Questions about the history and trends of the English language

learn more… | top users | synonyms

1
vote
1answer
44 views

Where does the response “Anytime” come from? [on hold]

When someone says "Thank you" whenever I have helped them out, I naturally respond with "Anytime". I recently started thinking about this and couldn't quite figure out where this word originates from. ...
81
votes
7answers
7k views

What’s a “handegg”?

What’s a handegg? NOTE: This question is primarily related to the etymology of a compound noun which is not in The Dictionary. There is a hat this year called “Handegg”, given out for a posting that ...
7
votes
1answer
74 views

When was “emoji” first used?

Emoji is a small digital image or icon used in electronic communication. It is also mentioned as a standardized emoticon (emotion + icon) but emojis are usually depicted as pictographs and emoticons ...
3
votes
1answer
75 views
+50

“For he that fights and runs away, May live to fight another day”: wisdom or mockery?

The question is about the contemporary usage of the following distich: For he that fights and runs away, May live to fight another day ; ...and whether historical events and imprecision ...
2
votes
1answer
108 views

Split infinitives—did Old English have them?

I've read a few articles as well as questions on this site about splitting infinitives. In the Wikipedia article, it claims: In Old English, infinitives were single words ending in -n or -an ...
7
votes
3answers
209 views
+50

What is the origin of the phrase “bullet points”?

In particular, was the expression coined by a single individual or is it attributed to a document? The only thing I've been able to find was a non-cited reference to its origins in the 19th century ...
7
votes
1answer
216 views
+50

Who originated “Merry Christmas”?

The first reference I can find in the OED to "Merry Christmas" is from 1534. This date very roughly corresponds with the English Reformation and Henry VIII's breach with Rome. From that time the ...
0
votes
1answer
33 views

What is the etymological history behind the mathematical “induction” versus the philosophical “inductive [reasoning]”? [closed]

Was talking about it in a (particularly off topic) university lecture on Emperical reasoning (deductive - our logic-math course, vs inductive - "gravity gets taken for granted"). A reason we were ...
3
votes
1answer
82 views

What purpose does third-person verb conjugation serve or used to serve?

There is one thing in English that doesn't make sense to me: adding 's' (or 'es') to verbs when the subject is a third person. It seems redundant and adds no extra information to the sentence. "I ...
8
votes
3answers
225 views

Why does the word “coffee” have two “e’s”?

We know what coffee is and where the word comes from. Coffee was originally borrowed from: The word "coffee" entered English language in 1582 via Dutch koffie,[4] borrowed from Turkish kahve, in ...
1
vote
1answer
27 views

Origin of the phrase “There's a fine line between A and B” [closed]

For instance, Oscar Levant says "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Levant) but I'm not sure if he is the original ...
1
vote
1answer
86 views

Why does Northern Ireland pronunciation sound similar to American?

Recently, I started watching a TV show The Fall, which takes place in Northern Ireland. Their intonations and accents are unique, but their pronunciation sounds a lot like North American English to ...
0
votes
2answers
47 views

Unusual adjective position and evolution of Present perfect

In English, an adjective is usually placed on the left side of the noun it describes. But there are some exceptional phrasings here and there. I had so great a time. The English present perfect ...
2
votes
2answers
57 views

1902 use of phrase “giving a tiger” in the context of paying homage to the King's coronation

In Mrs Aeneas Gunn's autobiographical 'The Little Black Princess : A True Tale of Life in the Never-Never Land, 1905, she writes about previously celebrating the coronation of Edward VII in the bush. ...
3
votes
2answers
100 views

What is the history and meaning of the suffix “-ism”?

I have always understood that an "-ism" suffix on something implies that the word being applied to is a belief or doctrinal worldview or otherwise a philosophy. This blogpost sums up that ...
0
votes
1answer
37 views

What exactly is a “principle of action” or a “principle of conduct”?

Initial Context I was reading one of John Henry Newman's (Cardinal Newman for the non-Anglicans) sermons, specifically "Religious Faith Rational" from Parochial and Plain Sermons... Near the ...
0
votes
2answers
73 views

WWI Equivalent of “Gotcha!”

