Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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Pronunciation of “Ozymandias”

Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Ozymandias is written in iambic pentameter and contains the famous lines 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' I can ...
19
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4answers
938 views

Why the “top” in “top hat”?

I've always wondered why it's called top hat, and not just a hat, or some other word, which would better describe this specific type of hats. I mean, all hats are placed on "top", right? Could it ...
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1answer
50 views

When is the period that coined the most English words?

It seems that there are numerous words being made every day. This got me wondering, when was the historic period when most new words were formed that are still part of Modern Standard English? Since ...
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0answers
50 views

The origin of the verb “has” (the verb “have” for third-singular person)

From what I know, in Simple Present, all verbs are followed by -s/es if the subject is a third-singular person. Such as makes, matches, buys, and studies. I also know that if the verb is have, it ...
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2answers
2k 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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2answers
4k views

Why is “can” such an odd verb?

The English verb can is very strange for several reasons: It drops the to on any infinitive verb forms that follow it. That is, unlike in the verb want in the sentence I want to eat, you would not ...
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0answers
53 views

Is this the correct usage? [closed]

I'm trying to translate a research paper regarding the history of translation in Iran. the original text is in Farsi so I have to translate it to English. So I have translated one paragraph in this ...
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7answers
2k 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 ...
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1answer
75 views

How did the term “crayfish” become “crawdad”?

I am given to understand that "crawdad" and "crayfish" refer to the same creature (or group of creatures resembling small lobsters that live in freshwater), and that the difference is dialectical. ...
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2answers
1k views

Are there or were there any other conjoined pronoun-verb combinations like “methinks” in English?

And why was this ever considered grammatically correct? Why not "Ithinks"? Edit: When I ask "why," I'm wondering for example, whether or not "me" has always been the first-person objective case in ...
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1answer
62 views

History and English demonyms

A friend of mine told me English demonyms, words that identify people from a particular place (Roman, Japanese, Dutch etc.), largely depend upon the historical period in which the term originates. ...
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4answers
410 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?
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3answers
7k views

Why do we describe a problem or experience as “hairy”?

I'm curious about the use/history of "hairy", as in Golly Dan, that was a pretty hairy math exam, wasn't it? My dictionary sources identify two definitions unrelated to hair: the first can be ...
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7answers
4k views

When was the word 'being' first used to refer to a human being or sentient being?

I am confused by the use of the word being to refer to a static thing. How can this word that appears to clearly be a verb gerund get turned around to be used as a thing?
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6answers
10k views

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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1answer
2k views

Dressing gown vs housecoat

As far as I can tell they refer to the same thing (bathrobe). I'd like to know the roots of both, and if possible the history of their evolution. Specifically if the usage is influenced by social ...
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2answers
1k views

When did British and American crochet terms diverge?

In crochet basic stitches are called different things. For example a single crochet in America is called a double crochet in the UK, a double crochet in America is called a treble crochet in the UK, ...
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2answers
775 views

Does “tapall” or “tappies” mean “mail” in English?

I had been wondering about a non-native word in Tamil: Thabal, meaning post. This word has origins from elsewhere, and I had not been able to figure out the etymology. Searches in Internet had also ...
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2answers
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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1answer
63 views

Has there been a decrease of use of the word “rend” in literature?

The word "rend" (Verb: "to tear (something) into pieces with force or violence") is such an effective word. Descriptive and visceral. Yet it seems to me it's fading from literature and becoming an ...
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1answer
191 views

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 vowel-...
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5answers
5k views

Origin/reason for the “hit by a bus” phrase

Often at my job when someone is becoming a single source of knowledge or otherwise has a skill that no one else on the team or the department has, a common expression is: If John was hit by a bus, ...
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2answers
86 views

Has the definition of an adverb changed over time?

I was reading a modern grammar book recently and was very surprised to see that "yesterday" and "nevertheless" are regarded as adverbs. Has the definition of an adverb been constant over the last 50 ...
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2answers
45 views

What is the origin of the phrase “gathering wool”?

