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

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I've said it once, I've said it twice, I've said it a thousand times: English doesn't make sense

I had a student moaning at me because I insisted he say twice and not "two times". And he asked "But why?" to which I replied, "Because that's how you say it!" However on reflection, his question was ...
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76 views

The meaning and etymology of the exclamation “Lawdy me!”

What does a speaker mean if he/she exclaims "Lawdy me!"? I noticed this exclamation when I was reading a short story "the Conscience of the Court" by Zora Neale Hurston. There was one brown-skinned ...
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Origin of golden parachute

noun 1. an employment contract or agreement guaranteeing a key executive of a company substantial severance pay and other financial benefits in the event of job loss caused by the company's being ...
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115 views

What is the origin of “rat”?

A simple little word for a common little fella. Yet, the origin is unknown (or not?). Both OED and Etymonline are bold enough to say "of uncertain origin"; but, of course, they try to explain the ...
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Origin of “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”?

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. - Confucious What is the origin, and evolution, of this popular quote? It has a nice air of pseudo-profundity to it; one problem ...
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Where does the phrase “Job Lot” come from?

The phrase "Job Lot" is used in auctions to mean an often assorted quantity of something, for example a "job lot of bicycle parts" could be a load of tyres, wheels, handlebars, frames, chains, etc. I ...
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59 views

Origin of 'a rising tide lifts all boats'

'A rising tide lifts all boats' is a saying that has become more and more common in recent decades and is often used in economic and political contexts: The aphorism "a rising tide lifts all ...
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Why are Irish people called “turk” and “turkey”?

Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (edited by John Ayto, John Simpson) lists the below slang words used for Irish people: bog-trotter, harp, Mick, Paddy, Pat, turk, turkey I can guess why these ...
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How does 'notwithstanding' mean 'in spite of'?

notwithstanding = {preposition} In spite of {adverb} = Nevertheless; in spite of this: Etymonline: late 14c., notwiþstondynge, from not + present participle of the verb withstand. A ...
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How did 'to purport' evolve to connote negativity?

I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. Please beware that I replicate the noun(al) etymology from Etymonline, and not ...
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Where did the phrase “you're welcome” come from?

"You're welcome" as a response to "thank you" makes absolutely no sense. You're welcome to what?
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39 views

Etymology of “save” in the meaning of “except”, “but”, “unless”

Why does save also mean other than : but or except "We had no hope save one." except for the fact that : only —used with that but, except —used before a word often taken to be the ...
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How to rationalise the legal definition of 'to procure'?

How can I resolve the contradictions below? What's the right derivation? I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. ...
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1answer
47 views

What is the relation between plastic surgery and plastic? [on hold]

Reading some books, I am wondering if there is any connection between plastic surgery and plastic itself? One definition from OED seems to fit: (Of substances or materials) easily shaped or ...
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19 views

Where are the words “starboard and port” are coming from [on hold]

I noticed that the expressions to indicate the right and left side of a boat in English are completely different than their equivalent in Spanish, French and Italian. What is the etymology of these ...
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1answer
4k views

How did “s***” and “the s***” come to mean opposite things?

Your idea is shit Your idea is bad. Your idea is the shit Your idea is good. The same does not apply to "the crap" or "the poop", or other profanity like "the fuck". I can think of ...
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965 views

Where did “doggy dog world” come from?

This Ngram shows that people were happily saying "dog eat dog world" until the 1980s, when "doggy dog world" abruptly came into use. What might have accounted for this? (It was well before Snoop ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “needle in a hay stack”?

What is the origin of the phrase "needle in a hay stack"? Initially I thought it was a game once played but I haven't found any mention of it outside of it's idiomatic use.
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54 views

“Thing” comes from “think”? [on hold]

I'm not a native english speaker. But i am very interested in etymology. So i want to know if "thing" in the sense of a thing you can't named yet but you can think is related with the verb "think"? ...
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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 ...
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What's with the third degree?

Where did the phrase "third degree" (referring to intense interrogation) originate? Additionally, how did "grill" come to have its related meaning?
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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 ...
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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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Etymology of “mullet”?

I was pondering the names of haircuts the other day, and I could understand the origins of most of them: pudding basin, crew cut, duck's arse, and bog brush are all reasonably obvious, but I was ...
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Is 'disinstruct' or 'de-instruct' legitimate usage?

When you engage a lawyer or an estate agent, for example, you instruct them. What is the most appropriate word to use when you decide you've had enough and want to get rid of them? There are several ...
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What is the origin of the place name “Abbottabad?”

