Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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How can a global English (or Pidgin) be encouraged without extinguishing linguistic diversity?

Decades of teaching international English have led me to a conundrum: what is the global future of communication? Even though the Chinese outnumber us, they seem to embrace English (Thank God - 3000 ...
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1answer
177 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 ...
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22 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
34 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 words were formed?
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5answers
4k 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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1answer
54 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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2answers
83 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
35 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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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 ...
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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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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
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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
3k 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 ...
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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
4k 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
66k 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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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
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Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
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1answer
64 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
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1answer
638 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
462 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
14k 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
87 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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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
211 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
6k 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
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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
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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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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 ...
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3answers
5k views

Who came up with this quote: Thomas Paine or Dean Alfange?

"I do not choose to be a common man, It is my right to be uncommon … if I can, I seek opportunity … not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen. Humbled and dulled by having the ...
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3answers
1k views

Using “Acts of God” in legal term

I wonder why on a lot of legal term in English country using "Acts of God" as an events outside human control? As an Indonesian, I think everything that happens in this world is an act of God. And it ...
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2answers
500 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 ...
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2answers
181 views

Why doesn't English have a word that means both Hello and Goodbye?

Multiple languages, including some from which England draws its words, have words that mean both "Hello" and "Goodbye": French - Salut! Italian - Ciao! Hawaiian - Aloha! German (Austrian) - Servus! ...
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2answers
3k views

Why did Old Testament scholars choose to employ “to know” in a sexual sense?

For those of us not familiar, the verb to know once had an archaic sexual sense, often found in the Old Testament, and as illustrated in the following story found in Genesis 19: 4 But before they ...
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Etymology of “Easter”

I’ve heard claims that the word Easter has the same Bronze Age root as east, Ishtar, Astarte, and ultimately star. Is this the correct etymology of the word Easter?
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8answers
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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 ...
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41 views

Does imperative + semicolon + declarative necessitate a causal relationship?

For instance, take the sentence "Go wash the windows; I like green bears." Given that the two clauses must be closely related because they are joined by a semicolon, is there any other way to ...
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64 views

What makes cliche a useful distinct term as compared to idiom

Some context: I wondered about the distinction between cliche and idiom as seen by EL&U.SE and posted a question on meta (Where does EnglishLanguage.SE draw the line between cliche and idiom) ...
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1answer
465 views

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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1answer
113 views

Redneck/hillbilly language [closed]

I'm working on a comic strip with a lot of drawings and just several phrases, but they should fit perfectly and be grammatically correct. And since I'm not a native English speaker, I have to consult ...
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1answer
56 views

What is the history of “textile”?

I was of the mistaken view that the life of the word textile only began with artificial fibres. However I discovered from the OED that it was being used in the 17th century and that its etymology is ...
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4answers
17k views

How did Americans greet each other before “Hi”?

I had assumed that "hi" was a somehow abbreviated form of "hello," but though both of these words appear to have originated from a noise to attract attention, hi actually predates hello. These words ...
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1answer
99 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", ...
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3answers
3k views

What is the history of adding the a- prefix to form words?

I have always found the a- prefix to words (as in anew, ajar, aside, awake, afoot, a-hunting, etc.) fascinating. The NOAD says on this topic: a- 2. prefix •to; toward : aside | ashore. ...