How English has changed over time.

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Why does “alcohol” end with /ɔl/ for some American speakers? Which ones?

For American English speakers, the written sequence "ol" usually corresponds to the pronunciation /oʊl/ (like in cold), /oʊ/ (like in yolk), or /ɑl/ (like in collar); or to /əl/ when unstressed (like ...
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126 views

What idiom was used before “to be on the same wavelength”?

The word wavelength has the figurative usage with allusion to radio reception, implying (mutual) understanding especially in the idiomatic phrase to be on the same wavelength (as someone else). What ...
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1answer
53 views

Origin, meaning, and historical change (if any) of the idiom 'stem the tide'

Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013) has this entry for the idiom "stem the tide": stem the tide Stop the course of a trend or tendency, as in It is ...
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40 views

How did 'of' come to take on so many meanings?

TL/DR: How did of (a Function Word) spawn such diverse meanings, too numerous to list here? Optional Reading and Supplement: [OED:] The primary sense was ‘away’, ‘away from’, a sense now ...
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257 views

“As I am wo/man” in Twelfth Night, II, 2 (Shakespeare): a case of indefinite article omission or no?

Are "As I am man" and "As I am woman" in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, II, 2 examples of indefinite article omission or not? This question is (e)specially directed towards those familiar with ...
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2answers
133 views

Squeegee with a squeegee

Squeegee is: a scraping implement, usually consisting of a straight-edged blade of india-rubber, gutta-percha, or the like, attached to the end of a long handle, for removing water, mud, etc. ...
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2answers
160 views

Why “paediatrics” but “pedagogue” in British English?

There's an account of the British ae/oe and American "e" spellings (as in diarrh(o)ea, f(a)eces, and other fun words) on wikipedia. What I'm wondering is why, even in British English, ...
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1k views

When did 'want' stop meaning “in need of”

When did the word 'want' stop meaning "in need of" or 'lacking' and begin to refer to desire? (Evidence old phrases with the original meaning like: "want for nothing" or "waste not, want not".)
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333 views

Meaning of “determine” in 19th century

I'm reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. At the end of chapter 29, she writes "The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the ...
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2answers
1k views

How far back in time could I travel and still be understood?

I have seen several times on TV documentaries where the presenter is taken to something like a library archive, and shown a book which they proceed to read an excerpt from. On a couple of occasions ...
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1answer
137 views

How did “ass” lose the 'r'?

The word "ass" (usually marked as "vulgar"; the one that means "buttocks," "butt," etc.) comes from Sanskrit, one would think, since the old Germanic version is not a stand-alone, but has its ...
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486 views

Origin of “How are you?”

I'm currently researching different greetings for a linguistics project and I'm having trouble finding information as to the history of the phrase, "How are you," or those of equivalent structures. I ...
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67 views

“Do” as a tense marker

In "Verbs and Tenses" by George Davidson, the author discusses how to form questions in English. One of the rules presented was if the declarative statement doesn't contain an auxiliary to front, ...
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2answers
71 views

Why does the suffix “monger” persist only for certain trades?

One definition of the suffix -monger is: denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity. It is no longer common: I have always assumed it was more frequent in archaic usage. What ...
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106 views

Why doesn't Buckingham Palace require an article? [duplicate]

There's a whole bunch of them that look as if they would require one, but actually don't: Times Square, Trafalgar Square, Union Square, Carnegie Hall, Central Park, Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, ...
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50 views

“Were” rather than “would have been”: when did that change?

