Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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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 ...
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3answers
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What is the etymology of “yellow”, and why is it so different in other European languages?

It seems like most of our names for colors come from our German roots (blue/blau, green/grün, red/rot, etc.). But yellow is gelb in German, amarillo in Spanish, jaune in French, and giallo in Italian. ...
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2answers
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Origin of pluralisation of verbs and nouns in English

From this question, I was just wondering why plural nouns use the ending -s, while the exact same ending is used for the third person singular form of verbs. How did we get into this weird situation? ...
3
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1answer
73 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 ...
3
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2answers
52 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, ...
2
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1answer
2k views

Change from to-day to today

In old books, people often use the spelling "to-day" instead of "today". When did the change happen? Also, when people wrote "to-day", did they feel, when pronouncing the word, that it contained two ...
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5answers
70k views

What is the origin and history of the word “motherf---er”?

I'm not a native English speaker, but I would like to know how and why people started using mother fucker. Today it seems it has lost its meaning because people use it all the time, but was there a ...
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3answers
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Name of castle part

What do you call these? Please provide a reliable source with your answer.
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3answers
3k views

Why is most North American speech rhotic?

Most North American speech is rhotic—why is that? Does it come from the early English settlers or perhaps from the Irish settlers?
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0answers
96 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 ...
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4answers
10k views

Do we ask for check or cheque in restaurants?

I know there is a related question asked here. But its slightly different than it and seeking more information. I live in India, I have been to America couple of times. In my first trip it was ...
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2answers
365 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 ...
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1answer
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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 ...
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5answers
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Can one say “I should like” rather than “I would like”? Is the former grammatical?

My focus here is on the should in the sentence fragment "I should very much like...". Why is it there in place of would? It seems strange that should is used in the subjunctive mood there -- is it ...
5
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1answer
78 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 ...
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2answers
5k views

Why don't English nouns have grammatical gender?

English nouns — other than those with natural gender, e.g. people or animals — do not generally have grammatical gender, and so are referred to as 'it' rather than 'he' or 'she'. However, modern ...
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4answers
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why do we say “too bad”?

At first glance you'd think the correct use of the expression "too bad" would be in a conversation like this: Sure stealing candy would be bad but stealing candy from a baby is just too bad. But ...
3
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1answer
170 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 ...
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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
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1answer
63 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 ...
0
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1answer
45 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 ...
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6answers
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19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use?

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as "four-and-twenty", but the same text would also have the modern "twenty-four" in places (see e.g. Conan-Doyle for ...
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1answer
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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 been spelled "connaître" for close to two centuries. ...
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1answer
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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 ...
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4answers
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Why are “put” and “but” different in their pronunciation?

"Put" and "but" both end in the same letters, so why don't they rhyme? Did they start out with the same sound, and then one of them changed? Or did they start out with different sounds, and just got ...
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4answers
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Quotation ascribed to Benjamin Franklin, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

There is a cottage industry in the United States of manufacturing quotations and ascribing them to the American Founding Fathers. A recent one, "We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to ...
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3answers
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Why is there a distinction between “its” and “it's”?

While I know technically the English language has a distinction because when there's a conflict between the possessive form and a contraction, the contraction wins. That is: Its is the possessive ...
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2answers
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Why is a w a “Double u”, but an m is not a “Double n”?

My 4 year old son just asked me this, and I have to say I am totally stumped. I hate not telling him things, so here's hoping you guys can dig me out of this hole. You can't fault his logic!
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2answers
227 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 ...
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.
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1answer
35 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, ...
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4answers
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What was going on with “quha”, “quhat” and the like in Scots and English?

From the Dictionar o the Scots Leid: Quha, Quhay, interrog. and rel. pron. Also: qwha, qha, qua, qwa, wha, vha, hua; qhaa; quhaw; quhai qwhay, whay, quay; quhae, whae; quhe, quhey, qwhey. ...
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7answers
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“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 ...
2
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2answers
790 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, ...
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3answers
1k views

Where did the expression “every last one” come from?

There is, after all, only one last one. Why did it become common to say "every last one"? Dictionary.com has a definition for last as follows: 8. individual; single: The lecture won't start ...
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3answers
285 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 ...
4
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1answer
180 views

Meaning of 'to make a screen to' (1791 US)

Source: p 64, RIGHTS OF MAN: Being An Answer To Mr. Burke’s Attack On The FRENCH REVOLUTION, by Thomas Paine, 1791. Paine's "Answer" above immediately follows: p 64, The Revolution in France, by ...
6
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1answer
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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 ...
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5answers
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Where did the word 'golliwog' come from?

I am aware that the term is considered offensive. And I know that it refers to soft faced black dolls. But before that character was introduced, did 'golliwog' have meaning? I mean was it made up, or ...
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2answers
283 views

Origin of the word “Bluechip”

The word "Bluechip" is used to refer to large cap companies which are in existence for at least 10 years. But why are they called Bluechips? What does the word denote?
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7answers
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History and usage of “dooryard”

I have been interested in the expression "dooryard stop" recently. This is an expression that is used to describe a short visit in someone's dooryard (driveway) that often means not staying long ...
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6answers
3k views

How come 'ou' was reduced to 'o' in the US?

Americans write color and favorite, when others say colour and favourite. How/why did this happen?
132
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3answers
5k views

Where were “should”, “shall”, and “must” in the 18th Century?

According to the following Google Ngram, in the U.K. the modals should, shall, and must were virtually missing from English writing during the 18th Century (I've added will for a comparison modal ...
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6answers
34k views

What is the origin of the saying, “faint heart never won fair lady”?

Having heard the phrase, "faint heart never won fair lady" for the third time in very short span, I'm determined to find out its origin. Unfortunately, when I Google, I'm getting a bunch of ...
5
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2answers
90 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, ...
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3answers
8k views

Do you “call an audible” when you “play it by ear”?

I recently overheard the phrase, "call an audible" and mentally likened it to, "play it by ear." But when I went to look it up, I discovered that the general consensus is that the former hails from ...
2
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1answer
340 views

The history of 'aisle' and 'isle'

I've read about how the word 'aisle' and 'isle' each came from the French 'aile' and 'ile', respectively. I also read how the there was confusion between the two words, such that when 'isle' gained ...
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4answers
234 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
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1answer
108 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 ...
5
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2answers
101 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: ...