Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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109
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3answers
4k 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 ...
2
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2answers
137 views

The stages of history

Is there a word or short phrase that encompasses the three main stages of Western history: ancient, medieval, and then modern?
13
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3answers
3k views

Why do we say “honeymoon” instead of “honeymonth”?

I was curious about the etymology of the word honeymoon and found out that its sense was partially literal (serving honey for the couple), and partially metaphorical (sweet and happy times). But I ...
6
votes
1answer
203 views

A ligature “og”

I met a ligature "og" in one of the manuscripts. It is hard to see this ligature there (look at the word "logicae". Have you met anything similar? Is there a better manuscript with this ligature or ...
4
votes
6answers
17k 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 ...
0
votes
1answer
44 views

1920's terms for parents/children

What would young children (aged around 5-ish) have called their parents circa 1920's England? Were there specific terms of endearment, or would it just be "mother" and "father"? I'm particularly ...
0
votes
1answer
53 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 this ...
6
votes
2answers
257 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 ...
18
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4answers
4k 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
217 views

History of the non-rule that proscribes ending a sentence with a preposition [duplicate]

Famously, if not accurately, Winston Churchill is supposed to have responding to an editor who had "fixed" a sentence ending with a preposition by writing, "This is the sort of thing up with which I ...
9
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3answers
2k views

Why do we say that someone “practices” law or medicine?

I’m wondering why we refer to providing legal or medical services as a practice of law or medicine, respectively. For example, we say that a lawyer practices law or a doctor practices medicine. This ...
1
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1answer
54 views

Which versions of historical English are mutually intelligible?

English has changed tremendously from Old English to Modern English. Which intermediate versions are considered to be mutually intelligible? For that matter, what about asymmetrical intelligible?
2
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0answers
51 views

Usage 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 ...
1
vote
2answers
78 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, ...
0
votes
0answers
36 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 ...
10
votes
2answers
3k views

Why is “gauge” spelled with a 'u'?

I was rather old before I realized "gauge" is pronounced (and sometimes spelt) "gage". The etymology doesn't reveal too much: mid-15c., from Anglo-Fr. gauge (mid-14c.), from O.N.Fr. gauger, from ...
10
votes
5answers
8k 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, ...
5
votes
3answers
324 views

Are there any cases of a word that originated in English replacing another word in English in common usage?

I'm curious if there's any cases of a word that originated in English (didn't come from a foreign source) replacing another word in every day usage?
26
votes
4answers
1k views

Why are Leicester & co pronounced as they are?

What is the origin of the pronunciation of words like Leicester, Gloucester, Worcestershire? Presumably, the spelling predates the pronunciation but what is the history here? What language do the ...
4
votes
2answers
153 views

What is the oldest variety of English in the Americas?

There are several varieties of the English Language in the Americas, from Alaska to the Falkland Islands. To mention just a few: American General and its varieties Canadian General Bajan ...
13
votes
6answers
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 ...
4
votes
4answers
5k views

Why are the people of the United States called “Americans” when the whole continent is “America” [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Why are the United States often referred to as America? Is it because there wasn't a proper adjective like "United Staterns" or something? Why are Canadians not called ...
15
votes
3answers
1k views

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 ...
12
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5answers
1k views

1700s term for “a technology”

Today, I could use "a technology" to mean a mechanical or industrial development: The most important transportation technology during that era was the railroad. According to etymonline.com, ...
11
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7answers
1k views

History/Orgin of “troubleshoot”?

What is the history of the word "troubleshoot"? At face value, it seems to be mean "aiming for trouble." Which must be short-hand for locating the source of the trouble by reproducing it under ...
10
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5answers
7k views

Where does the phrase “get crackin'” come from?

"There's a lot of work to be done, so we'd better get crackin'" I've often used this expression, but I have no idea what we might have been cracking, originally? Any insight?
6
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1answer
2k views

Consonant transposition: Why is “Wednesday” pronounced “Wensday”?

It appears like a couple of consonant sounds have been transposed. How, why did that happen?
4
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3answers
572 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 ...
7
votes
2answers
1k views

Where does “Let's roll!” come from?

Where does the idiom "Let's roll!" come from?
2
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3answers
780 views

Etymologies of “basilisk” and “basilica”

I recently confused a "basilica" with a "basilisk", with the former being a church building and the latter being a mythical snake-like creature. The similarities of the two words made me curious of ...
9
votes
1answer
382 views

When did “ain't” become slang?

In Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, there are several places where "ain't" is used instead of "am not", such as: "I ain't afraid of him, if you mean that," continued Lord Nidderdale. — ...
2
votes
2answers
45 views

Term for aboriginal people of Canada in a historical context

The tribes that inhabited Canada before European contact are generally known as First Nations today. From what I can tell, this term is fairly new. What term could I use to refer to First Nations ...
13
votes
7answers
5k 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
259 views

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 now been spelt "connaître" for close to two ...
2
votes
1answer
137 views

Words that changed meaning in past hundred years [closed]

I am looking for a list of words that were used to mean something different from for what they are used now. some words are such that whose meaning has changed completely and some words have more ...
49
votes
6answers
5k views

What we've gelost — why doesn't English use the prefix “ge-”?

The Germanic languages that I'm familiar with all use a prefix similar to ge- on past participles: German: Ich habe mir den Fuß gebrochen. Dutch: Ik heb mijn voet gebroken. But English ...
5
votes
6answers
505 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 ...
10
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3answers
221 views

Why is the surname Gray more common than the surname Grey in the UK?

An EL&U question from 2010 asks Which is the correct spelling: "grey" or "gray"? The answers very sensibly point out the split between the UK and former British commonwealth ...
2
votes
1answer
61 views

Etymology of the “Chicago Seven” construction

There are many examples of a construction of the form "City + Number" used to refer to an incident involving a particular small group of people. It is often used when it is alleged that the people in ...
2
votes
2answers
65 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. ...
1
vote
3answers
352 views

Why are “some” letters silent in English? [closed]

There are many such words that we all know about, but please explain why the makers of the English language made up words with silent letters?
5
votes
2answers
894 views

Etymology of “German” and “germane”

"German" is an adjective referring to anything from Germany. However, I recently stepped across this word "germane". "Germane" means to be "closely related". Being interested, I looked up its history, ...
6
votes
1answer
177 views

“mark” in generational naming of products

What is the story behind the word mark as a synonym for version in products, such as Canon 5D Mark III or Aston Martin DB Mark III?
13
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3answers
100k views

Can someone explain the phrase “All is fair in love and war”?

What are its origins and what does it really mean?
28
votes
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
1k 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
313 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
61 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
207 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
votes
3answers
557 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 ...