Please read the following stanza from Byron's "Don Juan": Amongst her numerous acquaintance, all Selected for discretion and devotion, There was the Donna Julia, whom to call Pretty ...
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40 views

Firing the Bow: Before the Great Transition [duplicate]

... at which point they had no choice but to fire upon the enemy. They opened fire. They returned fire. Aim! Fire! Fragments of reports from the battlefield. The first hand-held firearms appeared ...
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3answers
101 views

Polish (the substance, not the language)

I'm talking about the stuff you use when you're polishing. According to etymonline.com, this usage has been around for less than 200 years: polish (n.) 1590s, "absence of coarseness," from ...
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35 views

When did English stop requiring capitalisation of non-proper nouns? [duplicate]

I was reading this answer which referenced a number of 18th century publications which capitalised their non-proper nouns: In 1769, in "The Microscope made easy": "Mention having been often made ...
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1answer
161 views

Helping-adverbs vs. Helping-adjectives vs. Adverbs of degree

I've recently come across the terms helping-adverb and helping-adjective in some old grammar books. From the book A practical grammar of the English language (by Roscoe Goddard Greene, 1830): A ...
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5answers
847 views

To what degree is 'muchly' obsolete?

According to grammarist.com, the word muchly is regarded as obsolete. I and many of the people I know use the word regularly, however, frequently in situations where it would seem to me much would be ...
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89 views

What expression was used in English that “however” and others replaced around 1750?

Prompted by the questions about "despite"/"in spite of" on ELL and EL&U I played in N-gram for in spite of, despite even though, although, however. After 1750 there is a sharp rise in most of ...
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2answers
339 views

Why did Servia become Serbia?

Reading contemporary histories of the First World War, I noticed that at the start the nation in the Balkans is referred to as Servia, but in numbers published after the back half of 1916, it has ...
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1answer
84 views

Why don't ligatures have names?

It is common to see ligatures such as Æ or Œ in reference to classical works such as Œdipus or Æsop but these do not seem to have names. Strangely enough in the Old English alphabet there were similar ...
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How did 'so' mean 'so that'?

so, adv. and conj. = 24. so .. that [=] in such a way, to such an extent, that 25. a. With omission of that, = sense 24. 26. a. so (that) , in limiting sense: On condition that, provided that, ...
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Semantically, how does 'before' differ from 'till'?

till {prep. [here] conj., and adv.} Etymology: [..] Probably originally a noun * til = Old English till fixed point, station [...] hence the const. with genitive: prop. ‘with the ...
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1answer
151 views

A recent trend in pronouncing “the” [duplicate]

I have observed a recent trend to pronounce "the" as "thuh" even if it is followed by a vowel (as in "thuh evening.") Is this regional (I live in Alabama) or national? I think it's the latter. And ...
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136 views

Sentence length in English writing in early 1900s vs. English writing now [closed]

I am reading a book called The Best American Essays of the Century. One thing I keep noticing is a lot of the sentences in this book are very long — 5 to 6 lines. I read a lot of articles on the web, ...
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3answers
230 views

Difference of “I am just an ABC” vs “I am but a XYZ”

As far as I (non-native speaker) can tell, these two sentences have the same meaning: I'm just a humble merchant I'm but a humble merchant However I wonder if there is some subtle ...
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4answers
3k views

Meaning and origin of “bite the bullet”

I just learnt about the expression "to bite the bullet", meaning Accept the inevitable impending hardship and endure the resulting pain with fortitude (as seen in its article in phrases.org). I have ...
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175 views

How did the archaic 'villein' transform into villain?

The word villain, as described by Google, comes form the archaic word villein. Here is the definition of villein: villein ˈvɪlən,-eɪn noun (in medieval England) a feudal tenant entirely ...
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“Programming” versus “programing”: which is preferred?

I was surprised that my spell checker did not complain for programing with one m, so I Googled it, and found on free dictionaries that both forms were acceptable. Which one is more common? Does it ...
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1answer
358 views

Is the pronunciation of “oa” in “broad” unique?

