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

learn more… | top users | synonyms (2)

3
votes
0answers
49 views

What's the origin of the phrase - “For the life of me”?

The ODO definition is: (informal) However hard I try; even if my life depended on it I have come across this phrase quite a lot of times in EL&U. For the life of me, I can't remember that ...
11
votes
6answers
2k views

Etymology of 'doylum'

Doylum was a word commonly used in Leeds, Yorkshire, North of England, where I grew up in the 1960s/70s. It basically means idiot - "What a doylum!" At the time I thought this was strictly a Leeds ...
10
votes
3answers
1k views

What is the origin of the phrase “triple threat”?

"Triple threat" means things in different contexts. For performers, it refers to someone who excels at acting, singing, and dancing. In basketball, it refers to a person who has the option to pass, ...
6
votes
3answers
52 views

Origin of “island time”

Though it's only mentioned in Urban Dictionary, I know the meaning of "island time", which is more or less where the locals aren't too stressed about being on time. But what's the origin of the ...
2
votes
3answers
192 views

'want' vs 'want for' vs 'want of'

[OED:] want {verb} = 1. a. intr. To be lacking or missing; not to exist; not to be forthcoming; to be deficient in quantity or degree. In early use const. with dative or to. rare since the 17th ...
0
votes
1answer
26 views

Why isn't there a word for the super-type of people and businesses?

I was originally framing this question as a search for the 'right word' but the site's suggestions pointed me to a previous question that was almost identical. So I'll turn the question around and ...
1
vote
1answer
84 views

Where does “the sky is falling” come from?

According to Wikipedia the common expression "the sky is falling" is from a folk tale: Henny Penny, more commonly known in the United States as "Chicken Little" and sometimes as "Chicken ...
1
vote
1answer
106 views

What are some pseudo-Spanish words used in English?

We've done justice to pseudo-Gallicisms and pseudo-Italianisms. "Fake" Spanish words in English ought to be at least as numerous and ubiquitous. Or are they? That is the question.
4
votes
3answers
398 views

Does “Hang a Shingle” refer only to lawyers starting their own business?

I guess I've only heard it used to refer to lawyers. Is the term exclusive to lawyers?
2
votes
1answer
30 views

What was the usage of EModE’s four-form system for answering yes–no questions?

It is well-known that Early Modern English, if not earlier forms of English too, had a four-form system for answering yes–no questions. ‘Yea’ and ‘nay’ answered questions phrased positively (analogous ...
7
votes
6answers
127 views

Idiom whose etymology involves misunderstanding the original meaning

I found this question on a rather fascinating (if unapologetically prescriptivist) website: Is there any idiom -- not a single word, but a full phrase -- whose meaning has changed over the years, ...
0
votes
2answers
116 views

Origin of “I fart in your general direction”

I grew up knowing the insulting phrase "I fart in your general direction", and recently saw it used by John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (apparently its most famous usage): ...
6
votes
2answers
87 views

Etymology: predicament

Can anyone explain how predicament from the Latin word family dicere ‘to say’ and praedicare, can develop the meaning precarious situation? Etymonline can't. early 15c., "category, class; one of ...
0
votes
0answers
79 views

What did Terry Pratchett mean by “avec”?

Terry Pratchett used in his disc world novels the word "avec" as a common food ingredient for french (in his books named "quirmian" or "Quirm" for the country) food. Excerpt from "Snuff" by Terry ...
3
votes
1answer
69 views

Does the idiom “in check” come from chess? [on hold]

I was recently arguing with a friend that the idiom "in check" comes from chess. With the meaning that keeping someone or something "in check" restrains its choices and limits its actions, this seems ...
49
votes
22answers
9k views

Are there any “fake” French words used in English?

