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

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Why is it “geometric” but “theoretical”?

I just came across a course name: Geometric and Theoretical Optics. The mismatched endings bug me. Why do we have both -ical and -ic endings? Is there any difference in meaning between, say, ...
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Did English ever have a formal version of “you”?

From the top of my head, Danish "De" (practically never used), German "Sie", Chinese "您", French "vous", Spanish "usted" are a formal way of addressing someone, especially if one isn't familiar with ...
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“Whereäs” as an alternative spelling of “whereas”

Wiktionary shows whereäs as a valid alternative spelling of the word whereas (see here). It gives the following quotations to illustrate the usage: 1 Permanent International Association of ...
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“The thing is, is that…”

This is a phrase I've heard many people use, and it sounds wrong to me; e.g.: The thing about that is, is that she might take it the wrong way. It seems to treat "The thing [...] is"—the entire ...
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If I invent a word, what language is it?

I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English ...
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“Oriented” vs. “orientated”

What are the origins of the word orientated? As far as I know, the correct spelling is oriented and orientated is not an alternative spelling but an error that is in common use. Is it for example ...
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Origin/reason for the expression “on the bus” instead of “in the bus”

This is sort of a follow up to my question here. I was told a while ago that the reason why we use "on the bus" instead of "in the bus" is because back in the day buses were open, that is, they ...
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Why are not “infamous” and “inflammable” the opposite of “famous” and “flammable”?

Why are not infamous and inflammable the opposite of famous and flammable, like incomplete, inactivity, inappropriate and so on?
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How does a word come to have two completely opposite meanings?

Words like "cleave" and "egregious" have meanings that are completely opposite other meanings of the same word. How did such a bizarre, confusing state of affairs ever develop? I mean, I just can't ...
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Terms for collections of animals

As I watched the murder of crows sitting on the line above my house this evening, I got wondering where all of the collective nouns for animals (pod of whales, gaggle of geese, pride of lions) came ...
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Was “book” to “beek” as “foot” is to “feet”?

"Foot" is a curious word in English because it is pluralized in an unusual way; the "oo" in the word is changed to "ee". Did this once use to be a standard way of pluralizing things in English (or a ...
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Why are clothes “hung” but men “hanged”?

It is said that clothes can be hung but men are hanged. Is this correct, and if so, why?
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How and why have some words changed to a complete opposite?

One example that comes to mind is terrific which originally denoted something quite terrorising while now it has positive connotations... How and why did these changes occur?
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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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Origins: “try and” over “try to” — how did we get there from here?

In written and standard semi-formal (and above) spoken English, one would use "try to": Try to be a better person. Try to get the fishhook out of my thumb, please. Try to find a pharmacy ...
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When does a word become a 'word'? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Creating a new word The rule of thumb used to be that when a word hit the Oxford Dictionary, it was considered to be an accepted word - this, however, seems to have ...
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Is there an 'official' way to suggest a new word become part of the English language? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Regulatory bodies and authoritative dictionaries for English Creating a new word What are the criteria to adopt new words into English? I've always been told, at ...
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Why “ain't I” and “aren't I” instead of “amn't I”?

Why do we say "ain't I" or "aren't I" instead of "amn't I"? What's the history of this usage? Are there any other similar patterns in English? I'm guessing it has something to do with the ...
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Why “unequal” but “inequality”?

The opposite of "equal" is "unequal", yet there is no word "unequality". Why do we use "inequality" instead?
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What is the origin of the phrase “not to mention …”

Of course whatever follows would seem to be precisely the thing that isn't to be mentioned. EDIT: I'm assuming that the phrase must have evolved from something more complete/cumbersome, like "and of ...
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What is the origin of ZOMG?

I have looked in a number of places, with contradicting results. The Urban Dictionary provides a whopping 73 "explanations", of which I will quote just a few. (Original spelling and punctuation ...
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Why do eleven and twelve get unique words and not end in “-teen”?

In short, why is it not oneteen and twoteen, and we start at thirteen in English? In another thread, I supposed that despite that fact that people have ten fingers, amounts of items leading up to and ...
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Where did the term “OK/Okay” come from?

I've heard lots of varying histories of the term "OK". Is there any evidence of the true origin of the term?
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Origin of “-ing”

What is the origin of the suffix -ing used to form gerunds and present participles? Why is the suffix the same in both cases?
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Where does the use of “why” as an interjection come from?

Examples: Why, I'd love to. Why, of course! I get the concept of starting a sentence with a word not completely related to the overall response, but this one seems to be a particularly ...
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When did “while” and “whilst” become interchangeable?

