Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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28
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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 ...
13
votes
5answers
926 views

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 ...
3
votes
4answers
284 views

What is the history of the word “lobby”?

I would like to know if the word "lobby" would have been used in 1890s Georgia (United States) and to what exactly this word would have referred in that time.
1
vote
0answers
48 views

What was the cricketing metaphor used by Margaret Thatcher which provoked Howe's retort? [closed]

Sir Geoffrey Howe, in 1990, used a cricket simile to devastating effect in the House of Commons to bring down the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. He famously said of her on the subject of ...
3
votes
3answers
176 views

Etymology of English “Achoo” relative to other sneezing onomatopoeiae

So I was recently curious about the sound that people sneeze with in other languages and was surprised to notice the difference between the English onomatopoetic word "Achoo" and that of other ...
11
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3answers
551 views

What is the first recorded appearance of the mistranslation “Red Square”?

Does anybody know when the mistranslation "Red Square" made its first recorded appearance? Have there been any noteworthy attempts at establishing the correct translation "Beautiful Square" at some ...
21
votes
1answer
3k views

What are the historical reasons for the conventional sequence of footnote symbols?

According to @Mahnax's answer to this question, the Chicago Manual of Style Online states that the correct sequence of footnote symbols is as follows: * (asterisk; but do not use if p values occur ...
3
votes
2answers
47 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
73 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 & ...
7
votes
5answers
3k views

Are curly braces ever used in normal text? If not, why were they created?

Are they actually used in normal text? I mean something like a 'normal' book (not a manual, or a technical document). I don't think I've ever seen them yet they clearly predate programming which is ...
2
votes
1answer
58 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
53 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 ...
0
votes
1answer
39 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. ...
12
votes
4answers
2k views

Examples of Ancient Brythonic words in modern English?

So, from a cursory understanding of English history (and I am very happy to say that) I was able to, one might note that the cultural history of those who lived in England might proceed: ...
11
votes
4answers
7k views

What is the origin of the phrase “'til the cows come home”?

What is the origin of the term 'til the cows come home? While discussing this with friends tonight, the group had two possible explanations: Cows return to their barn for milking at a given time ...
1
vote
2answers
76 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?
1
vote
1answer
46 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
902 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?
0
votes
2answers
39 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
58 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 ...
13
votes
3answers
698 views

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. ...
0
votes
2answers
45 views

Historical use of 'repetitive' and 'repetitious' in BE/AE

Two oddities (I think so, anyway) I've just now stumbled across with the ngram viewer: In 18th century American English, things got very repetitive. Is there an historical reason that books written ...
6
votes
2answers
588 views

Last names that are English words with an extra 'e'

I noticed that there are a lot of last names that have an 'e' at the end. The pronunciation usually isn't changed from that of the base word. Poole Steele Browne Clarke Why do English words not ...
11
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5answers
4k views

When did the term “flip flop” displace the term “thong” in North America for a type of sandal?

To Australians like me "thong" means a kind of sandal such as recently repopularized by the Havaianas brand but we know it means a kind of G-string in other English-speaking parts of the world. To ...
7
votes
2answers
6k 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, ...
3
votes
1answer
90 views

Why is Gilt a word when we have Gilded? Is this town big enough for the both of them? [duplicate]

We would never say "I builded my own house", and we would never say "I ment my fences" - as far as I can tell, words either went the d-to-t route, or they went the add-ed route. Gild, for some reason, ...
-1
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2answers
668 views

Build a house, plant a tree, father a son

What is the origin of the phrase (and the principle) "build a house/home, plant a tree, father/raise a son/child" and its derivation (perhaps) "write a book, plant..."?
11
votes
5answers
2k views

When and how did “momentarily” come to mean “in a moment”, rather than “for a moment”?

"Momentarily" used to mean "for a moment" only, and not "in a moment". Thus, newscasters could be divided into two clear groups: those who would say "we'll be back momentarily," and those who would ...
12
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1answer
2k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
8
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4answers
1k 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
120 views

Why is there “Black English” but not “White English”?