Are there any "fake" French words used in English? By "fake French" I mean words that are of French origin but are not actually correct French. This could happen if the word changes as it becomes ...
5
votes
4answers
2k views

Idiom: to be off the wall

When I come across idioms that are not transparent I try to find out what is behind such expressions. In the case of "to be off the wall" one does not see anything that might lead to the meaning ...
1
vote
1answer
297 views

Adjective form of the verb despise?

Saw the title of the movie where minions come out - "Despicable Me" - I was curious, as despicable has the suffix -able, what would be its verb form? Then, I thought, is it de-spice? Which made me ...
9
votes
1answer
4k views

Origins of the “‑cede/‑sede/‑ceed” suffix

Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember that cedere meant “to go or yield” in Latin. Presumably this gives us the words concede and accede. (?) But what about the words supersede and ...
0
votes
2answers
666 views

History of “asylum seeker” versus “refugee”

What is the history of the term "asylum seeker" as a slightly pejorative replacement for the word "refugee"? The first reference to asylum seeker I can find is 1959 Amer. Polit. Sci. Rev. 53 ...
15
votes
6answers
568 views

“Digital computer” in the 1940s

I was watching the DVD movie Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped crack the Nazi's enigma code in WWII. In one key scene, Turing uses the ...
1
vote
1answer
35 views

Origin of phrase “passing the trash”

In broadest terms, the phrase Passing the Trash describes dealing with corrupt individuals by giving them transfers, new job titles or even promotions. However, a quick search with Google suggests ...
49
votes
3answers
3k views

What is the etymology of “yellow”, and why is it so different in other European languages?

It seems like most of our names for colors come from our German roots (blue/blau, green/grün, red/rot, etc.). But yellow is gelb in German, amarillo in Spanish, jaune in French, and giallo in Italian. ...
10
votes
6answers
6k views

Why are reveries sometimes called “brown” studies?

Though this idiom is by no means very common, one comes across it now and then. (I just came across it again today, which is why I'm asking this question.) Why is a "brown study" so named?
3
votes
3answers
390 views

What is the meaning of “Twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain!”

The phrase "Twice yet, carle, I'll come to Spain!" occurs in the obscure fairy tale Molly Whuppie (more original version?) after a princess tricks a giant by stealing his sword. Contextually: "Woe ...
3
votes
1answer
109 views

What made the “worst case scenario” a popular expression?

A worst-case scenario is a cliché that refers to: the worse possible future outcome. (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms) Though the meaning is quite intuitive, the ...
8
votes
2answers
310 views

Up in Annie's room behind the wall paper

My dad had a lot of phrases which I have not been able to identify the origins of. He would use "up in Annie's room behind the wallpaper" in much the same way as "to see a man about a dog" is used - ...
6
votes
4answers
4k views

Why are pot-holes called pot-holes?

Why are pot holes called pot holes? By pot holes I mean those holes in a road surface.
1
vote
1answer
2k views

What is the origin of the expression “ya think”?

Maybe I'm just slow on the uptake, but the expression "ya think" seems to have recently become nearly universal, at least as viewed from the US and the UK, where I encounter it all the time, spoken by ...
8
votes
1answer
234 views

Why “out” in “eat your heart out”?

I used the phrase the other day and it struck me as odd that out is needed. Wiktionary cites the following etymology of sorts: Disputed. Three schools of thought exist: From "This will eat ...
4
votes
2answers
135 views
+100

Was “sexting” an Australian slang term originally?

To sext, (usually as noun sexting) refers to: sending (someone) sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone: Its earliest usage appears to be from 2005, thought other ...
14
votes
2answers
3k views

“Battery” and “Battery”, why are they called the same?

This post made an interesting point about what would be understood when the word battery is used. In the U.S. at least, the word battery is so rarely used outside the legal phrase assault and ...
6
votes
3answers
2k views

Why do we call snail mail “snail mail”?

Why do we call snail mail "snail mail"? So by default mail will refer to email?
8
votes
3answers
2k views

What really is a “Yester” in Yesterday or Yesteryear?

