Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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10
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2answers
86 views

What did English use before “triangle”?

Apparently the word "triangle" was borrowed into English in the late 1300s. Triangles are a very common shape in everyday life, and there were certainly English-speaking craftsmen and artists before ...
-1
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0answers
20 views

Historical information about dustmen in Edwardian England [on hold]

I'm helping a middle schooler who was assigned Shaw's Pygmalion. I found a nice write-up about flower girls but now I need something about dustmen. For example, why does Alfred Doolittle, dustman, ...
3
votes
1answer
52 views

What's the longest word that has survived from Old English?

I recently saw this question Did the "We shall fight on the beaches" speech mainly use words from Old English? If so, why? about Winston Churchill's famous "Fight them on the beaches" speech ...
3
votes
1answer
75 views

“All-American” … which usage came first?

In the U.S., "All-American" can mean two things. (1) It can be used as a general phrase, meaning simply clean-cut and middle class. "He's the all-American boy" is a cliché sentence. Note, this usage ...
2
votes
0answers
117 views

H: Why do Catholics say 'haitch' and Protestants say 'aitch'?

How did the divergence in pronunciation: 'haitch' vs. 'aitch' along school-type/religious lines in Ireland (particularly in Northern Ireland) come into being ? The current status quo is well ...
4
votes
2answers
369 views

Since when has “J” been sounding like [dʒ] and no longer “Y” [duplicate]

There are words that have "j" where in most languages it would be pronounced like romaji "y". Take for example "Jesus", "Jehovah", "John". It should be pronounced "Yesus", "Yehovah", "Yohn". Slavic ...
1
vote
2answers
51 views

What is “the layers of experience” ? I'm confused about this phrase

Can anybody help me to describe "the layers of experience" in the context below. The author was talking about the similarity between the early human and the modern human. i'm very confused about the ...
4
votes
1answer
66 views

Why is “now and then” used to mean the opposite of its logical meaning?

Why and when did the expression "now and then" come to mean sometimes or occasionally? Logically it means just the opposite! "Now" and "then" means "presently" and "in the past", the future will soon ...
5
votes
1answer
79 views

Why and when was the trilled R in middle English replaced by the modern untrilled one?

Most linguists agree that the letter R in middle English was trilled, but why and when did people replace it with untrilled one like ⟨ɹ⟩ in "red", or even become "almost" silent like in "her (British ...
0
votes
1answer
47 views

what does “there was wild talk” mean?

Can anyone help me to describe the meaning of using "There was wild talk about the end of history" in the context below ? (what does "wild talk" mean exactly?) Context With the Cold War over, there ...
3
votes
1answer
182 views

Who first objected to the term “chain mail”?

Recently, I've become aware of a new (to me) peeve: some people say that "chain mail/chain-mail/chainmail" is incorrect in some way when talking about armor, and that the proper way to refer to it is ...
6
votes
1answer
308 views

Diminutive forms in English.

In many languages, formation of diminutives by adding suffixes is a productive part of the language. Many languages apply a grammatical diminutive to nouns, a few—including Dutch, Italian and Russian ...
2
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2answers
67 views

What is “Only not quite” [closed]

Context Zimmermann dreamed of changing the world. And he would. Only not quite in the way he intended.
0
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1answer
38 views

What is the use of this phrase “..there is a case to be made that..”?

Can anybody help me describe this phrase ? i don't understand what the author mean. Context Zimmermann dreamed of changing the world. And he would. Only not quite in the way he intended. Indeed, ...
11
votes
2answers
242 views

Silent “e” at the end of words

Back in 2009, a job interviewer sent me a link to a web service that would help me make a free telephone call via the internet... Skype. As a native speaker, I knew "instinctively" to pronounce this ...
3
votes
2answers
53 views

When is the word *mail* used in the sense of rent or payment?

When looking up the etymology of the word mail for the clearly distinct senses of: things you use the postal service for; and armour (e.g. chain mail), I came across a third sense of the word, ...
6
votes
1answer
118 views

The X in Xavier

The NOAD lists the pronunciation of Xavier as (ig)ˈzāvēər. In my own experience the parenthetical pronunciation is very common. I, however, do not know of any other x-initial words that are ...
5
votes
2answers
91 views

When did 'virgin' start referring to non-alcoholic drinks

Since there have been so many virginity questions here lately, I have another one. As a former bartender-type, I often hear the term virgin, when relating to non-alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, ...
4
votes
3answers
301 views

What is the history of the expression “many moons ago”?

What is the history of “many moons ago”? Oxford Dictionaries tell me that the idiom means “a long time ago.” That's when we first met many, many moons ago and then we started having him on ...
-1
votes
4answers
236 views

What modern word carries the meaning of pre-Victorian usage of “gay”?

I'm beginning to envy Fielding, of all people. Here are a few quotes from his novel: I'll buy the gayest gown I can get ... He was besides active, genteel, gay, and good-humoured ... ...
3
votes
1answer
110 views

What were sideburns called before the Civil War?

According to reputable sources, sideburns is a corruption of burnsides, a reference to the Civil War General Ambrose E. Burnside. What was this style of facial hair called before that? I'm ...
1
vote
1answer
47 views

When did the phrase “draw into one's orbit” first appear?

My question is a bit more complicated than that, actually. Here's a quote from Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita": "Whose cat has scratched poor you?" A full-blown fleshy handsome woman of the ...
5
votes
2answers
104 views

Why don't we say things are pervious?

