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

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“Tommyknockers”: why the “tommy” prefix in AmE?

From The Tommyknockers by Stephen King: Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door. I want to run, don't know if I can, 'cause I'm so afraid of ...
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What is the origin of surnames based on color?

I understand the background of names such as Baker, Carver and Hammer but, what are the origins of names such as Black, Blue, Brown, Green and White? Are they based on some common structure or do they ...
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The history of “softcore”

Over lunch recently, my colleagues and I were discussing the term "hardcore," and speculating on its origin. Our speculations evolved into "What has either a hard or soft core, where the hard cored ...
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Chuffed - happy or unhappy?

I was looking into the word chuffed this morning, and came across this:- chuffed 1 /tʃʌft/ adjective British Informal. delighted; pleased; satisfied. Origin: 1855–60; see chuff2 , ...
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Is my name English?

I have a question regarding my name and English language. My family's last name is Maiorana and were from Yorkshire (or so I thought). The other day my new girlfriend asked where my name was from and ...
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Where does the term “key-thong” (for flip-flops) come from?

In the east Bay Area of California, in the early '60's, we called flip flops key-thongs. (The spelling is likely wrong as I couldn't read at the time.) We moved to New Mexico in the late 60's, where ...
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“Sounds like a plan (, Stan!)”

"Sounds like a plan (, Stan!)" (idiom, used to agree to a suggestion that you think is good) It seems to be of relatively recent origin, if there's really a sound origin, that is. Main Q: What ...
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Origin of “kettle of fish”

What is the origin of the phrase "kettle of fish"? e.g. It's was a good film. But the sequel is a different kettle of fish. It seems to simply mean "thing", but in a fun and witty way. But I ...
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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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Is “kip” Chinese in origin?

While looking up the history of kip, I realized that the information about its origins is rather scant. The noun and verb to kip in BrEng is often said when a person wishes to take a short sleep or a ...
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“At the drop of a hat”?

Where does the figure of speech "at the drop of a hat" come from? I understand the phrase means "Immediately; instantly; on the slightest signal or urging. (Alludes to the dropping of a hat as a ...
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What is the etymology of “run like a dog”?

I've used the phrase "runs like a dog" to mean that my car is on its last legs and can't, sometimes, run anywhere near as fast as a dog can. Can anyone shed light on where this meaning of the phrase ...
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Origin of the saying 'all wet'

All wet is slang expression (mainly AmE) meaning: entirely mistaken. (TFD) All wet: The Phrase Finder, referring to OED, suggests that its first usage was: "c. all wet: mistaken, ...
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Etymology of “div”

Acting like a div yesterday:- a stupid or foolish person I started to wonder how this term of abuse came about. Urban Dictionary has a quaint tale:- Actually originates from prison slang in ...
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'insidious' : How does 'sit in' mean 'gradual, subtle' ? [on hold]

insidious {adjective} = Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects: Etymonline: 1540s, from Middle French insidieux (15c.) or directly from Latin insidiosus ...
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What is the etymology of “yonks”?

How did we come to say "yonks" meaning a long period of time? "I haven't been to the cinema in yonks." Etymonline has nothing and Oxford dictionaries has: noun: British informal: a very ...
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Origin of “janky” as in, “This setup is janky.”

The term "janky" is common in specific gaming communities and refers to using tactics that are bad or subpar. A specific example from Reddit: So Reynad just climbed about 800 ranks in legend with ...
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did “born and bred” originally have different meaning?

Internet searching suggests the phrase "born and bred in Boston" means the same thing as "born and raised in Boston." But "bred" is the past-tense of "breed." Might "born and bred in Boston" have ...
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Origin of “the nature of the beast”

The nature of the beast is a well-known phrase or saying which means something like an essential property of the thing, particularly when the property is a vexatious one. For example: I don't like ...
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'remit' {verb} : How does 'send back' mean 'to forward'?

remit {verb} [with object] = 2. Send (money) in payment or as a gift [Synonyms:] send, dispatch, forward, transmit, convey; ... [Etymonline]: late 14c., "to forgive, pardon," from Latin ...
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Of what usage is “do” in a term like “work do”? [on hold]

The phrase work do - where does this come from? Which usage of do is meant in the context of this phrase?
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What is the connection, if any, between 'adapt' and 'adept'?

The English adjective adept originates from the classical Latin adjective adeptus, to describe a person who has obtained knowledge of alchemy, magic and the occult. The verb to adapt would appear ...
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“Shnide”? “Schneid”? Which is it and what's this term's origin?

"Getting off the shnide." (Obviously I'm not sure of the spelling.) It's an expression I hear almost exclusively in sports commentary to indicate a team has finally won a game after a protracted ...
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“hospitality”: does it refer to the guest or the host? [on hold]

Is hospitality about being a good guest, or a good host? Or is it a little bit of both? Would it be the act of being a good host or is it different?
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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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Origin of “old bag”?