From context, it would appear to mean "no day-dreaming" or "no dilly-dallying", as in "Let's go, no time for wool gathering!" or "Pay attention, no wool gathering here!"
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8answers
40k 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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1k views

Interjection “et voilà”

I know et voilà is a French interjection and means there it is. It is very much used in the US. Why is the use of et voilà so popular in the US? Which historical fact has made it so popular?
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First mention in print of “magic smoke” (electronics)?

In electronics, "magic smoke" is the stuff that lets components work: once the magic smoke leaves the component, the component ceases to work. What is the earliest reference in print to "magic smoke"?...
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3answers
4k 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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4answers
17k views

Why is the right jack in cribbage also called “his Knobs”?

Before we got married, my husband taught me cribbage as his way of showing me how important our relationship was to him. One of the points in cribbage is for having "the right jack," or the jack ...
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5answers
7k views

Is it true that the 100 most common English words are all Germanic in origin?

There is an oft-quoted statement that the 100 most common (frequently used) words in the English language are entirely Germanic/Anglo-Saxon in origin. (Also sometimes said is that ~80% of the 1000 ...
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8answers
4k 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 ...
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3answers
3k views

Were there any other synonyms to “sustainability” before the 80s?

The German word for sustainability, Nachhaltigkeit, arose (according to Wiktionary) in the 18th century. Ngrams shows this. I was wondering if the concept of sustainability did not exist before the ...
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9answers
10k views

What is the factual basis for “pirate speech”? (Did pirates really say things like “shiver me timbers”?)

The "pirate speech" we hear/see/read, for example, on the website Talk Like A Pirate Day consists of a rhotic dialect characterized by phrases like "shiver me timbers," "ooh arh me hearties," and so ...
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2answers
24k views

Use of “f ” instead of “s” in historic, printed English documents

I was at a museum in London yesterday, and one of the items on exhibit is a document from the eighteenth century. It uses the letter f a lot where s should be used—for example, in Majefty. Did the ...
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4answers
5k 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 ...
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4answers
68k views

Where did the “unavailable” meaning of “Out of Pocket” come from? [duplicate]

The phrase "out of pocket" is often used in my office to mean "unavailable". I've found reference to this on the internet as well, but no obvious clue to where this meaning comes from. Where does ...
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0answers
23 views

What would be “India Run” in this article? Does it have some historic background I can't find?

Once the wind and current systems dominant in the Atlantic came to be known, the square sail was adopted for use on the lateen caravel, giving rise to the “caravela redonda”. or square-rigged caravel, ...
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3answers
8k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
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1answer
68 views

Wielders of Weapons

I'm looking for what the various wielders of weapons called. I know of a few, but would like to know of the others below : Bow and Arrow - Archer/Bowman Sword - Swordsman (???) Axe - Club - ...
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7answers
10k views
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1answer
661 views

Why English does not have diacritics to distinguish between words with different meanings and pronunciations

It just occured to me that there are words in English that have two different meanings, two different pronunciations and are written exactly the same. For example "present" can be interpreted as the ...
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5answers
510 views

If 'native' means “born to a place”, can I call myself a Native American? Why not?

I was born in the US, have lived here all my life. I am as native to it as anyone. Can I call myself a Native American? Don't people from other countries refer to themselves this way? What is ...
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5answers
15k 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 ...
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1answer
88 views

“Slay” and “Entertain”

I have recently been shown that "Slay" can also mean "Entertain", however this seems rather odd to me. "You slay me, you really do." I have two main questions: In what reasonable context would ...
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4answers
8k views

What's the difference between “to and fro” and “back and forth”?

I'll give you an example from "The Mask of The Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe: "Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang;" How does that differ from: "Its pendulum ...
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1answer
240 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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4answers
7k 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 ...
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4answers
142 views

Is there a process name for an island becoming unisolated?

I previously asked this on the history stack exchange but unfortunately had no good luck, and I was recommended to give this stack exchange a go, so: Basically I would like to know if there is an ...
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4answers
6k views

Where did the word 'Wheelbarrow' come from? [closed]

I'm fairly confident that it's not a mangled 'Wheeled Barrel'. I've heard of barrows in reference to deep graves, or underground storage chambers.
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0answers
35 views

Has extra always had two meanings

Extra as a prefix can mean apart from or outside of. extradition extraordinary extraneous extraterrestrial extradition This site says it comes from the Latin extrā meaning outside of However it ...