Use this tag for questions about the history of a term or phrase.

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Origin of “to be in fat city”?

What is the origin of the phrase "to be in fat city" meaning "to do well" (financially or otherwise)? A search with an internet search engine suggests that it is of fairly recent vintage, as the two ...
18
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3answers
3k views

“How come” vs “Why?”

What are the differences between the terms "How come ... we eat breakfast?" and "Why ... do we eat breakfast?" The words phrase based in how seems really awkward to me, and I don't understand this ...
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3answers
3k views

Why “daily” and not “dayly”?

Checking how adjectives related to time are created, I see: year → yearly month → monthly week → weekly day → daily Why has “day” derivated into “daily” with an ‘i’ instead of “dayly” with a ‘y’? ...
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1answer
30 views

History of using capital letters for names

Though the answer might not be, my question is simple: When and how did the custom of capitalizing names begin? (I'm not entirely sure whether to ask this question here or in History.SE since it ...
2
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2answers
68 views

When did the word “snafu” enter the colloquial vernacular?

Roughly when did the word "snafu" enter the colloquial vernacular? It was a military term, but at some point it came into fairly common use among the general population. If you can narrow it down to a ...
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0answers
32 views

Why 'mention graph' of genuflect is so steep?

Google define genuflect you will got a 'mentions graph' of 'genuflect'. It's very interesting that the graph is very steep while graph of other words, 'run' for example, are very smooth. Any idea why ...
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5answers
3k views

Why does the letter ‘o’ appear in the word ‘people’?

My two daughters demanded to know this. I speculated that it was artificially inserted, perhaps in the 17th-18th century, perhaps to make the word look more like populus, somewhat similar to the way ...
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2answers
70 views

Why is English grammar so basic? [closed]

I understand that the essence of my question requires a good deal of historical context, and I am fine with this... Having taken three semesters of Spanish, which naturally required that I understand ...
8
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3answers
999 views

The history and use of the term “moth hour”

I had never heard or read the term moth hour before, but am reading the American author Jan Karon's book "In the Company of Others" and she uses it several times. The book is set in Ireland, and there ...
5
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6answers
404 views

Which is the older sense of the word “linguist”?

I have been listening to some rants on YouTube against people learning a bunch of languages calling themselves "linguists". I'm personally interested in both linguistics and languages as a hobby but ...
2
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3answers
444 views

When did “Pensylvania” become “Pennsylvania”?

On the Liberty Bell, it's spelled Pensylvania. Likewise on plenty of maps from the colonial days. When did it become Pennsylvania (with three n's)?
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4answers
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Etymology of “mullet”?

I was pondering the names of haircuts the other day, and I could understand the origins of most of them: pudding basin, crew cut, duck's arse, and bog brush are all reasonably obvious, but I was ...
6
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2answers
181 views

Surge in uses of the word “definitely” in 1930s

I was messing around on Google Books Ngram Viewer, and I saw a huge surge in uses of the word "definitely" around the 1930s. Google Books Ngram Viewer Does anyone know or have a guess on why this ...
243
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6answers
73k 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 ...
0
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3answers
63 views

On the evolution of the meaning of “few”

Was the word "few" used exclusively to refer to groups of eight people (or things) at some point of time? There is a well-known verse in the New Testament which implies the plausibility of such a ...
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2answers
4k views

“John Doe”, “Jane Doe” - Why are they used many times?

I posted a question ( http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/92215/john-doe-jane-doe-why-are-they-used-many-times ) and they told me to post that question here. So I'm doing it. I received ...
6
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7answers
285 views

Where does “my ass” come from?

The usage of my ass to mean me is now relatively common. My impression is that it originated from AAVE and has since been included in various other dialects. The NGram below implies it became popular ...
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4answers
50 views

What word is this?

In the film Gangs of New York, what is this word spoken? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADmX9eMEV9U&t=1m38s It sounds like benay. What does it mean? The subtitles don't have anything for this ...
0
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1answer
235 views

In the phrase “common sense”, in what sense of the word is “common” used?

As I understand it, there are several definitions of common, but I can't find any source that can highlight the etymology of the phrase. The linked definitions are pretty rigorous, but a less strict, ...
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3answers
3k views

Origin of “quarters” in the sense of living area

I was explaining to my son that HQ stood for "headquarters," when he surprised me by dividing the word into "head" and "quarters." I had never considered this word thusly before, but it's obvious to ...
12
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2answers
1k views

Why did Old Testament scholars choose to employ “to know” in a sexual sense?

For those of us not familiar, the verb to know once had an archaic sexual sense, often found in the Old Testament, and as illustrated in the following story found in Genesis 19: 4 But before they ...
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0answers
44 views

What is the origin of hyphenated or double-barreled surnames? [migrated]

I found this answer by John Hanna which implies that the practice originated with the British aristocracy or 'upper-bourgeoisie' as WS2 dubs them. This makes sense on a hereditary-rule/feudalism ...
18
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2answers
233 views

“Fire” a weapon before firearms existed?

Did the verb “fire a weapon” exist before the actual introduction of firearms on battlefields? More specifically, does it make sense for a creative work to have archers (or whatever ranged weaponry) ...
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5answers
3k views

Why are knobs called “pots” by some sound designers?

I was recently introduced to the term "pots" to mean "dials" or "knobs" in the field of sound design and audio engineering. (It rather took me by surprise; I had no idea what the sound designer was ...
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2answers
107 views

What does “U” mean in a “2U herd”?