Why is the word "pervious" uncommon to the point of being considered a spelling error, but "impervious" is extremely common? For the record, it is a word, apparently. Dictionary.com defines it as: ...
32
votes
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 ...
4
votes
3answers
219 views

Who coined the term “dummy it”?

As defined by Grammar About.com the “dummy it” is The use of ‘it’ as a subject (or dummy subject) in sentences about times, dates, and the weather (such as, It's raining) and in certain idioms ...
0
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2answers
136 views

When was “it” first used in weather sentences? [duplicate]

It is raining. It's a sunny day. I hate it when it rains. I'm prepared if it snows. It can be mighty cold at night! ... etc. My questions: When did English speakers start ...
2
votes
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 ...
2
votes
1answer
247 views

“Hitch in my get along”, or “Hitch in my gitty up” [closed]

What is the origin of the pharse, " Hitch in my get along, or gitty up"? I understand the meaning, but would like to find out the origin.
0
votes
1answer
187 views

Where does the word “News” come from? [closed]

I'm just wondering where does the word "News" come from. Is it from the word "New" which means things that did not exist before?
2
votes
1answer
102 views

American vs British: a “conspiracy” question [closed]

This question has NEVER been asked, never mind answered, here. Goodness. Lighten up, people. Again I must quote Shaw to illustrate a point or two before putting the question to you guys: The fact ...
60
votes
8answers
14k views

If cow = beef, pig = pork, and deer = venison, then where is the word for human = [flesh as food source]?

Maybe it's the season of Halloween, because it's kind of a grim question, but I have seriously wondered from a language point of view - is there a word for human as 'food-meat', or has there ever ...
1
vote
4answers
168 views

Why are American and British English almost identical? [closed]

This might seem to be a dumb question; however, I think it's rather strange that the two dialects are so similar considering the huge geographical distance between Great Britain and America. In the ...
6
votes
0answers
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 ...
4
votes
2answers
127 views

What word was used before 'follow-up' emerged in 1905?

Did a single noun precede the hyphenated compound noun 'follow-up' (whose emergence is in 1905 is asserted by Etymonline)? Did a single verb precede the phrasal verb 'follow up'? If the answer to 1 ...
0
votes
1answer
78 views

Did English have any plural articles in the past?

I am curious as to whether English had any plural articles like in French with "les" and "des".
2
votes
2answers
374 views

“Houston, we may have a problem here” - Meaning?

I have heard this phrase many times in movies and people who use it as a pun in forums. What does this mean? Where did it originate from? When do we use it? There is a Wiktionary entry for a ...
3
votes
3answers
465 views

In what country did the term “railroaded” originate?

The term "railroaded" in the sense of having something forced through, either unjustly or without proper regard for those affected, clearly has it's origins in analogy to the way early railroads were ...
-1
votes
1answer
104 views

Use of 'z' versus 's' [duplicate]

I've been brought up believing that most of the words that have suffix with '-ize' or '-ized' is the American English form and the British English forms use (most of the time) '-ise' or '-ised' as the ...
0
votes
1answer
83 views

Transgendered vs. Transgender

In the 1990s the preferred umbrella term used by and about people who weren't in alignment with their birth gender was "transgendered." Despite the fact this was grammatically correct and didn't have ...
1
vote
1answer
68 views

When did formal “you” and “we” for showing respect in English wither away? [duplicate]

It appears that the current form of English only has the casual or irreverent form of pronouns like "you" and "I"; English lacks the formal or respectful version, which is present in many other ...
4
votes
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 ...
0
votes
2answers
104 views

Is “Peeping Tom” unique in that is has history?

I had discovered that the term "Peeping Tom" comes from the story of Lady Godiva as being the only person who dared look at her as she rode naked through the streets. I then tried to find other words ...
8
votes
3answers
393 views

When did initial-origin words (PRONOUNCED AS WORDS) start happening?

Someone was just asking if there were words like lol formed, before, the txtmsg era. Of course there were - for example "laser". However .. in fact what was the earliest example of this in English? ...
0
votes
1answer
73 views

When was the term “gender essentialism” coined, and when did it come into common usage?

When was the term "gender essentialism" coined, and when did first it come into common usage? I was under the impression that the concept originated though the feminist existentialism work of authors ...
1
vote
0answers
603 views

Dressing gown vs housecoat

As far as I can tell they refer to the same thing (bathrobe). I'd like to know the roots of both, and if possible the history of their evolution. Specifically if the usage is influenced by social ...
4
votes
2answers
264 views

From Soup to Nuts

I know that the phrase means "from one end to the other". Though I know many dinners that start with a soup, I know none that end with nuts. Hence the question - where does this phrase originate?
3
votes
3answers
451 views

Origins and history for phrase “tote that barge”?

In the 1927 musical "Show Boat" there is a famous song -- Old Man River -- with the lyric "Tote that barge. Lift that bale." being sung by the slaves/laborers in the musical. The word tote typically ...
0
votes
2answers
86 views

How was English orthography reformed?

I understand that English speakers have dictionaries, manuals of style, and grammar books at their disposal to know how to write correctly, but is there the most basic book of rules on which all ...
1
vote
2answers
242 views

When did “Whatever.” begin to be used as a sentence?

"Whatever." is often used in slang as if it were a complete sentence, vaguely conveying meanings such as "I don't care" or "I'm not going to challenge what you say, but I'm not necessarily going to ...
2
votes
1answer
75 views

DNA of English language [closed]

Many Indian languages including Hindi(the language most spoken in India) owe their origin to Sanskrit.Similarly,is there any language which predated English and owes its origin?