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

learn more… | top users | synonyms (2)

18
votes
5answers
5k views

Why are so many important verbs irregular?

In many languages, including English, the most important verbs are irregular. Examples include: to be to do to get to go to have to make The same applies (roughly) to many other languages I ...
18
votes
5answers
2k views

Italian vs Italic

Although English is not my mothertongue, I am pretty sure the adjective for the modern country Italy is Italian as in Italian restaurant or Italian cars. I have just used the italic font for emphasis ...
18
votes
3answers
12k views

Why father is called “dada” and not “fafa”

Read the words below : Mother - mama - mammy Father - dada - daddy Why is father not called fafa or faddy?
18
votes
5answers
16k views

Origin of “Fits [x] to a T”?

The above phrase is something I've known for as long as I can remember, though I don't know from where. What is its origin and usage?
18
votes
4answers
2k views

How did English get the “What is your name?” construction?

As a dabbling polyglot, I've found myself learning the basics of several languages over the course of my lifetime. One of the first things that is taught in any language is personal introductions. I ...
18
votes
5answers
22k views

Why is the term “depressed” often used to describe a button which is pressed?

In several books that mention GUI, keyboard, or mouse buttons (e.g. the book Programming Windows by Charles Petzold), the authors refer to the state of a pressed button as depressed. Why is this term ...
18
votes
6answers
5k views

Where does “pizza pie” originate?

The Italianissimo pizza—pronounced /ˈpiʦ:a/—is not always spelled or called pizza around the world: In Bosnia, Belarusian, Macedonia, Serbia it's spelled pica but pronounced /pîtsa/ In ...
18
votes
5answers
60k views

Why do we say “as it were”?

In English we often add "as it were" to indicate that a phrase is not to be taken literally; for example: He's flown from the nest, as it were. ... would indicate that a boy has left his ...
18
votes
2answers
760 views

What is the origin of “ex”?

Ex-wife, ex-boyfriend. Does ex have a full form? Google dictionary has this information about the origin of ex: But what is the origin of the usage as a prefix in the words like ex-wife, ...
18
votes
5answers
2k views

Why is the action of removing a digital file named “Delete”?

After reading these questions: Difference between "delete" and "remove" How much use did the word 'delete' get before the technological boom? Delete or Remove (ell.SE) ...
18
votes
4answers
3k views

Is there anything wrong with the word “denigrate”?

A few years ago there was a controversy over the word niggardly — a perfectly innocent word that unfortunately sounds like a racial slur. Given that controversy, is it safe to use denigrate, which ...
18
votes
5answers
18k views

What is the origin of “holy smoke”?

What is the origin of holy smoke? To what is holy smoke referring?
18
votes
3answers
12k views

What does “packing heat” mean?

I believe it means “to carry a weapon”, but I would also like the phrase origins, if possible. So the full question is: What is the meaning of the phrase “packing heat” and what are its origins?
18
votes
3answers
2k views

When and why did the N-word and “negro” go apart?

Both the terms nigger and negro come from the Spanish and Portuguese Negro which denotes "black". But today they have widely different connotations, the former is considered a horrible racial slur, ...
18
votes
3answers
44k views

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. ...
18
votes
3answers
11k views

Gay (homosexual) and gay (happy)

When did the main meaning of the word 'gay' shift from happy to homosexual? How did the meaning evolve, if there is a relation between the two?
18
votes
2answers
2k views

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.) ...
18
votes
5answers
51k views

Why does “klick” mean kilometer in US military slang?

Wiktionary says it is either likely a pseudo-condensed pronunciation of kilometer or onomatopoeic of the sound of a military odometer. Though kilometers are not commonly used to measure distance ...
18
votes
3answers
39k views

Why is a restaurant bill called a “check”?

Why is a restaurant bill called a "check" (as in "Check, please!")?
18
votes
2answers
34k views

People's names as names for genitalia?

How did Peter, the surname, Johnson, and the nicknames for William(Willy) and Richard(Dick), come to mean penis? Was the first instance of these usages, related to a specific person? Are there more ...
18
votes
3answers
3k views

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 ...
18
votes
4answers
820 views

How did the adjective “just” come to take on so many adverbial meanings?

Just is a pretty useful adverb. It can carry several different meanings: very recently: I just finished the novel. exactly: That’s just what he meant. by a narrow margin: He just missed me ...
17
votes
3answers
3k views

Wer, wie, was, wieso, weshalb, warum, all start with W in German. In English they don't, why?