Apparently, Yester cannot be used alone in a sentence, except when accompanied by "day (yesterday) or year (yesteryear)". It cannot be used incombination with other portions of time like; yestermonth, ...
2
votes
2answers
59 views

the usage and etymology of the expression “I bags that”

This expression is used when you want to reserve or secure the right to do or to have something: he bagged the best chair. I see this listed as Australian slang but also have noticed references its ...
4
votes
5answers
4k views

Origin of “suit yourself”

The young daughter of a friend of mine said, "I think 'suit yourself' comes from a lazy tailor," which cracked us up. It also got me wondering. I did the obligatory google search and came up with ...
2
votes
1answer
81 views

Yod dropping - Why is there a distinction in the pronunciations of “sewn” and “hewn”?

"Sewn" is pronounced /sōn/, whereas "hewn" is pronounced /hyo͞on/. Is there a reason for the difference in their pronunciations despite their spellings and origins being similar?
2
votes
2answers
44 views

Metaphysician vs Metaphysicist

A practitioner of physics is known as a physicist. It seems like it would logically follow that a practitioner of metaphysics would be known as a metaphysicist; yet, in every text I've read, a ...
33
votes
4answers
3k views

“th” in mother, father, brother— but not sister

I was wondering why there is a "th" in mother, father, and brother, but not in sister? Is the etymology of the word different?
5
votes
2answers
155 views

What is the lost origin of 'hoodlum'?

The OED Online, in an entry "not yet fully updated (first published 1899)", gives this etymology for 'hoodlum': The name originated in San Francisco about 1870–2, and began to excite attention ...
-2
votes
1answer
41 views

What's the origin of the word “nachos”? [closed]

Just like it says on the tin! Looking for root words or early usages, ideally "first usage" or an unambiguous etymological origin.
13
votes
3answers
9k views

“Pretty please with sugar on top”

Where does this expression come from? I understand when it's used, but I was wondering about its origin.
2
votes
1answer
42 views

Is there any relation between the meanings of the word “cataract”?

Oxford defines "cataract" as "a steep waterfall" as well as gives the more common meaning of the word i.e. the medical condition that causes a loss of sight. Also, "cataract", as meaning ...
2
votes
2answers
1k views

Where does the idiom “root for something” come from?

I am familiar with the idiom “to root for something” meaning that I am hoping for something to happen or taking the side of something. But what does this have to do with roots? Does it mean that I am ...
2
votes
1answer
113 views

What's the etymology of 'of' after verbs?

(TL;DR) While reading about preposition of on OED (eg avail of, enquire of), I encountered a possible explanation: quoted below, OED claims that the postverbal of originates from the genitive case, ...
5
votes
1answer
196 views

Quis? Ego! (Child's phrase)

In British private schools children shout "Quis?" and the person to shout "Ego!" in reply first gets whatever was on offer. The Latin derivation is clear but I have two questions. First, when did ...
2
votes
1answer
29 views

Preservation of the en- prefix form of Latin negative prefix in-, in enemy & enmity

The "en" in "enemy" is a prefix, meaning not: the origin is Latin inimicus, from in + amicus - a "not friend" or an "unfriend". http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=enemy The Latin in- changes to ...
13
votes
4answers
5k views

Phrasal verb “be a thing”

I’m looking for the origin of the phrasal verb “to be a thing”. It means roughly “exist” or more specifically “be recognised” or “be a phenomenon”. I first noticed it around 2008–2009. Is ...
6
votes
1answer
128 views

Where does “contango” come from?

Contango is a very common term in financial business that originally referred to: (on the London stock exchange) a fee paid by a buyer of securities to the seller for the privilege of ...
5
votes
5answers
11k views

What does “flustrated” mean, and is it a word?

What does the flustrated mean? Is it even a word? I am using Lingea Lexicon and it doesn’t know this word, but the Internet is full of it. I find myself getting mad at people for using it both in ...