The "oa" in the word "broad" is pronounced like the words "or" or "awe". In phonetic symbols that is ɔː . However in all other examples I can think of it is pronounced like the "oe" in "toe". Or in ...
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2answers
465 views

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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213 views

Why is /k/ sometimes spelt with a C, and sometimes with a K? [closed]

This may sound silly. But I'm really confused why, when we pronounce (the phoneme) /k/, we sometimes spell it with a C and sometimes with a K (sometimes with CK). Why wasn't 'k' used instead, in such ...
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4answers
379 views

How did 'drone' come to mean both 'one who does no work' and 'one who spends most of his or her time doing menial work'?

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) gives the following definitions for drone in senses derived from the word for male honeybee: drone \drōn\ n {ME fr. OE drān; akin to OHG ...
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1answer
211 views

<u> pronounced “ew”

I'm wondering about the modern English pronunciation of "u" like the vowel in "few" in open syllables, such as "pure", "cute", "tribunal", "u", etc. What's the origin of this? (This question is not ...
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128 views

Did the Great Vowel Shift on the long vowel /i/ occur in non-primary stressed syllables?

From the Wikipedia article on the Great Vowel Shift . Middle English [iː] diphthongized to [ɪi], which was most likely followed by [əɪ] and finally Modern English [aɪ] (as in mice). I think the ...
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420 views

Is the diphthong [ai] on a non-primary stressed syllable a hypercorrection? [closed]

Is the diphthong [ai] on a non-primary stressed syllable a hypercorrection? Some American people pronounce the prefix "anti" like an-tie. For example, here's a pronunciation of "anti-Christian" ...
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233 views

Was “Do not you want to know…” correct 200 years ago, and is now incorrect?

"Do not you want to know who has taken it?'' cried his wife impatiently. -Pride and Prejudice (1813) According to one of the answers in Is "Don't you know? " the same as ...
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1answer
94 views

Hance/Hence connection?

In researching the verb 'hence' I noted the several forms listed in the OED, two of which were: "hennes or henes" from Middle English usage. Similarly with the verb 'hance' I noted that scholars have ...
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1answer
95 views

Are products of wordsmithing proper english?

Several languages in which English has its roots have easily definable rules. For example, sticking "A" in from of an adjective can mean the opposite of that adjective (Asymmetrical, symmetrical), ...
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820 views

How did the adjective “just” come to take on so many adverbial meanings?

Just is a pretty useful adverb. It can carry several different meanings: very recently: I just finished the novel. exactly: That’s just what he meant. by a narrow margin: He just missed me ...
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Was the pronunciation of “symmetry” different in the past?

First published in Songs of Experience in 1794, the first stanza of the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake is: Tyger! Tyger! burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or ...
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Why did English change so much between Chaucer and Shakespeare?

My inexpert perception of things is that the distance between The Canterbury Tales (end 14th century) and Romeo and Juliet (end 16th), from a language perspective, is vast, and vastly greater than the ...
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1answer
7k views

What is the origin of “Kris Kringle”?

In Canada, we use the term "Kris Kringle" for gift exchange tradition in Christmas. It is also spelled as "Kriss Kringle". In US and UK, it is called Secret Santa. Wikipedia says "Secret Santa" is ...
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2answers
948 views

Why “pastime” but not “passtime”?

pastime n. An activity that occupies one's spare time pleasantly: Sailing is her favorite pastime. [TFD] Etymonline says that it is from pass + time: late 15c., passe tyme "recreation, ...
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2answers
395 views

Since when a double negative as an intensifier was considered as non-standard and why?

In present-day English, a double negative as an intensifier is regarded as non-standard. For example I don't think that "I can't get no satisfaction" is considered as standard English. ...
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1answer
314 views

Pronunciation of “every body”, “every thing” etc. when written as two separate words

How shall I pronounce the words every body, every thing etc. when meaning everybody, everything, but written separately in the 19th century, like Jane Austen did? As two words, or as one? In the ...
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385 views

Why did “thou” become obsolete?

In the Elizabethan era, "thou" was universally used as well as "you". "Thou" represents intimacy. In French, "tu" is still used. The same for German "du". Why did "thou" become obsolete?