What is the origin of the term old bag as a derogatory term for an older lady? In the UK it is exclusively used to describe females. There appears to be nothing intrinsically feminine about bags. ...
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Does our word for [wrist] watch come from the 1735 English Longitude Prize?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson writes in the book Death By Black Hole on page 314: In 1735, the Board of Longitude's challenge was met by a portable, palm-sized clock designed and built by an English ...
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origin of phrase 'stone the crows'

Just as the title says — where, and how, did the phrase 'stone the crows' originate?
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Why is “quadratic” used to describe second power when “quad” means “four”?

In mathematics, quadratic means "involving the second and no higher power of an unknown quantity or variable". But the prefix quad- usually describes something that has to do with four, such as ...
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basketball expression 'from downtown'

In NBA basketball, TV commentators use the expression "shoot from downtown" when a player shoots beyond the 3-point line. What is the origin of this expression?
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What is the origin of the verb 'to beef' (meaning complain)? [duplicate]

Why do we beef about things we are not happy with? The OED confirms that it is of US origin, and provides examples of its use from 1888 - to complain, grumble, protest.
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Why are nicknames called “nicknames”?

Where did this term originate from? According to Etymonline.com, it originates from O.E. eaca, which means to "increase". However, I can't see how the "n" got stuck in there too. Does anyone have ...
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Etymology of “vagina”?

Not to be immature or anything (interpret the question as you will...), but I was just thinking about how "V" is essentially a feminine symbol. The masculine symbol is usually the reverse, probably ...
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Origin of “Plumb” to mean “absolutely”

"plumb" as far as I know is a predominantly American usage, as in "That was just plumb crazy!" I thought plumb meant some kind of weight in bricklaying or such like, so how did it come to mean ...
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Where does the word “mean” come from in mathematics? [closed]

For the averages, mean, median and mode I can determine that median comes from latin for mid, mode comes from latin for measurement but cannot find where the word mean comes from. Is it an acronym? ...
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Etymology of 'remit' {noun} : Sent forward, not sent back? [closed]

I understand the meaning of remit, so I am not asking about its definition. I just want to delve in deeper. I am also well-aware of the Etymological Fallacy and its various drawbacks. Therefore how ...
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where did the term…falling down on the job come from?

What is the origin of Falling down on the job? what did it originally mean?
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Etymology: 'pray in aid'

I wish to delve into the definition, which I already understand and so ask NOT about. I already tried the OED; it doesn't explain 'between the lines'. (See 1913 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary ...
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What's the etymology of the expression “let it slide?”

Today, my three year old son was doing something he wasn't normally supposed to do but we were letting him get away with it (wearing a backpack to the dinner table). He pointed out that he wasn't ...
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Usage and meaning of the word “Ragging” in India

This is my first post here on an unwelcome situation in India, described by a word, "Ragging". Wikipedia article states that: "Ragging is a practice similar to hazing in educational institutions. ...
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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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Etymology: The root of the words 'real' and 'reality'

I wish to identify the oldest known root from which we derive the words 'real' and 'reality', et cetera. I got as far as determining the origin of the English words real and reality is Latin res, ...
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Splitting of a word to create a past tense or verb

So, I was looking at the word "backup" recently. This is the only word I know of that splits the word to indicate an action("I'm backing it up now.") or for past tense("When was it last backed up?"). ...
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Does 'fever' share an etymology with 'fervent, fervid, or fervour'?

The ODO entry for 'fervent' recommends to: Compare with fervid and fervour. I did read Etymonline's entry for 'fever' which doesn't explicitly answer this, but I think that I'd need to know ...
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What is the etymology of “…kick ass and take names”?

Inspired by What is this idiom?, but that question doesn't actually ask for where the expression originated. I Googled around, but couldn't find any reliable source. Surely the expression originates ...
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Origin of the meaning of “à la mode”

In American English, à la mode means: in fashion, up to date. with ice cream. (of beef) braised in wine, typically with vegetables. While the first meaning matches the French meaning, the other ...
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Does “morning sickness” only relate to pregnancy? Did it always?

As far as I'm aware, "morning sickness" as a phrase relates specifically to pregnancy. So, even if you have a medical condition causing regular nausea/vomiting when you wake up and you typically wake ...
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'mawkish' : What's 'exaggerated or false' about maggots?

mawkish {adjective} = Sentimental in an exaggerated or false way [Etymonline:] 1660s, "sickly, nauseated," from Middle English mawke "maggot" (see maggot). Sense of "sickly sentimental" is ...
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If something is considered the best why is it said to be “the berries”?

According to From Flappers to Rappers: A Study of American Youth Slang by Dr. Thomas Dalzell, "the berries" was a 1920s widely used slang term among American youth to describe something wonderful or ...
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Etymology of 'impute' [closed]

impute {verb} [ODO:] {with object} = 1. Represent (something, especially something undesirable) as being done or possessed by someone; attribute: [Etymonline:] early 15c., from Old French ...