I am looking for an equivalent of "Gotcha!", "Made it!" or other exclamatory phrases a World War One Airplane Pilot may use. The specific name is Frank Luke, an airplane ace. He just got out after ...
0
votes
0answers
47 views

Dating Colloquial Expressions and Slang

I remember hearing "be more chill" meaning, "calm down" in the nineties but it was not in common use ten years later - although "chill" as a verb with the same meaning lingers on. The expression "I'll ...
0
votes
2answers
82 views

Why is it called zero conditional?

What's the meaning of the zero conditional or the first or the second .. Does it mean the form of the verb and what does that exactly mean does it mean infinitive although the present simple is used! ...
2
votes
1answer
70 views

What would be 1850's equivalent of slang praise for being audacious?

What might an 1850's working class American man say as praise to another man for being really audacious such as equivalent of "You crazy mf" or "crazy ass"?
5
votes
2answers
99 views

Use of the word “freak” as a slang term to mean stoner or heavy marijuana user

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the word "freak" was used for heavy marijuana smokers (other drugs might be involved as well) in New England boarding schools and as far south as Pennsylvania. My ...
1
vote
1answer
66 views

Why is the spelling of rhythm so exceptional?

Rhythm has a very unusual spelling, breaking a lot of the common rules of thumb for spelling words. The rh is unusual; the use of y as a vowel in the middle of the word is unusual; and the lack of a ...
1
vote
0answers
84 views

Why does modern English only have one affirmative response? [closed]

I learned that nearly all Germanic languages have two affirmative responses, one of which answers a positively framed question and the other answer a negatively framed question. In modern English, ...
4
votes
1answer
152 views

1790 meaning of 'make a screen to'

Source: Thomas Paine, RIGHTS OF MAN: Being An Answer To Mr. Burke’s Attack On The FRENCH REVOLUTION*, page 64 (1791) *[Edmund Burke, The Revolution in France, second edition (1790)] (Paine's ...
0
votes
1answer
75 views

1920's terms for parents/children

What would young children (aged around 5-ish) have called their parents circa 1920's England? Were there specific terms of endearment, or would it just be "mother" and "father"? I'm particularly ...
1
vote
1answer
72 views

Which versions of historical English are mutually intelligible?

English has changed tremendously from Old English to Modern English. Which intermediate versions are considered to be mutually intelligible? For that matter, what about asymmetrical intelligible?
4
votes
4answers
253 views

Capitalization of the word universe

Playing around with Google's Ngram viewer, where you can see how many times a word is used in books, I stumbled on this: It shows how often universe and Universe have been used in books. I think ...
1
vote
2answers
107 views

When did “lesbian” become well-known as a noun, not an adjective?

A friend asked me earlier why it was that "gay" is an adjective, but "lesbian" is a noun. I've been doing some searching online, because it's an interesting question. According to etymonline, ...
0
votes
0answers
147 views

Is the use of “conversely” to mean “on the other hand” correct?

I've previously used "conversely" to mean "on the other hand". For example. I always thought this the correct usage. Conversely, I might be wrong. However, the OED defines it as: In the ...
12
votes
5answers
1k views

1700s term for “a technology”

Today, I could use "a technology" to mean a mechanical or industrial development: The most important transportation technology during that era was the railroad. According to etymonline.com, ...
26
votes
4answers
1k views

Why are Leicester & co pronounced as they are?

What is the origin of the pronunciation of words like Leicester, Gloucester, Worcestershire? Presumably, the spelling predates the pronunciation but what is the history here? What language do the ...
9
votes
1answer
507 views

When did “ain't” become slang?

In Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, there are several places where "ain't" is used instead of "am not", such as: "I ain't afraid of him, if you mean that," continued Lord Nidderdale. — ...
2
votes
2answers
47 views

Term for aboriginal people of Canada in a historical context

The tribes that inhabited Canada before European contact are generally known as First Nations today. From what I can tell, this term is fairly new. What term could I use to refer to First Nations ...
2
votes
1answer
297 views

Spelling of the word “connoisseur”

From what I gathered on the Web, "connoisseur" is spelled that way because it is derived from the old french verb "connoître" (to know) which has now been spelt "connaître" for close to two ...
2
votes
1answer
308 views

Words that changed meaning in past hundred years [closed]

I am looking for a list of words that were used to mean something different from for what they are used now. some words are such that whose meaning has changed completely and some words have more ...
2
votes
2answers
154 views

The stages of history

Is there a word or short phrase that encompasses the three main stages of Western history: ancient, medieval, and then modern?
4
votes
2answers
169 views

What is the oldest variety of English in the Americas?

There are several varieties of the English Language in the Americas, from Alaska to the Falkland Islands. To mention just a few: American General and its varieties Canadian General Bajan ...
4
votes
3answers
813 views

The etymology of “redhead” vs. “ginger haired”

All my life I have known people with reddish, orangey hair, to be termed ginger haired. Just as you don't call a blonde a 'yellow head' red head just wasn't a word that was said (wouldn't orange head ...
10
votes
3answers
308 views

Why is the surname Gray more common than the surname Grey in the UK?

An EL&U question from 2010 asks Which is the correct spelling: "grey" or "gray"? The answers very sensibly point out the split between the UK and former British commonwealth ...
2
votes
1answer
66 views

Etymology of the “Chicago Seven” construction

There are many examples of a construction of the form "City + Number" used to refer to an incident involving a particular small group of people. It is often used when it is alleged that the people in ...
3
votes
2answers
107 views

How to research the expansion of the meaning of “wildlife” to include plants?

Washington State USA has a law that requires counties to designate and protect "Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas." The legal rules for implementing this statute include language strongly ...
1
vote
1answer
110 views

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde unknown ( Biblical?) Reference [closed]

Okay, so I am an avid reader, and have recently undertaken a challenge to read Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, along with Robert Louis Stevenson's other literature. Having recently completed Jekyll & ...
3
votes
1answer
78 views

When/by whom was the computing use of “agnostic” to mean independent coined?

Agnostic, as a term to refer to a particular philosophy with respect to spirituality and mysticism, was coined by Thomas Huxley; Wikipedia gives the date as 1869 while Wiktionary says 1870, but the ...
1
vote
1answer
293 views

What is the history of cricket's fielding positions? [closed]

It always seems to me as though the fielding positions in cricket reflect two different systems which have grown up independently and been brought together. For example some positions on the leg ...
2
votes
2answers
74 views

Is there an historical thesaurus?

Is there something like a thesaurus that offers terms more often used in the past? For instance, I beg you would, in Shakespearean times, be prithee, while chicks during the 1920s would be dolls. ...
1
vote
1answer
172 views

History of usage of singular “they” (gender-neutral) [duplicate]

I have just read in Emma by Jane Austen a phrase which surprised me: I can think of but one thing - Who is in love with her? Who makes you their confidant? (Jane Austen: Emma, Chapter VIII, ...
9
votes
2answers
7k views

Why is the plural of “deer” the same as the singular?

Why is the plural version of deer identical to the singular version? If mouse became mice, then why did the singular deer not change to something else in the plural?
1
vote
2answers
115 views

Were American, Australian, and New Zealand English dialects ever spoken in Britain before the colonization of these lands? [closed]

Were American, Australian, and New Zealand English dialects ever spoken in Britain before the colonization of these lands?
0
votes
2answers
77 views

Which is more correct: “skewen” or “skewn”?

Which spelling for the past participle of skew is more correct: skewen or skewn? (I recognise it is not the more common spelling of skewed, but regionally and personally skewen is more in use in ...
1
vote
1answer
98 views

In the Dickensian era, was a capital letter preserved through apostrophe contractions?

Assume that a certain word is capitalised, for example "Microsoft." Say (for whatever reason, perhaps slang) you were going to shorten that certain word, using an apostrophe. Today, I'd say we would ...