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

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What is “Broken Britain”?

It's not a flattering term for Great Britain but due to its catchy alliteration it has not run out of steam among newspaper editors. Wikipedia says Broken Britain is a term which has been used ...
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753 views

What's the origin of the idiom “miss the boat”?

What is the origin of the idiom miss the boat? This is the definition of the idiom from Dictionary.com: a. to fail to take advantage of an opportunity: He missed the boat when he applied too late ...
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Movable Type vs. Word Press

I'm wondering, if the name of the blogging platform 'WordPress' is a game of words? Does it have any additional meaning for a native English speaker? As is the name of the blogging platform 'Movable ...
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What's the origin of 'ditzy'?

The Online Etymology Dictionary said it was unknown. However, it also says that one of the meanings of dis, as in disrespect, was originally: short for disconnected in the telephone sense and ...
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“Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” meaning and etymology

In my experience, referring to someone in an organization as "chief cook and bottle washer" has multiple possible meanings: person has a wide variety of duties in the organization person is very, ...
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What is the origin of being “in the pudding club”?

Being "in the pudding club" seems to mean "being pregnant" in British English. What is the origin/etymology of this phrase? Where is it used nowadays?
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Are camp followers prostitutes?

My own understanding of the term camp followers was that it was synonymous with prostitutes who followed armies around plying their trade. However, according to Wikipedia: Camp-follower is a term ...
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What's the origin of “Copycat”?

I called one of my friends "copycat" the other day, and suddenly thought about it. Why is it a "cat"? Where did this expression come from? Does anyone have any information regarding how this phrase ...
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Why is “to switch gears” used for “to change topic”?

The expressions to switch gears, to shift gears are often (too often for my taste, but that is a different matter) used to announce a switch from one topic to another in an oral presentation ...
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“Screwed” vs. “nailed”: why is the slang so different?

While the two names nail and screw have similar shapes and functions, why do the verbs differ so much? Someone has screwed something sounds like they have ruined something to me, while someone has ...
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Why do we say “honeymoon” instead of “honeymonth”?

I was curious about the etymology of the word honeymoon and found out that its sense was partially literal (serving honey for the couple), and partially metaphorical (sweet and happy times). But I ...
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What is the origin of the word “Latin”?

I'm prompted by a question on the origin of the word English. Being English myself, I pretty much know that one. But "Latin"? Why call it that? As soon as this question crossed my mind, I realised ...
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Does the English prefix hiberno- mean that the Irish were associated with winter? [on hold]

In Medieval Latin, hibernus meant Irish: https://www.google.com/search?q=hiberno+etymology In Latin, hibernus meant wintry: https://www.google.com/search?q=hibernate+etymology Therefore, can I say ...
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Why do we say “rips and tears”?

For example, "Clothing must be free from rips and tears." It seems to me that the words "rips" and "tears" can be used interchangeably, and that using both is redundant. Is there a particular reason ...
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“I've gotten better-looking as I get older” When did “gotten” re-enter the BrEng vernacular?

This summer I went to Ireland, to be more precise Dublin. Overall good weather and good fun. Anyway, while I was staying in Dublin I'd buy the local newspaper and one tabloid headline caught my eye. ...
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How did 'subsume' evolve from the Latin for 'take + under'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning? subsume = [with object] Include or absorb (something) in something else: Etymonline: 1530s, from ...
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8answers
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Origin and status of “hosed”, meaning “broken”

Are the etymology and status of hosed known, and if so, what are they? For this question, "hosed" is used as at onlineslangdictionary or at urbandictionary. (That is, with meaning broken, messed up, ...
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Etymology of a “pegged CPU”

There's a slightly obscure, slang meaning in tech circles of the word "pegged" as it relates to a computer's CPU. When it is fully utilised for a duration (at least several seconds), you can say that ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “two nations divided by a common language”?

What is the origin of the phrase "two nations divided by a common language"? I have seen it attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill. The most likely looking source ...
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Dust vs. Undust?

The entry for "dust" from LDOCE says: dust1 (n.) [uncountable] → HOUSEHOLD dry powder consisting of extremely small bits of dirt that is in buildings on furniture, floors, etc. if they are ...
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What is the etymology of the term “private eye”?

The term private eye has widespread use to mean private detective or investigator. See, e.g., Oxford Dcitionary Online Several websites, such as this one, suggest that the term was based on a logo ...
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to bar vs to debar

1. These words seem to mean the same, so what does the de- prefix mean? Did I overlook any nuances? 2. What's this phenomenon called, when a prefix or suffix affects nothing? Etymonline: 15c., ...
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What is the etymology of “cavalier”?

I ask this question because Webster runs a lot of top 10 lists that interest me from time to time. The current list I was browsing is called "Ten Painless Ways to Improve a Conversation". The second ...
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Words starting with “touch”

There are several words in English starting with touch, such as touchwood, touchstone, touchline, ect. (a list can be found here : http://www.scrabblefinder.com/starts-with/touch/ ) I would like to ...
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Is “fresher” really a “proper” English word?

