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

learn more… | top users | synonyms (2)

57
votes
5answers
4k views

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, ...
285
votes
6answers
81k views

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 ...
26
votes
4answers
3k views

“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 ...
9
votes
4answers
6k views

“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 ...
17
votes
2answers
947 views

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 ...
32
votes
3answers
5k views

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?
33
votes
6answers
100k views

“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 ...
16
votes
3answers
4k views

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 ...
49
votes
3answers
15k views

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 ...
13
votes
5answers
6k views

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 ...
46
votes
7answers
5k views

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 ...
21
votes
3answers
3k views

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 ...
14
votes
4answers
4k views

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?
18
votes
5answers
12k views

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?
5
votes
3answers
4k views

What are the meaning and possible origin of “word!” and “word up”?

Several times, I have had conversations, all over instant messenger, finish with "word" or "Word up G". As it ends a conversation, I am guessing it is like "goodbye". My question is what is the ...
48
votes
6answers
8k views

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?
31
votes
4answers
2k views

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 ...
20
votes
6answers
1k views

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? ...
1
vote
1answer
124 views

How does 'be' + 'of' combine to mean 'possess; give rise to'?

I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. 1. Which ODO definition corresponds? What does of mean here? to be of = ...
30
votes
2answers
2k views

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?
1
vote
3answers
2k views

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 ...
8
votes
4answers
18k views

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?
38
votes
1answer
3k views

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?
17
votes
3answers
4k views

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 ...
32
votes
6answers
3k views

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 ...
22
votes
4answers
49k views

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?
16
votes
1answer
10k views

Why “unequal” but “inequality”?

The opposite of "equal" is "unequal", yet there is no word "unequality". Why do we use "inequality" instead?
5
votes
2answers
694 views

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 ...
3
votes
3answers
772 views

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 ...
7
votes
4answers
9k views

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-?
11
votes
9answers
3k views

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 ...
3
votes
3answers
2k views

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 ...
2
votes
2answers
3k views

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 ...
137
votes
6answers
18k views

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 ...
30
votes
5answers
53k views

How did the letter Z become to be associated with sleeping/snoring?

In cartoons and comics it's not uncommon to see a series of Zs to indicate that a person is in deep slumber, such as in the following political cartoon. How and when did the letter Z become to be ...
23
votes
7answers
2k views

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 ...
20
votes
4answers
25k views

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 ...
13
votes
10answers
2k views

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 -> ...
18
votes
2answers
19k views

“Awesome” vs. “Awful”

How did the English language come to this? The play was awful. Is the complete opposite of The play was awesome. But if you break it down to awe followed by ful or some, it doesn't ...
17
votes
4answers
1k views

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use?

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as "four-and-twenty", but the same text would also have the modern "twenty-four" in places (see e.g. Conan-Doyle for ...
16
votes
6answers
26k views

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 ...
16
votes
4answers
6k views

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?
14
votes
3answers
3k views

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 ...
31
votes
6answers
32k views

What is “won't” a contraction of?

"Don't", "wouldn't", "couldn't" and "isn't" are all contractions of "do not", "would not", "could not" and "is not"... So what's "won't" a contraction of? It appears to be "will not", but if so, why ...
8
votes
2answers
32k views

Origin of “I see, said the blind man, as he waved his wooden leg”

"I see", said the blind man, as he waved his wooden leg. is an expression used by someone on whom comprehension has just dawned, or a catch-phrase addressed to that person. Sometimes it can be ...
34
votes
3answers
1k views

Why do I give my pets “food” but my livestock “feed”?

When I feed my cat or my dog, the package tends to say "Dog Food" or "Cat Food." In contrast, I give my chickens "chicken feed" or "poultry feed." Likewise, a cow's silage is her "feed." Why does ...
9
votes
3answers
827 views

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 ...
7
votes
4answers
33k views

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 → ...
7
votes
2answers
4k views

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 ...
11
votes
2answers
3k views

What makes a word offensive?

Whilst I was sat on the bus yesterday, I overheard a group of teenagers discussing various things. As per the usual social requirement at that age, every 5th word was an expletive. Not exactly the ...