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

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Why “thanks” Can Never Be Singular as a Noun?

While looking at the part of speech of the noun "thanks" in an online dictionary I noticed that it was a plural noun and wondered if it could be used in singular form. Glancing at the origin it ...
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Losing bottles and bottling out

ODO's definition for bottle includes the following: 2 [mass noun] British informal the courage or confidence needed to do something difficult or dangerous: I lost my bottle completely and ran ...
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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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116 views

How did 'pick out' evolve to mean 'read'?

Initially, I wanted to know the etymology of eclectic. Then I saw that it referred to lecture {noun}: late 14c., "action of reading, that which is read," from Medieval Latin lectura “a reading, ...
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Etymology of “Given up the ghost”

What is the origin of the phrase "Given up the ghost"? e.g. "After 10 years, my DVD player has finally given up the ghost." Does it have a religious connotation?
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Why do people in the scientific community use terminology such as renal, hepatic, and cardiac instead of kidney, liver, and heart?

Why is there the need to map these everyday words onto another set of words when it seems to complicate matters? Is it just done out of tradition, or is there some underlying logic to it?
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On professional bias

The well-known expression professional bias appears to date back to the very first years when professions started to exist: "Professional bias" designates a mental conditioning brought ...
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How does 'but for' mean 'if it were not for'? [on hold]

but for = 1. Except for = 1.1. If it were not for Please help me dig deeper than definition 1.1 , which I already understand and so ask NOT about. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. OED just ...
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Why does “footing the bill” mean “to pay”?

I hear people using the term footing the bill used to describe paying for something. Why is the verb foot used to describe the meaning of paying?
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How does 'on' + 'against, toward' mean 'again'?

[Etymonline:] again (adv.) late Old English agan, from earlier ongean "toward, opposite, against, in exchange for," from on "on" (see on) + -gegn "against, toward," compounded for a sense of ...
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How did 'anticipate' evolve to mean 'forestall'?

OALD: 4. anticipate somebody (doing something) (formal) = to do something before it can be done by somebody else Etymonline: anticipate (v.) = 1530s, "to cause to happen sooner," a ...
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What's the origin and reasoning behind the phrase, “I've got a monkey on my back”?

900lb Gorilla I can appreciate, but "I've got a monkey on my back" - two opposable thumbs down...
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How does 'but' mean 'without its being the case that'?

but = 5. {with negative} {archaic} Without its being the case that I tried OED but its length overwhelmed me. Etymonline doesn't mention this definition. If helpful, would someone please explain, ...
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Is “denigrate” a racist word? [duplicate]

A few years ago I was told not to use that word because, in addition to its negative meaning, it comes from Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare, which means to blacken. Therefore, "to ...
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We might have to do some “fiddling”

I like the word fiddle, and I quite like the musical instrument too. If you're fiddling with a device, it means you're trying to repair it. It might be tricky because of all the tiny bits and pieces ...
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Is “fillet” a different word in “salmon fillet” than in “leather fillet”

In the question "Is there a name for words which are pronounced differently depending on which definition is being used?" it was suggested by two people that when the word "fillet" is used to describe ...
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Meaning and Origin of word “Pantheon”?

I spotted the word "Pantheon" here on the first and second paragraph on The Hindu but not able to understand the editor's view. On the 125th birth anniversary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, on April 14, ...
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When did “creep” get associated with computer controlled units in games?

I first saw this term in use for neutral units in Warcraft 3 (released 2002), and then that got carried through derivatives such as Dota (2003). Was Warcraft 3 the first time creep was used as a ...
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Why the letter “g” discrepancy between *giant* and *gigantic*?

A little look through an etymology dictionary shows that the root is Latin gigas with adjective form gigant. So in its derivation to English, why did the second "g" get retained in gigantic but was ...
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What is the origin of “woof!”?

We know that woof is the sound a dog makes when barking. It is used both as a noun and a verb. The word is onomatopoeic but it is also used as an interjection. People woof too when they are attracted ...
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Etymology of “Spaghetti and gravy”

In Nero Wolfe "Before I die", the gangster's sidekick asks for spaghetti and gravy. After Wolfe's chef Fritz prepares him spaghetti with the type of gravy used for roast beef, it turns out that the ...
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1answer
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Where did the incorrect spelling 'explaination' come from and where is it still used? [on hold]

The word explanation is often spelt as explaination. Where did this come from? Which part of the world commonly uses this?
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Where on Earth is “penguin” from?

Fact or fallacy? It's one of those things you hear or casually read somewhere that sticks with you. The word penguin is derived from Welsh; pen refers to "head", while gywn means "white". Well, it's ...
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Origin of “come in handy”

Where did the phrase "to come in handy" originate, and what exactly does it mean? My understanding is that it essentially means to be useful. Is this correct? As far as origins, I have no idea. ...
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1answer
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How does “to consist in” mean “to have as an essential feature”?