We know that Abbottabad is named after Major James Abbott, an officer in the Indian Army who founded the town. But where does the "...abad" come from? Does it have any relationship to the English word ...
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Etymology of “loose woman”

I was prompted to this question by the question on Skeptics SE regarding sex and stretching of vaginas. A general google search on etymology of "loose woman" did not turn up any reasonable answers ...
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What is the origin of “TX” as an abbreviation for “transaction”?

Acronymfinder.com lists TX as a rare abbreviation for "transaction", particularly in the context of computers. It use by the Bitcoin protocol may be its best-known application, but I've also found a ...
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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 ...
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is there any connection between pot and potty [on hold]

Usually potty is used in "potty training" etc. I am wondering if there is connection between pot and potty training?
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“Iterate” vs. “Reiterate”

Definition of iterate: to say or do again or again and again Definition of reiterate: to state or do over again or repeatedly sometimes with wearying effect The distinction seems to be ...
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To have the world “at your fingertips”

I was watching a YouTube video about eating disorders when the American TV presenter ended a pep talk with the following words: If I had the chance today to spend six weeks somewhere, to better ...
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Origin of “happy camper”

How did happy camper and not a happy camper originate? I have been unable to find a definitive source for this phrase.
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What is the difference in meaning between “complacent” and “complaisant”

They are both derived from the French world complaire, which means "pleased" According to this source, "the two words overlapped in meaning until the middle of the 19th century." How do they differ ...
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How did “kill” get its positive connotations?

For example: She made a killing on the stock market. The comedian killed the audience — they were slain with laughter. Did this meaning develop slowly over time or did some person or ...
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Origin of phrase “pulling for you”

When somebody is going through a difficult life situation, people will commonly say, "We're pulling for you." Where did this term come from? It sounds rather strange!
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1answer
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How did 'cordon bleu' come to be applied to cookery?

The cordon bleu -blue ribbon- was a ribbon worn by the Knights Grand Cross of the French Order of the Hoy Ghost, the highest order of chivalry under the Bourbon kings of France. The OED entry on ...
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On the origin of 'blizzard '.

Blizzard is probably the most used word to indicate a violent snowstorm. Despite its popularity the etymology of the term is quite unclear. Some well-known sources hint at its onomatopoeic sound as ...
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Origin of “as all get out” meaning “to the utmost degree”

At reference.com, all get out is glossed as “in the extreme; to the utmost degree”, and at thefreedictionary.com as an unimaginably large amount; “British say ‘it rained like billyo’ where ...
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Origin and variations of “being handed your hat”

I heard the expression being handed your hat being used to mean that you are invited to leave. What is its origin and what are the possible variations?
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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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Necromancy and nigromancy

Necromancy and nigromancy descibe the act of black magic/ spiritualism. It comes from Greek originally and laterly Latin, according to Wikipedia. The question is, is this the ancient source of the ...
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Why is “decimate” still linked to its number-specific definition when other similar words are not? [closed]

As any pedant will tell you, decimate means “to destroy a tenth of something.” Of course, its modern usage has been expanded to this: to destroy a large number of (plants, animals, people, ...
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Etymology of “to be like” meaning “to say”

It seems that "to be like" is an informal phrase for "to say". E.g. She was so angry, she was like "I'm breaking up with you", and I was like "I'm sorry", and she was like "Go away". Is this a ...
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New Etymological Knowledge [migrated]

If a scholar or layperson, wanted to submit a discovery of the origin of some obscure word or phrase not previously known, what would be the criteria they should follow acceptable to the academic ...
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398 views

Is the term “KTV” in use in any English-speaking country?

While travelling recently for two months in mainland China I noticed many buildings with the English letters KTV in their signage. At first I thought this was something to do with company names or ...
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Origin of “kill the ghost”, “killing the ghost”

A British friend of mine who used to work with us came back from London for a short visit to the town.Before going back home again he showed me photographs of the town beach and hotel saying he came ...
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How widely used is the word “tush”

In my dialect of American English, the word "tush" or "tushy" is a dimminuitive of "rear end" (e.g., something you'd say about a baby, not as harsh as "butt" and a word you aren't ashamed to say to ...
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Of Yuppies and Yippies and Hippies

While innocently passing by on my way to Big Rep City, I happened to overhear (alright! I was dropping eaves) a dialogue in some podunk Commentary Cafe wherein two fellow ELU consumers were debating ...