I see a lot of folks on Stackoverflow using fresher when describing themselves as beginners at any given topic. I have never really heard of "fresher" as a synonym for beginner. I know "freshman" as ...
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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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Why does the word “tortilla” refer to three distinct types of edibles?

The crisps[BrEn]/chips[AmEn] that are made of corn (and probably not deep-fried) are called tortilla: The wraps with that special taste, are called tortila: And then, the omelet-like meal is ...
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Etymology of “manhole”

I don't think man stands for male here, I think it stands for human—it is a humanhole. Does it have this name because its purpose is to provide access to the sewer for men?
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Origin of doolally [tap]

I've used doolally since I was a child, but I'd rarely heard the tap version until a few years ago in the company of several Welsh people (who all agreed the two-word version was their "standard"). ...
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Does the phrase “begging the question” make any sense?

I know what "begging the question" originally means, but I just can't make any sense of the idiom. The phrase really seems to have nothing to do with its own meaning. The original Latin phrase, ...
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Etymology of “bridge” (the card game)

I've always thought that the name of this card game comes from the English word bridge (the structure) but it is not quite like that. It's the English pronunciation of a game called Biritch, which was ...
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What is the origin and sense of the phrase “put up or shut up”?

In researching the recent EL&U question Origins and Interpretations of "Put your money where your mouth is", I repeatedly came across the seemingly related but older phrase “put up or ...
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Where did we get “buster” as in “Look here, buster”?

Americans, at least, have for some time used buster in speech or dialogue as a generic form of address. It has a range of tonalities, from light to affectionate to grimly confrontational. Listen, ...
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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 them, their meanings ...
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Why does 'with' mean 'against' and not 'alongside' in phrases of opposition?

In phrases like fight with, argue with, combat with etc, why does with mean the subject is opposing the object (grammatical object, technically a human opponent)? Phrases like go with, study with, ...
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When and where did “spanking” begin to be used as an adjective? [duplicate]

"That's a spanking car." "A spanking little horse." Spank t.v. - To beat across the buttocks with the open hand, to strike especially on the buttocks with the open hand. i.v. - to ...
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Where did the slang word “basic” come from?

How did the word basic come to be used as slang for "the majority" or "the conformed." Where was it's first usage as such a word? Is it a new internet frenzy or has this word been used as slang ...
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“Tit for tat”—Where does this come from?

I always ask myself where this saying originates. I only know the individual words, tit and tat, but why is this a saying?
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Origin of the phrase “social justice warrior”

What is the origin of the phrase "social justice warrior"? RationalWiki says that the phrase "social justice" (without warrior) originated in the 1840s. Searching twitter for top tweets about ...
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What is the origin of the term “screw” in the case of a prison guard?

The term screw can refer to a prison guard. An example of this is seen in the folk song The Catalpa: So come all you screw warders and jailers Remember Perth regatta day Take care of the rest of your ...
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How did the words mana and magicka originate? [closed]

I know these words are used when describing someone with magical powers, or a magical item. I think that Magicka is from magic but I am still unsure about the word mana.
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When/where/why did “Look who it ain't/isn't” appear?

It seems to me that... "Well! Look who it ain't!" ...is/was normally used quite dismissively, referring to a newly-arrived person of low social status, who the speaker would often then proceed ...
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Why is taking a side street called a “rat run”?

I stumbled upon this expression for the first time while doing some research for an answer, and I have to admit I love it! An explanation of rat running/ a rat run is as follows "Rat running/ A ...
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Why is it “how come” and not “why come”?

When someone asks "How come?", the person answering actually answers the question "why?". "Why?" and "How?" are very different questions. I was wondering how "how come?" came to be an alternative way ...
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Is “Holy” in “Holy s**t” an intensifier or a euphemism?

I asked this question two days ago: Why is the word “Holy” used before swear words? I got many answers, but now I have a new doubt after reading all the answers and comments. For Example, one ...
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First use of “bunk”

My question is simple: Which came first, bunk as in "bunk beds" or "to bunk" as in to find a place to sleep? Almost suredly, the definition of one created the definition of the other by association, ...
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Etymology of the expression “make a larry”, i.e. turn left

Where I live (Canada) people sometimes say "hang a larry" or "make a larry" when they mean turn left, like when they're driving. I'm at a dinner party and we're trying to figure out where this ...
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“… gets my goat”. What's my goat and why does it get it?

To get someone's goat is make them annoyed or irritated. But what is the goat and why does getting it annoy them? When and where does the phrase come from? What's the first known use?
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How did 'pummel' evolve from the meaning of apple?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition that helps to remember its meaning? to pummel = [with object] 1. Strike repeatedly with the fists 1.1. [North American, informal] ...
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Why is “work” spelled with an “o”

Why is the word "work" spelled with an "o"? I can't find the answer anywhere. I know it comes from Old English "weorc" but I can not find how it came to be spelled "work" instead of "werk".