Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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9
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4answers
1k views

Meaning and origin of “bite the bullet”

I just learnt about the expression "to bite the bullet", meaning Accept the inevitable impending hardship and endure the resulting pain with fortitude (as seen in its article in phrases.org). I have ...
36
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4answers
39k views

Why use the word “copy” in “do you copy that”?

I notice "do you copy that?" is used in movies to ask for confirmation in telephone/interphone conversation. I only know copy means make things duplicated, so why use it in "do you copy that"? Is ...
4
votes
2answers
13k views

Where did the slang usages of “cool” come from?

I see and hear two general slang usages of cool - one meaning great (illustrated by a and b below), and one meaning acceptable/okay (illustrated by c and d). The following are Dictionary.com's four ...
0
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4answers
69 views

So I would really like to know what this quote means by William Howard Taft [on hold]

"The intoxication of power rapidly sobers off in the knowledge of its restrictions and under the prompt reminder of an ever-present and not always considerate press, as well as the kindly suggestions ...
0
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0answers
42 views

Why are there no irregular gerunds in English? [closed]

There are so many irregular past participles in English! Why aren't there any irregular present participles or gerunds? What are the historical and phonetic/phonological factors which have ...
1
vote
1answer
27 views

History of alphabet soup

What is the first metaphorical use of “alphabet soup” to refer collectively to some kind of diversity? Does it date any earlier than the film “North by Northwest”, in which the expression is used by ...
11
votes
2answers
134 views

Are omissions like “he has a Facebook [account]” an ellipsis of the modern age, or has this always been going on?

Some English speakers omit "account" in conversational speech when referring to their membership in an online service. For example: "Here's a link to my Tumblr." "I took a break for a while, but I ...
1
vote
1answer
57 views

What is the name of the grammatical device where 18th and 19th Century sentences started with 'which'?

In the movie Master and Commander - we see the following two dialogues between Jack Aubrey and his servant Killick: Dialogue 1: JACK: Killick? Killick there. KILLICK appears. JACK ...
11
votes
1answer
727 views

What to call statues that flank entryways?

What's the term for statuary, usually paired, that flank entrances? Ex: The Lion pedestals at the NYC Public library, Assyrian Ox-God statues built into gates of ancient cities. My placeholder term ...
0
votes
0answers
39 views

Why are we using 'the' less?

I saw this ngram, and found that the word 'the' is less frequently observed these days, as compared to the past. I know this is a silly question. But why is this happening? Also, surprisingly, ...
4
votes
1answer
1k 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
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2answers
4k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
4
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4answers
453 views

Which meaning of “to conceive” came first?

"To conceive" has two primary meanings to give birth to originate (an idea) Either one could be a metaphor for the other. MW just gave the etymology of the Latin parts without giving a history ...
1
vote
1answer
49 views

Older mineral names

When browsing through names of minerals in English, one notices that they appear to very commonly be of Latin origin or otherwise latinized or at least foreign; I mean names like "Magnetite", ...
3
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2answers
10k views

Origin and meaning of “damn straight”

The phrase "damn straight" is now used as a way to emphatically agree with a statement, but where does it come from, and what did it mean originally?
0
votes
1answer
62 views

On a certain usage of the word “only”

Some documents such as medical prescriptions and cheques employ the word "only" in an interesting manner: (Dpbsmith via Wikipedia) On cheques the usage is something like "Three hundred dollars ...
3
votes
4answers
1k views

“Hot cakes” or “flapjacks” in 1890s American South?

Which term is more likely to have been used by my main character, a young man from a wealthy Macon, Georgia family, in 1893?
11
votes
2answers
20k 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?
15
votes
4answers
7k views

Origin of “Put up your dukes”

This link claims that one cannot be sure of origin of this phrase. Three explanations are given here, but they are not very convincing (I am not a native speaker). In one of our newspapers, ...
6
votes
2answers
66 views

Why are certain competitions called a “Classic?”

In the town I live in, there have been a number of competitive events called "classics" (e.g. "Bicycle Classic," "Golf Classic"). I assume this term is used because the event is a long-standing, ...
12
votes
2answers
571 views

Can an English sentence have a 'dative subject'?

I have been thinking about this for a while. It seems to me that, sometimes, the subject plays a dative role in that it is the recipient of something. Take the following active sentence. He gave ...
8
votes
3answers
825 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
49 views

Connection between “right” as in a liberty and “right” as in the direction [duplicate]

I've noticed that it is not only in English that the word "right" can be used both as a noun (when talking about liberty) and an adjective (when talking about direction) It's slso like that in Spanish ...
9
votes
2answers
331 views

Why “thanks” Can Never Be Singular as a Noun?