1.1. (consist in) = Have as an essential feature Does the etymology below (also see the above linked ODO page's etymology) help explain the definition 1.1 above? I heed the Etymological Fallacy. ...
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Origin of “booty”, meaning buttocks

According to etymonline the word booty is used to describe the female form as a sex object. It says the word is black slang from the 1920s. The definition is placed in the entry for booty meaning ...
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Etymology of 'remit' {noun}? [closed]

I understand the definition of remit; so I am not asking about it. I just want to delve in deeper. I also recognise the Etymological Fallacy and its various drawbacks. So how should I interpret or ...
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When did “More tea vicar?” start to be used after farting? Where did it come from?

In England when someone farts they might say "More tea vicar?" When did this start, and how did it come about? It feels unusual enough to have a definite creation - some comedian perhaps? Web ...
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Is 'bug' a term or a slang word?

In my answer to the question about the opposite for bug in programming, I referred to 'bug' as a slang word. Shaun Wilson, in his comment insists on 'bug' being a term that derived from a historical ...
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Etymology of “let us” and “let's”

The verb let means “allow”, “permit”, “not prevent or forbid”, “pass, go or come” and it's used with an object and the bare infinitive. Are you going to let me drive or not? Don't let ...
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If you can be “discombobulated”, is it possible to be “combobulated”?

I've often heard the word "discombobulated" used. But I've never heard of something being "combobulated", and it's not in any dictionary I've looked at. If "combobulated" is not word, where did ...
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How did 'purchase' evolve to mean 'firm contact or grip'?

[1] purchase = 2. [mass noun] Firm contact or grip I've been trying to understand how the noun purchase evolved to mean definition 2 above. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. I tried OED but it's ...
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'equity' in finance

I'm not asking about its formal definition (a windy one here) or its general definition in English, the latter of which states: Stocks and shares that carry no fixed interest: Instead, I'm ...
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What is the right description of the word “squeaky” in “squeaky clean”?

Is squeaky in "squeaky clean" an onomatopoeia? Is there a right word to describe this word, other than simply an "adjective"? It's something that uses the description of a sound as an adjective. ...
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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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Why are Irish people called “turk” and “turkey”?

Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (edited by John Ayto, John Simpson) lists the following slang words used for Irish people: bog-trotter, harp, Mick, Paddy, Pat, turk, turkey I can guess why ...
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Where did the words “Baby Back” come from when referring to ribs?

Many restaurants sell baby back ribs, but why are they called baby back, and when was the first use of the term?
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Most of us had a piggy bank! But what is the origin of its name?

Piggy (n.): "a little pig," 1799, from pig (n.) + -y (3). Related: Piggies. Piggy bank attested from 1941 (pig bank from 1937). (Etymonline) The origin of this expression in unclear. ...
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Milanese Loop - origin of term?

A company is using the term "Milanese Loop" for one of the watch armbands for the digital Watch. I understand that Milanese is related to the Italian city of Milan. Yet my Internet research has not ...
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Is there simple method to determine a word's origin? [on hold]

I've looked at etymology wherein there is a brief description of several methods for that purpose: philological research, comparative method, study of semantic change, use of dialectological data. In ...
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Origin of “Stick to your knitting”

I know that "Stick to your knitting" means to stick with what you're familiar with/good at rather than giving your opinion or trying your hand at something out of your area of expertise. But I can't ...
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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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Etymology of “high” and “low” notes

The words "high" and "low" generally refer to magnitude or vertical distance. How did these words come to be associated with pitch? We can draw comparison to high ("large") or low ("small") ...
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Why is “great” pronounced as “grate”, but spelled with “ea”?

Great is one of the few common English words in which "ea" is pronounced /eɪ/ (ay). Why is this pronunciation associated with this spelling? As an aside, I remember from researching for my answer to ...
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1answer
52 views

The origin of “break of day”

I was quite surprised to know that "break of day" actually means "dawn", that is, the beginning of the day. But, the phrase "break of day" sounds much more like the end of the day, not the beginning ...
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Is 'keep someone across' a new phrasal verb?

How common is the expression 'to keep someone across' the news. Is this a new phrasal verb? I've noticed it mostly in the last four years on British news programmes, such as the BBC. It seems to mean ...
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How to identify if a word is positive, negative, or neutral?

I am studying for SAT and English is not my first language. I really struggle with vocabulary. I memorized about 1000 words for the test, but only a few showed up on the test. I am planning on taking ...
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Where does the term “hardware” in computer science comes from?

The term Software was coined in 195x. And it was opposed the term Hardware, physical part of a computer system, which is tangible. But where does the term Hardware comes from (from which of the ...
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What’s the etymology of “beholden”?

I know the word behold means to look upon. So why does beholden mean obligated, indebted? Can someone tell me how this phrase came about?
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Derivations of operation, operable vs. reparation, reparable

After a little thought I decided irreparable derives from repairable, but a few seconds later, decided it stems from reparation, "like operable from operation". Looking the words up, I found I was ...