African American Vernacular English is shortened to a less precise phrase "Black English". Also, Black English is used in a broader sense: Black English is a term used for both dialects of English ...
4
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3answers
1k views

What is the origin of the slang 'kicks' meaning sneakers

Street culture uses the term 'kicks' to describe sneakers/athletic shoes. I've been using this term for as long as I can remember so I'm comfortable with it's meaning however, as I'm sure I could make ...
27
votes
6answers
8k views

Hip Hip Hooray!

I am looking for the etymology and history of the cheer “Hip Hip Hooray”. I’m curious due to its interesting entry in Wikipedia, which reads thusly: The call was recorded in England in the ...
13
votes
7answers
450 views

Why doesn't English have a separate word for “head hair”? (head hair vs. body hair)

The answer can be "Because it doesn't!" or "It wasn't needed!" in short but there might be a historical or linguistic explanation behind this. (Of course, every language might be lacking a word that ...
6
votes
1answer
139 views

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 ...
6
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1answer
222 views

How was the term 'payload' coined?

Wikipedia describes payload as, Payload is the carrying capacity of an aircraft or launch vehicle, usually measured in terms of weight. Etymonline says, payload 1930, from pay (n. or v.) + ...
14
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5answers
16k views

Is “from whence” correct? Or should it be “whence”?

I just saw a parody on the Lord of the Rings, where one of the characters says: it must be cast back in the fire from whence it came! This struck me as odd, since I expected them to say "whence ...
1
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0answers
34 views

English words that derive from religous origins [closed]

Hi I am looking for a list of examples of words coming from a religious pretext. Ex: "goodbye" came from "God be with you" The religion it comes from dose not matter. Just a list of word that fall in ...
3
votes
3answers
21k 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 ...
1
vote
5answers
92 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 ...
7
votes
4answers
213 views

What is the likely definition of a women's “'health' west” from 1891?

In an 1891 newspaper advertisement (published in Manitoba, Canada) there is a reference to "wool 'health' wests in girls and ladies" which on first glance looks like a spelling error but is repeated ...
10
votes
2answers
725 views

father-in-law = step-father?

I've been reading Middlemarch, and came across a usage of father-in-law which, from context, must mean step-father. Later in the same novel, the phrase father-in-law was used as we would use it today. ...
35
votes
6answers
4k views

How did “Jew” become pejorative?

For some reason, the word Jew often carries a pejorative or offensive connotation, which the related adjective Jewish does not carry. This is most obvious when either word is used as an attributive: ...
40
votes
4answers
3k views

Who is Jesus H. Christ?

When used as an expletive, the name Jesus Christ often gets an H inserted into the middle of it for some reason. I've heard lots of guesses about what the H stands for, the most popular one being ...
3
votes
2answers
80 views

etymology of the phrase “at all”

I couldn't get much on this phrase. It is a weird one I know but I just can't stand not knowing it. How did the current use of "at all" come into being? Take a look at this: "in any way," ...
1
vote
1answer
109 views

Differentiate and Integrate

Further to my last question about the history of calculus terms, I am wondering about the etymology of differentiate the etymology of integrate why we speak of a "derivative", but we "differentiate" ...
0
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0answers
33 views

once, twice, thrice… was there more? [duplicate]

I realize everyone uses 'four times', 'five times'... in case of denoting something repeating more than three times. Even 'thrice' is currently gradually going extinct. But did English ever possess ...
19
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3answers
3k views

What were nightmares called before “nightmare” was used in that sense?

Apparently the word "nightmare" has only been used in the sense of "bad dream" since c. 1829. Before then the term referred to the agent causing the dreams—a mare < mera, mære 'goblin, ...
4
votes
3answers
3k views

Etymological origin of “deosil” and “widdershins”

I've been hearing the words "deosil" used for clockwise and "widdershins" for anticlockwise, but where do they come from? I'm told that "widdershins" is from a Scottish term meaning "against the ...
4
votes
4answers
15k views

What is the origin of the phrase “two nations divided by a common language”?

What is the origin of the phrase "two nations divided by a common language"? I have seen it attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill. The most likely looking source ...