Wer, wie, was, wieso, weshalb, warum. Wer nicht fragt bleibt dumm. This is the theme song to the German Sesame Street, IIRC It roughly translates to: Who, how, what, why, why ,why. If you ...
17
votes
11answers
9k views

Idiom: in my neck of the woods, AmE

Idiom: in my neck of the woods (AmE) The meaning of this expression is: in the region where I live. I once tried to find out how a word that referred to a part of the body could later develop into ...
17
votes
5answers
176k views

“Hear hear” or “here here”

Which one is it really: hear hear or here here? Where does the saying really come from?
17
votes
4answers
6k views

Does a gerund always end with -ing? If so, why?

After asking what the difference is between a gerund and a participle, I began to wonder if all gerunds end with -ing, since I couldn't think of any that didn't. If they do, why?
17
votes
4answers
3k views

Why “soft” drink?

Why are soft drinks, such as lemonade etc., called soft drinks?
17
votes
5answers
3k views

Tom, Jake and Jenny aren't looking forward to Thanksgiving. Why?

And "Hen" (their mother) isn't much looking forward to it either. Why? I can answer that question myself, it's because they're all turkeys. Tom is an adult male turkey (also often referred to as a ...
17
votes
4answers
3k views

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 ...
17
votes
6answers
3k views

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 ...
17
votes
3answers
6k views

“I'm on the brew”

A conversation between two Scots: — What do you do for a living? — I'm on the brew. Assuming that I have the phrase right, what exactly does "on the brew" mean here? Based on the context, I ...
17
votes
3answers
6k views

Where's 'in-law' in mother-in-law from?

I've read that it's somehow connected with the Canon Law, but I'm not sure. I'm really interested in finding the answer.
17
votes
9answers
6k views

What is the origin of “summat”?

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 ...
17
votes
5answers
61k views

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? ...
17
votes
3answers
21k views

Origin of “continental breakfast”

What is the origin of the term continental breakfast? Was it originally from British English and meant to describe a sub-par breakfast eaten by mainland Europeans?
17
votes
4answers
11k views

Why does “fishwife” mean “mean woman”?

I have looked at the meaning of fishwife at Collins Language (I can't link directly to the definition) and it tells me: fishwife n (pl -wives) a coarse or bad-tempered woman with a loud voice ...
17
votes
5answers
1k views

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 ...
17
votes
3answers
523 views

Origin of the name 'Knickerbocker Glory'?

A Knickerbocker Glory is a type of ice cream sundae, but I'm having trouble finding out where the name originates. Searching on the internet has given me several conflicting answers (e.g. it's named ...
17
votes
4answers
8k views

How long has the f-word been in use as an abusive term?

When was the f-word 'invented'? Who invented it? Has it always had the derogatory meaning that it does today. Is it a recent invention?
17
votes
5answers
7k views

How does a word come to have two completely opposite meanings?

Words like cleave and egregious have meanings that are completely opposite to other meanings of the same word. How did such a bizarre, confusing state of affairs ever develop? I mean, I just can't ...
17
votes
2answers
3k views

Why 'Mrs.' isn't read as 'mistress'?

Wasn't Mrs. short for mistress? Why do we read Mrs. as missus(or sometimes missis) instead of mistress?
17
votes
3answers
63k views

What's the etymology of “when the sh*t hits the fan”?

Where did this come from? It makes no sense to me...why is the shit even near the fan?
17
votes
2answers
1k views

Did ‘alakazam’ magically appear out of the thin air?

I doubt it. But when did alakazam enter English, where did it come from, and who first used it? I vaguely recall the TV magic show The Magic Land of Allakazam (1960–1964) from my Texas childhood, and ...
17
votes
6answers
3k views

Why is news said to be “breaking”?

I was just wondering what the origins of "breaking news" or "we broke the story" are.
17
votes
3answers
18k views

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 ...
17
votes
3answers
18k views

How did “pumpkin” come to be a term of endearment?

The logic of some terms of endearment is fairly clear. Sweetie, honey, cupcake all refer to food treats. However, the use of the term pumpkin as a tenderness seems somewhat counterintuitive. While ...
16
votes
2answers
2k views

Isn't the word “shotgun” a self-redundancy? [closed]

I was googling the reason for why it's called "shotgun" to ride beside the driver when it suddenly hit me - why on Earth is the firearm called "shotgun"?! Is there any other kind of a gun than one ...
16
votes
2answers
1k views

If I invent a word, what language is it?

I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English ...
16
votes
11answers
781 views

Calque pairs like 'praeternatural/metaphysical'

There are words (not paired normally) which are, say, close relatives with (sometimes) totally different lives. For example, praeternatural = (Lat. praeter [beyond] + natura [nature]) and metaphysical ...
16
votes
4answers
3k views

Why does the name 'John' have an 'h' in it?

I have always wondered this since I was little, and nobody seems to have asked or answered this before anywhere on the internet. What is the origin of the 'h', and why is it still with us?