How English has changed over time.

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Is there a modern book comparable to Crabb's English Synonymes?

EDIT: I am looking for a book to make a study of modern synonyms. @WS2 recommended what appears to be a book of exceptional quality, but it has great depth in a few topic areas rather than a breadth ...
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Term for a word that, over time, gains a meaning opposite its original (which is lost)

This question was originally posted here: What is the term for a word that has come to mean the opposite of its orignal meaning? I don't think it should have been marked as a duplicate: the ...
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Have any words experienced sustained frequency growth greater than the word “sustainable”?

XKCD comic 1007, "sustainable", has indicated that the frequency of the word "sustainable" has undergone significant growth. According to explain XKCD, it has gone from 0.000005% in 1960 to ...
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What is the historical English word for graffiti?

Given that graffiti has existed even before the Italian loanword became commonplace, what is the traditional English word to describe it? The closest I can imagine would be "epigraph", however, this ...
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When did “legend” stop being pronounced “LEE-gend”?

Nowadays, we pronounce the word legend as "LEDGE-end" (IPA: /ˈlɛdʒənd/). But it looks like at least some people used to pronounce "legend" as "LEE-gend." In A General Dictionary of the English ...
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Origin and earliest recorded use of 'fungo'

In baseball, a fungo bat is, according to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), "a long thin bat used for hitting fungoes," and a fungo is either "a fly ball hit esp. for practice ...
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Origin and evolution of the term 'amen corner'

Geneva Smitherman, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (1994) provides this entry for the term "amen corner": AMEN CORNER 1) In the Traditional Black Church (TBC), ...
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How did it happen that there are two different words “insulation” and “isolation” for virtually the same concept? [closed]

This question is not about the meaning of and the difference between the words insulation and isolation, it has been already answered here: What's the difference between "insulated" and ...
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25 views

Was “pronunshiation” ever a common pronunciation of “pronunciation”?

I came across an old prescriptive pronunciation guide from 1843 that says "pronunciation" ought to be pronounced "pronunshiation" (with /ʃi/ instead of /si/). The author says that the pronunciation ...
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The Word Bastard - Origin and Meaning [closed]

How offensive is the word Bastard? And when did it become more of an offense than a term used for child out of wedlock?
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Why does written English have more variations in pronunciation than other languages? [closed]

According to my experience, in languages like German, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc., there are not so many exceptions in pronunciation as in English. For example, given a word in German or French, ...
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“Initial” is pronounced “inishal,” so why isn't the verb “initiate” pronounced “inishate”?

Trying to answer a recent question about the pronunciation of the consonant "c" in the word word appreciate made me realize something I'm ignorant about: although I've read in a fair amount of places ...
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What source explains the different pronunciations of “hol” in “alcohol” and “hollow”?

According to Merriam-Webster, the pronunciation of alcohol is "ˈal-kə-ˌhȯl" while the pronunciation of hollow is "ˈhä-(ˌ)lō." Why are they pronounced with different vowels? I think I've figured out ...
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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
115 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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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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“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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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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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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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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When did men start to lose their “virginity”?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word virgin came from 2 languages: Anglo-French and Old French virgine "virgin; Virgin Mary" From Latin virginem (nominative virgo) ...
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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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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
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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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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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“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
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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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107 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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“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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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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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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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
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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
877 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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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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685 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
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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
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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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174 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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446 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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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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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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446 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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520 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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265 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
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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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<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 ...