ...
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Why do we say “honeymoon” instead of “honeymonth”?

I was curious about the etymology of the word honeymoon and found out that its sense was partially literal (serving honey for the couple), and partially metaphorical (sweet and happy times). But I ...
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Origin of “rub someone the wrong way”

What is the origin of the idiomatic expression rub someone the wrong way? Is it correct to use the idiom in reverse, i.e. rub someone the right way, possibly meaning to calm or to please?
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What is the origin of British/Irish cinema names?

British and Irish cinema names from a certain period seem to come from a pool that includes The Odeon, The Curzon, The Savoy, The Adelphi (maybe you can think of more). Where did these names come ...
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Did “Mrs” originally imply possession?

Was Mrs ever intended to mean Mr's, as in mister's to indicate possession? I started thinking about this when someone brought a breakdown of the word history (his-story) to my attention. It ...
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Where did “wired” come from?

I am not a coffee drinker, but I just drank some coffee. I said to my Hispanic friend, "I am WIRED!" and had to explain what the slang term means. However now that I think about it, that's an awfully ...
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What is the origin / reason for adding asterisks within swear words like f**k?

Several variants of this topic have already been covered here, such as: What name for bowdlerisation with asterisks (e.g., “f*ck”)? What the #$@&%*! is that called? However, these deal with the ...
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Logical meaning of the word “understand”

To understand something means to be aquainted with it, to know it very well, know how it "ticks". This is one of the basic words that has a direct "meaning" in mind. However, if we "dissect" it, is ...
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Is 'Safari' really an English word, and what are its origins?

We are all used to this word safari. I think most people will agree that its usage is ubiquitous when referring to going for holiday (esp. overland travel in Africa). So is this word a true English ...
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Where does “Santa” in Santa Claus come from?

Santa Claus is a man, right? In this case, he may not be fine with the fact that people call him Santa, which is the Spanish and Portuguese word for female saint names. For example, Santa Barbara and ...
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“Cannon” as plural

I'm reading a novel based in ye olde pirate-times, and I have come across the author's usage of "cannon" (without the "s") to refer to multiple cannons. The ship boasted 32 cannon onboard. Is ...
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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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Is it “a tough row to hoe?”, or “a tough road to hold?”

Is it an old farming metaphor, or a military saying? Where did this(these) saying(s) originate?
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Origin of “jack sh*t”

Why do we say "Jack Shit" to mean "nothing at all"?
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If a word has two different meanings, is it two different words or one word with different meanings?

My brother and sister-in-law are arguing about whether "train" meaning locomotive and "train" meaning teach constitutes one word with two different meanings or if it's two different words. I said ...
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Why does “sucker” mean “unexpected” in “Sucker Punch”?

Sucker punch seems to mean "an unexpected punch" in slang. What is the origin of this term and why does sucker mean unexpected in sucker punch?