In the song Old Chisholm Trail, a famous cowboy song there's the following line: I started up the trail October 23rd Started up the trail with a 2U herd (emphasis mine) For lyrics. I know 2U ...
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2answers
13k views

What is “Oki-doki” or “Oki-dokie” or “Okay-dokay”

Okay, since now we know what is the origin of OK (I like the Oll Korrect version), I have another question about it's relative: What is an "Oki-doki" or "Oki-dokie" or "Okay-dokay"? What is the ...
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4answers
824 views

Why is it “the day is young”, not “still early”? What is the history of the phrase?

Mark Halperin’s article on the Missouri Congressman and Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin’s gaffe in August 20 Time magazine ends up with the lines: “So far, not publicly calling for Akin to ...
3
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2answers
103 views

Roast duck vs. roasted duck

We can say ‘fried fish’, ‘baked potato’ or ‘minced pork’ using past participles for modifiers. However, ‘roast’ is different - either ‘roast duck’ or ‘roasted duck’ works, it seems to me. How should ...
2
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2answers
75 views

What does this line in the chorus mean?

From New York Girls by by Finbar Furey Shipmates listen unto me, I'll tell you in my song Of the things that happened to me When I come home from Hong Kong CHORUS: To me a-weigh, ...
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3answers
122 views

Modern use of “bourgeoisie”

How can I use bourgeoisie properly in this day and age? I understand that at one time it meant part of the wealthy "middle class". Back then the middle class owned the means to production (merchants ...
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2answers
447 views

What is the meaning, history, and current popularity of “of a Monday” (or Tuesday, or Wednesday, etc.)?

I was watching a 1934 Hollywood film today and one of the American characters used the phrase, Of a Tuesday. I don't think I'd ever heard an American use this in real life or in a film before then, ...
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3answers
206 views

Why are four seasons all six-letter words? [closed]

It is a bit strange to me that four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter, even including 'season' itself, are all six-letter words. I don't think six-letter words are so common in some specific ...
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8answers
17k views

Why did English become a universal language and when?

As we all know, English is the universal communication medium. Now we know how powerful it is to convey our thoughts. When did it become a common language? Why did they opt for this language?
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1answer
55 views

What did the word “arcade” mean before video games? [closed]

I was browsing a document on the history of Leicestershire in the UK. About halfway down the page, in the "Leicester in the 19th Century" section, it said: Silver Arcade was built in 1899. What ...
80
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1answer
4k views

Did English ever have a word for 'yes' for negative questions?

The Germans have doch and the French have si as a word that means "yes" in response to a negative question, such as: Don't you want some ice-cream? Yes [I do]! In English, we only have yes (as ...
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1answer
75 views

Since when is capital of a country used to denote government actions?

Nowadays, we commonly use capitals (I refer to the cities) to denote a action taken by a government. e.g. "New Delhi decided to pass the food bill." Here New Delhi refers to the Indian ...
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3answers
5k views

What is the history and geographic area of the word “finna?”

In St. Louis, I learned of the word, "finna." I know it is slang/contraction for "fixing to." By asking dozens of people, I've learned that it is used by people of many different races and cultural ...
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2answers
864 views

Canadian spelling: why?

As a Canadian, I feel that our spelling tendencies—sometimes British, sometimes American—fit quite well with our geographic, historic and cultural placement between these two bigger countries. I have ...
7
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2answers
3k views

How did pirates really talk?

In this question we learned that pirates did not really talk how they are commonly portrayed. Given that they were professional sailors, they probably had a wide store of nautical jargon; but what ...
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6answers
4k views

During the “Cold War”, did Americans/Westerners call it such?

I am old enough to remember the fall of the Soviet Union, but not old enough to have had any interest in world affairs in the times before. Did Americans/Westerners refer to the "Cold War" by that ...
0
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3answers
404 views

When we will use soft and hard sound in 'c'? [closed]

Sometimes we use the soft sound, and sometimes the hard – but why? Is there any rule?
6
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2answers
767 views

What is a cock-feeder?

I've been reading Tyburn Tales, a Victorian book about the malefactors who suffered on the gallows at York. This includes potted biographies of some of the more flagitious criminals, including a ...
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2answers
3k views

Where does 'cooling your heels' come from?

I can't think of a possible scenario where one would tell another to cool his heels (the very first time). Even if you walk a lot, only your legs hurt a lot. Why particularly heels? How did it come ...
1
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1answer
104 views

In the early 1900s, would the name (Nettie/Nette) have been more likely to be spelled Nette or Nettie?

I am developing a family album. In doing so, I have seen the name (Nettie/Nette) spelled both as Nette and as Nettie. I have not been able to locate relevant birth records. Can someone tell me ...
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2answers
425 views

History of the phrase “olden days”

When and where was the phrase olden days coined?
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0answers
32 views

Why “qu” is pronounced “qw” (as in quit, question) [duplicate]

Or to put it the other way, why qu is not spelled qw, as qwit, qwestion, for quit, question.
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4answers
3k views

Why did only English undergo the Great Vowel Shift, making pronunciation stray so far from spelling?

Lots of people have wondered why English seems to be one of very few languages with such irregular spelling, far from its pronunciation. The answers include the Norman invasion, and the Great Vowel ...
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1answer
2k views

Why “hoist” in “Hoist with one's own petard”?

He was hoist with his own petard is one of my father's favorite phrases. As a child I had developed a vague understanding of the idiom in which petard was a kind of flag, which is why it was hoist, ...
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2answers
181 views

Why is the letter 'X' given importance in mathematics? [closed]

In mathematics the letter 'X' is always given importance over other letters. Why is it so?
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1answer
286 views

Did the slang term “The Bomb” meaning “Very Cool” come from the American Jazz scene?

Searching Google for the history of the slang term "the bomb" (as in "That song is the bomb") yields a number of results in 40s/50s jazz glossaries, but they tend to at best give an artificial example ...