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

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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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How did “sinister”, the Latin word for “left-handed”, get its current meaning?

Sinister is the Latin word for left-handed. What evolution of meaning turned left-handed into evil and threatening?
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How did “ropey” come to mean “of poor quality”?

Rope is typically long, strong and fibrous. So how did us Brits come to use "ropey" to describe something of poor quality? British informal of poor quality:     a portrait ...
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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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Etymology-Name Meaning

What is the meaning of the name April? Any ideas? Thanks! I have a friend who wants to know the meaning of her name.
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Did I get wrong what she said with ' If you could be my everything.. '? [on hold]

After I asked my girlfriend that why she doubts to start again to this relationship, she answered: "Because if you could be my everything, i would not let him come close to me, in the first place". ...
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Why does “go spare” mean “get angry”?

I don't know whether the phrase "go spare" is used in the US, but it is very common in the UK. e.g. You're an hour late. Mum's going spare upstairs! I would like to know where the phrase comes ...
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What is the etymology and meaning of “fill your boots”?

I have a colleague of whom this is a favorite phrase, used in the sense of "knock yourself out", "go for it", "have at it", "go to town", "help yourself". ("You want to add that feature to the ...
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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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meaning of Republic [on hold]

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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What's the origin and popularity of the word “boss” in the context of refering to the person you're talking with?

In a video game called "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines", a character called "Gorgeous Gary Golden", always refers to the player as "boss". Here are some examples from that first dialog: ...
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“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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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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Etymology of “Canvassing”

In trying to discover the roots of the verb "canvassing", I found this: [From obsolete canvass, to toss in a canvas sheet as punishment, from canvas.] .1 What does this mean?
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How does “pussy” come to mean “coward”?

The word pussy is often used to mean "coward". This guy is a pussy. and I am wondering why. How are woman's genitals related to being a "coward"?
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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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Meaning and etymology of “Hat-trick” and “Brace”

We all know that in the footballing world, when someone scores 3 goals, they call it a Hat-trick and when two, a Brace. I was wondering how these words are related to numbers 3 and 2? Is there any ...
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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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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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What exactly does “sweep me off my feet” mean? (And why?)

Although the phrase "sweep me off my feet" probably means, "make me fall in love with you in a short time", what does it exactly mean, because "sweeping" can be difficult to be associated with "love". ...
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“Hot mess” meaning and etymology

A phrase has started to be used somewhat frequently over the past few years: "hot mess". I have heard it in professional journalism (albeit, admittedly, mostly entertainment and/or gossip ...
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Do you know the meaning of the American idiom “pot calling the kettle black”?

I just want to conduct a research about this American idiom and how native American people use it. Can you guys answer my questions in the following orders? If you have better questions, I will be ...
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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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What is the origin and meaning of “racing to a red light”?

During the third episode of the HBO show "True Detective" the following dialogue is exchanged: Cop 1: "Certain linguist anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites ...
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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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Etymology of 'Pizzazz'

A question from December 2011 asked What is the social context of "pizzazz"?. I'm curious about the word's etymology. I checked some reference books, but they showed very little agreement ...
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comfiture and discomfiture - etymology

discomfiture anxious embarrassment comfiture a candy containing a nut or piece of fruit. Are these two "false friends", words seeming to be related but of completely different ...
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Why do the words ducky and jake mean fine or satisfactory?

Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary acknowledges both ducky and jake as acceptable terms meaning fine or satisfactory and it dates the word ducky back to 1897 and jake to 1914. Does anyone know how ...
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Does the etymology of the word “government” mean “to control the mind”?

I've heard some conspiracy theorists say that government, when broken down into its root Latin words, means "to control the mind". I'm wondering if this is really true or not. Is it? Edit: My own ...
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Where did the phrase You “have a really punchable face” originate?

MS Paint Adventures references this phrase on this page in homestuck: http://www.mspaintadventures.com/?s=6&p=002224 I also distinctly remember hearing the same phrase in one of the three first ...
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Conceptual limitations of the English Language? [on hold]

In ancient Greece their language presupposed that the use of a term implied the existence of its referent. This inherent limit of their language was the cause of the Aristotelian assumption which took ...
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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; ...
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About the etymology of Bachelor

I ran across this while I was browsing some Arab websites: The Arabic Origin of ‘Baccalaureate’ and ‘Bachelor’ By: Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif When Oxford and Cambridge Universities were erected as ...
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Origin of “More X than you can shake a stick at”

What is the origin of the phrase "more X than you can shake a stick at"? Every website I've seen on this basically says the same thing (e.g., http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sha2.htm): Recorded ...
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Origin of “Too Clever by Half”

The phrase "Too Clever by Half" is used to criticize someone for being overconfident in their thinking. What is the origin of this phrase? I read somewhere that it started as a backhanded compliment ...
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Why do people say “break a leg” to actors?

Frequently, before going on stage, someone will say "break a leg" to an actor, which is a peculiar acting saying meaning "good luck!" How did this expression come about?
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Knocked up, two very different meanings. But why and how did the phrase split? [duplicate]

In American English, "Knocked up" means "pregnant." I just found out via an article regarding jobs that no longer exist that in British English, they use use the phrase "Knocked up in a completely ...
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Origin of “Knocked” in “Have (Got) It Knocked”

I read the 11 Nov. 1978 panel of Garfield, in which the phrase "have got it knocked" is used. Transcript: Panel 1 [Garfield is in bed but mobile] Garfield: Oh-oh. I feel a nap attack ...
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Why is it called “slippery dick”?

No, no, it is not what you think! It is a poor fish called slippery dick: The slippery dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, is a species of wrasse native to shallow, tropical waters of the western ...
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What's the origin of the word party pooper?

A party pooper is defined as: a person who refuses to join in the fun of a party; broadly : one who refuses to go along with everyone else I'm interested to know about the origin of this term and ...
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Bora Bora, Here We Come

Saw this phrase/expression in CIBC advertisement. The pleased client asked, "should we re-investment or expand", and the bank clerk said, "you can do both", then the old lady in the back happily ...
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Where did the term 'moral fiber' come from?

I was reading a novel that used the term moral fiber - defined as strength of character - the other day and it occurred to me that it was a somewhat strange conjunction of terms. It sort of conjured ...
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Why is the English devil “old”?

Looking up the etymology of the Devil's nickname, Old Nick, I came across this article in OUPblog written by Anatoly Liberman For some reason, devils, at least in English, are often called old: ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On”?

I hear this too many times at work and figured it meant is this the battle I choose to fight today? But this is used too many times on the interwebs to google down to the origins of it. Can some one ...
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Etymology of the word 'ax'

Does the word 'ax' originate from Anglo-Saxon [eax, aex] or from Greek [axo, ax, from axon, axis- A combining form]. From the source I researched scholars have linked these separate languages at this ...
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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?
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The etymology of “Adam” has anything to do with “Adom,” hence “dominion”?

My Sunday school teacher once talked about the origin of the word "Adam" being associated with "Adom", which takes on the meaning of "dominion". Biblically speaking, I think this unconventional ...
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How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood! What is the origin of this ...