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

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Where did “snuck” come from?

Ages ago, I remember typing snuck into a word processor and being surprised to see it flagged as not a word. My current computer seems to be okay with it and my local dictionary has this in its ...
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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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Where does the word “totient” come from?

In math we learn about the "totient function". It rhymes with "quotient" when math teachers pronounce it. But I cannot find the definition or etymology of this word in any dictionary, nor on any ...
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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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What is the origin of the phrase “egg in your beer”?

The phrase "egg in your beer" refers to wanting a bonus or something for nothing. Its common usage is: "What do you want? An egg in your beer?" However, this does not seem to make much sense, as an ...
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What's the difference between “Collaborate” and “Cooperate”?

Both of these words seem to mean much the same thing: working together to achieve some goal. I can instinctively feel a difference between them, but I can't easily put it into words. Can you help me? ...
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When did people start “boinking”?

Is "boinking" an onomatopoeic and/or a blend word? I would have said so, I believe the word boink refers to the sound of the mattress springs squeaking under the weight of a couple making love. A ...
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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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What is the origin of “hissy fit”?

I can't seem to find any definite earliest example of this expression, or a reason why "hissy" was chosen to describe a tantrum. Does anyone hiss when they are angry? When and why was the phrase ...
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Why is “guinea pig” used as the colloquial term for test subjects?

Why do we refer to people as guinea pigs when discussing the subjects of an informal experiment? Surely mice, rabbits and rats are much more common experimental subjects. Indeed, it's rare that you'll ...
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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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Why do we say “[expletive] ALL” for “nothing”?

Damn all, Bugger all, Sod all etc., etc. What does all mean here? How did the expression originate? Was there a single original term (expletive or not) preceding all in this usage? At the risk of ...
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Where does the term “Smurfing” come from?

In multiplayer online gaming, the term "Smurf" (noun) is used to refer to an experienced player who creates a new account for the purposes of being matched against inexperienced players for easy wins. ...
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When did things like ‑fu start to spread?

I have looked at the answers to the question Can anyone tell me what the suffix “‑fu” stands for?, and I understand what it means. When, though, did it come into use? Does its spread coincide with ...
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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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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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“The whole nine yards”

What is the origin of the phrase "the whole nine yards"? Is it a reference to some game of sports I am not familiar with (as a continental European)?
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What's the origin of the idiom “cut corners”?

Cut corners is defined as to do something in the easiest, cheapest or quickest way, often by ignoring rules or leaving something out especially at the expense of high standards. What is the ...
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What is the origin of “earthling”?

What is the origin of the word earthling? Are there other words with a similar meaning (marsling, venusling)?
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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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Cottage Cheese: So called to differentiate from “expensive” cheese?

I have been unable to find an etymology for the term Cottage Cheese in English. Interestingly, the Hebrew Wikipedia lists the etymology as being due to cottage cheese being prepared from the wastes of ...
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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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Origin and exact meaning of “taken to the cleaners”

I know the meaning of this phrase by context, but the German analogs are no literal translations of this phrase and very dissimilar metaphors, meaning roughly: being tricked into something being ...
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“Carved from the living rock” — since when was rock ever alive?

According to Etymonline, living dates to the 14th century, and refers to "the fact of dwelling in some place," from O.E. lifiende, prp. of lifan But we hear the phrase "the living rock" used all ...
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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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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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Where does the phrase “Scare the Dickens out of…” originate from?

Where does the phrase "Scare the Dickens out of..." originate from? And does it refer to Charles Dickens?
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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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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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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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Where did the “juices” in “creative juices” come from?

Where did the "juices" in "creative juices" come from? Isn't that just a little weird? I don't think juices would be the first word to mind, if I hadn't heard the phrase before, and was ...
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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 “hoist” in “Hoist with one's own petard”?

He was hoist with his own petard is one of my father's favorite phrases. As a child I had developed a vague understanding of the idiom in which petard was a kind of flag, which is why it was hoist, ...
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What is the source of “Long time no see,” and when did it enter U.S. English?

A question from almost two years ago asked "In which countries is that “long time no see” greeting common?" The question drew a number of answers that were squarely on point, but also a couple that ...
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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 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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How do you get from the literal meaning of “all bets are off” to the idiom?

Most everyone knows what the common turn of phrase all bets are off means: "anything can happen." But all idioms have to start from somewhere, and the question I'm wondering is how did this one start. ...
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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 ...