Use this tag for questions about the history of a term or phrase.

learn more… | top users | synonyms

9
votes
2answers
607 views

Where and why were capital letters first used in headlines?

The words in headlines are capitalized. I'm interested in the history of this. Where and why were capital letters first used in headlines? Where is this practice of capitalization of words in English ...
3
votes
2answers
981 views

Suit Yourself origins?

The young daughter of a friend of mine said, "I think 'suit yourself' comes from a lazy tailor," which cracked us up. It also got me wondering. I did the obligatory google search and came up with ...
2
votes
1answer
276 views

“As if” & “As would be the case if”; Also, “As though”

On a Q&A site in Japan, I read an expression that as if comes from as (would be the case) if. Are both about the same thing? Is this claim historically true? If so, what does "as though" come ...
7
votes
1answer
144 views

Is “qo” a step in the evolution of the question mark?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Question_mark According to the wikipedia article I've linked to above, "qo" was sometimes used in the middle ages to abbreviate the latin word "questio" in the way that we ...
0
votes
1answer
353 views

Reform of English writing?

As is commonly known, English is quite notorious for having a writing system that is far removed from the actual way it is most commonly pronounced. I understand that there are important historical ...
5
votes
1answer
159 views

Pool or billiards in 1890s American South?

Which term is more likely to have been used in Georgia around 1893? I found a British website which explains the origin of the modern game known as American pool ...
2
votes
1answer
135 views

Any idea of the origin of using the term 'gucci' for parts?

A number of the guys who ride near me and have been riding bikes (mtb) since the 90s still refer to high spec parts as being 'gucci'. It's an effective term and easy to understand what they mean but ...
1
vote
0answers
88 views

What were fedoras called in the 1890s? [closed]

I am aware that fedoras were just coming into fashion in the 1890s. Were they called "fedoras" or was there some other name for them used back then?
2
votes
2answers
459 views

What’s the word for the habit of writing “play’d” or “revolv’d”?

I’m working on an 18th-century manuscript, and I’m trying to explain to others the use of ’d in past tense verbs. Is there a word that encompasses the usage of ’d in early 18th-century manuscripts? ...
-2
votes
1answer
215 views

What is another word for “tuxedo” that was used in the 1890s American South? [closed]

A young man from a wealthy Macon, Georgia family attends a formal dinner at his college in 1893. What was his formal suit called back then? I'm thinking he probably wore a tailcoat, but I want to know ...
3
votes
3answers
244 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.
3
votes
4answers
526 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?
1
vote
1answer
456 views

How to guess the pronunciation of some inconsistencies in English?

I’m not a native English speaker, and I have a lot of problems when is comes to pronouncing words like archive, archon, zealot, heal, health. Why is the ch sometime pronounced like a k? Why is the ...
1
vote
0answers
119 views

Origin of actual order pattern in English [closed]

It is well-known, or better said, well-accepted, that the ancestral language Proto-Indo-European (PIE) was a OV language with a very limited (or nonexistent) use of subordinate clauses. In ...
2
votes
1answer
89 views

Cologne or toilet water?

I am writing a novel set in 1890s Georgia (United States), and I am wondering whether the main character, a young man of eighteen, would refer to eau de toilette as cologne, toilet water, or something ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

What is the origin of the word “whitewash” in the context of sports?

The term whitewash is used in sports to describe a situation where the opponents are beaten in a series of matches failing to register a single win. Merriam-Webster defines it as :- to hold (an ...
3
votes
3answers
152 views

Is “great” used by native speakers to describe calamities any more?

I know that "great" used to be used to indicate "very large" for disasters and other calamities, such as the Great Fire of London, the Great Chicago Fire and the Great War. Is it common for native ...
0
votes
3answers
404 views

When we will use soft and hard sound in 'c'? [closed]

Sometimes we use the soft sound, and sometimes the hard – but why? Is there any rule?
4
votes
4answers
908 views

Decadence of the word decadence

Everyone who is not from the US that I know gives the same quizzical look when some food commercial claims that a TV dinner is decadent. When did it start being used to mean luxurious? And why? (Our ...
11
votes
1answer
1k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
0
votes
2answers
434 views

Was “their being followed” replaced by “they're being followed” over the years?

I was reading A Study in Scarlet yesterday and noticed the following sentence: They must have thought that there was some chance of their being followed, for they would never go out alone, and ...
0
votes
1answer
236 views

In the phrase “common sense”, in what sense of the word is “common” used?

As I understand it, there are several definitions of common, but I can't find any source that can highlight the etymology of the phrase. The linked definitions are pretty rigorous, but a less strict, ...
3
votes
1answer
209 views

Where do we get “queen” from? [closed]

King comes from Old Norse konungr, and prince is from French principle, but I have found no definite etymology for queen as we know it. I have found assumptive connections such as to keenan and gna, ...
1
vote
2answers
114 views

Meaning (and History?) of “back of”?

I've come across the term "back of" (meaning "behind" in a physical or metaphorical sense) in a number of different works from around the turn of the 20th century*. Was this a linguistic fad of some ...
4
votes
2answers
2k views

When did “World War 2” start being called “World War 2”?