While looking at the part of speech of the noun "thanks" in an online dictionary I noticed that it was a plural noun and wondered if it could be used in singular form. Glancing at the origin it ...
2
votes
2answers
126 views

What are the different ways of highlighting (or emphasising) words in English typography? [closed]

I know the following techniques are used for words in print : Italics, Underline, Bold, ALL-CAPS, Change-Of-Font, Enclosing-In-Single-Quotes, Enclosing-In-Double-Quotes, Change-Of-Colour, & ...
2
votes
1answer
70 views

Why do people in the scientific community use terminology such as renal, hepatic, and cardiac instead of kidney, liver, and heart?

Why is there the need to map these everyday words onto another set of words when it seems to complicate matters? Is it just done out of tradition, or is there some underlying logic to it?
10
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3answers
742 views

If a “tittle” sits atop an “i” or a “j” (“ı” or “ȷ”), then where do “jots” sit?

In the KJV translation of Matthew 5:18, it reads: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. If a ...
4
votes
3answers
2k 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 ...
4
votes
4answers
3k 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 ...
1
vote
2answers
2k views

Origin and meaning of “along the lines of”

Where does the phrase along the lines of come from, and what are you really saying? For instance, if you were commissioning a sculpture you might sit down with the artist and a pen and paper and say ...
-3
votes
2answers
67 views

Grammatically correct, vs archaic, vs grammatically incorrect ? [closed]

So i'm new here just to start this out to begin with. So I hope you can understand my grammatically incorrect sentences. So any ways let me explain the context of this question, I am writing a short ...
1
vote
2answers
471 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 ...
1
vote
1answer
253 views

What is the origin of “Boxing Day”?

OED gives the definition and a quote from 1833 as the earliest reference as: The first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various ...
15
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5answers
1k views

The history of “softcore”

Over lunch recently, my colleagues and I were discussing the term "hardcore," and speculating on its origin. Our speculations evolved into "What has either a hard or soft core, where the hard cored ...
2
votes
1answer
77 views

Whats the difference between “-ist” and “-er”

The suffixes -ist, and -er are added to a base word to name a person who does an action: pitch, pitcher. Some more examples: carpenter artist painter nationalist banker dentist ...
1
vote
1answer
137 views

Is English considered easier to learn than most of the other languages in the world? [closed]

In comparison to the other languages, I think English is much more simpler. For example, compared to French, English nouns have no gender, adjectives have only one form and verbs have extremely simple ...
1
vote
0answers
45 views

Where does the word “mean” come from in mathematics? [closed]

For the averages, mean, median and mode I can determine that median comes from latin for mid, mode comes from latin for measurement but cannot find where the word mean comes from. Is it an acronym? ...
5
votes
8answers
1k views

Usage and meaning of the word “Ragging” in India

This is my first post here on an unwelcome situation in India, described by a word, "Ragging". Wikipedia article states that: "Ragging is a practice similar to hazing in educational institutions. ...
1
vote
1answer
38 views

Names of Numbers [duplicate]

A thought hit me today that I can't get out of my head. Why are the numbers 10 - 19 so special, that they get their own naming scheme unlike the rest of the numbers. for example. if we go up in ...
-1
votes
1answer
21 views

Historical meaning of “program” as a verb

Frozen since 1837, some guy just thawed up and confronted me with the verb 'to program' in the context of CS. If by programming an automatic computer, we mean “to put instructions in main memory for ...
1
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6answers
6k views
3
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1answer
214 views

Does 'extraordinary', 'exceptional', 'outstanding' always carry positive connotations nowadays?

When I take the word 'extraordinary', 'exceptional' and 'outstanding' literally, it simply means something 'out of the ordinary', 'rare and/or unusual', or something which 'stands out from the rest', ...
4
votes
1answer
266 views

Origin of irregular ending “-ught” for past simple and participle

There is a little group of irregular verbs in English that follow a similar pattern, having "-ught" as their ending for past simple and for participle. These verbs are among the group of most used ...
3
votes
4answers
956 views

When did “consumption” become “tuberculosis”?

Tuberculosis was commonly called "consumption" for many years. When did "tuberculosis" or "TB" overtake "consumption" as the common term, in English, for the disease? This Ngram isn't much use; it ...
31
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
27
votes
8answers
4k views

Why have the subjunctive and indicative converged in Modern English?

It is to me a curious fact that the subjunctive mood of verbs in English has so nearly disappeared in modern times. In fact, even the correct form and usage of the subjunctive in Modern English barely ...
1
vote
2answers
135 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
171 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 ...
7
votes
4answers
7k views

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 ...
11
votes
5answers
10k 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 ...