I think most folk happily use either "while" or "whilst". I've a vague recollection that at one time "while" indicated the passing of time and "whilst" was essentially the same as "whereas" or ...
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Why are there two pronunciations for “either”?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an individual who told me that pronouncing the word "either" is wrong when pronounced like \ˈī-thər\ instead of \ˈē-thər\ , but I didn't argue the point ...
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Why do words like “expectorate” sound more posh than words like “spit”?

I think English is unique in having a set of "bad words" each which has its "more refined" equivalent, e.g.: spit -> expectorate piss -> urinate shit -> defecate f*ck -> ...
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Origins of negative prefixes like in-, un-, il-, ir-, dis-, a-

I've read here about origins of in- and un- negative prefixes. Are there any known origins of other negative prefixes such as il-, ir-, dis-, a-?
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What is the origin of the word “goodbye”?

I've heard that goodbye comes from God be with you. Is that true? If so how did it become good? Did goodbye always have the same meaning it has now?
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Origin of “hating on”

What is the origin of the slang phrase hating on? Google Trends suggests that the phrase did not enter the lexicon until early 2009. I'm curious where the phrase originated. As Stefano Palazzo ...
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How long has the f-word been in use as an abusive term?

When was the f-word 'invented'? Who invented it? Has it always had the derogatory meaning that it does today. Is it a recent invention?
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Where did the “odd” in “N odd years” come from?

I was reminded this usage by the recent question asking about the origin of "-ish." Odd is often used in a similar way in the stock phrase "odd years" to mean "around" or "about" a certain length of ...
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Why does English spelling use silent letters?

Why have a letter in a word when it’s silent in pronunciation, like the b in debt? Can anyone please clarify my uncertainty here?
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Character vs Charm - Pronunciation

Is there a rule to understand how the group "Cha" has to be pronounced? "Character" sounds with a hard first syllable, while "Charm" sound softer, but I don't find how to tell which sound to use ...
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Where did prefix exceptions originate?

Consider the following words: inflammable invaluable Each of these has the unusual property that its meaning is identical to its counterpart lacking the prefix. In almost all other cases, the ...
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Paucity of words for relationships

Please refer the following questions asked elsewhere on this site: Is there a word that means "the wife of one's brother"? What is the relationship name of my wife's brother to me? ...
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Etymology of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs'?

This is such a strange idiom, all I could find with a Google search was the meaning of it, but not where it came from. When you're telling somebody something they already know well, it's sometimes ...
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When does a neologism cease to be a neologism?

What benchmarks or useful signs can be found to declassify neologisms? Obviously, inclusion in a dictionary is as likely as anything to declare a neologism a word but what happens just before that ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “you've got another thing/think coming”?

What is the origin of the phrase "you've got another thing coming"? And — perhaps more importantly — is it more correct than the alternative "you've got another think coming"?
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Origin of different past tenses for verbs with the same endings?

Why do we have a situation where the past of "to blow" is "blew", but of "to glow" is "glowed"? And don't say "flew" if you mean "it flowed". The poem Lovers, by Phoebe Cary has many examples of ...
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How did “next day” come to mean “day of next week”?

This question touched on the confusion of the common usage of "next Tuesday" to really mean "Tuesday of next week", as opposed to the "soonest upcoming Tuesday". When one considers the actual ...
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Origin of the phrase, “There's more than one way to skin a cat.”

The meaning is clear, but where did this phrase originate? Was it always such a gruesome reference?
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Why do we say “[expletive] ALL” for “nothing”?

Damn all, Bugger all, Sod all etc., etc. What does all mean here? How did the expression originate? Was there a single original term (expletive or not) preceding all in this usage? At the risk of ...
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Conundrum: “cleverer” or “more clever”, “simpler” or “more simple” etc

I know the rule for making the comparative and superlative form for two-syllable words ending in y, replace the -y with i and use -er and -est : hap.py → happier → (the) happiest ti.dy → tidier → ...
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Where does the phrase “dead simple” originate?

It feels like there should be a story behind it, or perhaps a type of slang, but I can't find anything in various Web searches.
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Why does “ow” have two different sounds

Why is it that the "ow" in now makes the aʊ sound while "ow" in snow makes the oʊ sound? Has this always been, was it spelled differently and then changed, or was it spelled this way but the sound ...
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“Thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns"

“Thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns" What does this metaphor mean and what is the origin? I know it is an ancient one, but couldn't find anything else! Is it obsolete ...
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Is there a difference between “arse” and “ass”?

From a comment here, in frequent usage, arse and ass are often interchangeable when used to refer to buttocks or to a person of dubious charms. However, although “to arse about” has a vague connection ...
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Origins of the “‑cede/‑seed/‑ceed” suffix

Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember cedere meant “to go or yield” in Latin. Presumably this gives us the words concede and accede. (?) But what about the words supersede and proceed? ...