When did World War 2 start being called a "world war" and when did it start being called World War 2? Thurber's The Last Flower (copyright 1939) makes reference to World War 12 so I'm curious as to ...
11
votes
2answers
175 views

Art cold? To what extent can pronouns be dropped in English?

Many European languages conjugate their verbs, thus: I am You are | Thou art She is We are You are They are The form of the verb changes, depending on the person. In some languages ...
1
vote
1answer
151 views

Is there any difference at naming of inverted comma and quote?

There is one symbol ‘ . . .’ that can be called as quote or inverted comma. Is there any difference between these names? What is the origin of term inverted comma? I think it's legacy of our ...
3
votes
3answers
1k views

Why is the feminine equivalent of an earl a countess rather than an earless?

A comment by Tim Lymington notes that the wife of an earl is a countess. Why is this so? Shouldn't it have been earless? Was this perhaps a conscious decision due to its homography with ear-less? Did ...
4
votes
1answer
483 views

Why king and queen rather than king and kingess?

Dukes have duchesses, counts countesses, princes princesses, mayors mayoresses, and even emperors empresses. Yet kings have queens rather than say, kingesses. Why is this so? If this was due to some ...
2
votes
2answers
328 views

What's the origin of the phrase “God's clean earth”, and how long has it been around? [closed]

"It isn't every day a man wakes up to discover he's a screaming bender with no more right to live on God's clean Earth than a weasel." - Dr. Leech, "Blackadder II" What's the origin of that ...
1
vote
1answer
227 views

Reference request: the pronunciation of Law French?

Would anyone happen to know of a systematic account of the English pronunciation of legal and parliamentary terms and phrases of Anglo-Norman French origin, or more generally, of Law French? When it ...
7
votes
2answers
958 views

Why do American and British English use different quotation marks?

American English uses double-quotes, while British English uses single-quotes: "This is a quote." 'This is a quote.' Why do we use different quotation marks? When did this difference ...
10
votes
3answers
549 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
399 views

Why do we use Roman numerals for some page numbers but Arabic ones for others?

Why is it that certain pages in English-language books are numbered using Roman numerals, but other pages are numbered using (so-called) Arabic ones? Has it always been this way? Or was the split ...
3
votes
2answers
254 views

Why are I and O always capitalized, but a is not?

There are three single-letter words. They are the article a, the pronoun I, and the interjection O. The pronoun I and the interjection O are always capitalized, but the article a follows normal ...
11
votes
3answers
589 views

Where did the practice of using apostrophes for possessive nouns but not pronouns originate?

Where did the practice of using apostrophes for possessive nouns but not pronouns originate? For example, possessive nouns (both proper and common) are written with a apostrophe before the final s: ...
7
votes
3answers
219 views

“He rolled his toilet things into his housewife”

From C.S. Forester's Hornblower and the Hotspur: [The naval captain] rolled his toilet things into his housewife and tied the tapes. ODO does provide a second definition for housewife which ...
13
votes
3answers
607 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
348 views

Meaning of “Y-o-u-u Tom!”

In the opening chapter of Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt Polly calls out to him in a rather peculiar fashion: She went to the open door and stood in it, and looked out among the ...
4
votes
5answers
419 views

Was there textspeak before texting?

2b |! 2b, < = ? With such a rich history of inventive writing and puns, it seemed bizarre to me that the idea of writing in txtspk would be a new one. I found a brief degree of truncation in ...
2
votes
2answers
544 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 ...
15
votes
4answers
3k 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, ...
4
votes
1answer
147 views

When does “part” mean “quarter”?

‘Behind us in the caves of the Deep are three parts of the folk of Westfold, old and young, children and women,’ said Gamling. ‘But great store of food, and many beasts and their ...
3
votes
2answers
356 views

What is the origin of the different pronunciations of C and G before different vowels?

In English the letters C and G usually have different pronunciation before a/o/u and before e/i. The same is true for Romance languages - French, Spanish, Catalan, Italian etc. What is the origin of ...
2
votes
1answer
505 views

Did English use to have capitalization rules similar to German's current rules? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Capitalisation of nouns in English in the 17th and 18th centuries I was looking up an article of the constitution of the United States of America, and I noticed in the ...
4
votes
1answer
146 views

What a pluperfect a##hole

From The Silence of the Lambs (1988): "Marilyn Sutter saw it upstairs. Chilton was blowing off about "The Search for Billy Rubin." Then he went to dinner with a television reporter. That's ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

How and when did American spelling supersede British spelling in the US?

Considering that Webster published his first dictionary in 1806, is there a recognised tipping point (year, decade, etc.) that marked the move from traditional British spelling to Webster's American? ...
9
votes
2answers
432 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, ...
6
votes
1answer
154 views

What do references like “Docc Rom.” and similar mean? [closed]

In the book Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought, by Dorothea Waley Singer, references often have a form of 18 Doc. Ven. XV. or 49 Docc. Rom. XX, XXI. How to decipher them?
6
votes
5answers
285 views

Is there a word for fake company history?

I'm looking for a word to describe history made up by a company for marketing purposes.