Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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2
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2answers
255 views

History of using capital letters for names

Though the answer might not be, my question is simple: When and how did the custom of capitalizing names begin? (I'm not entirely sure whether to ask this question here or in History.SE since it ...
26
votes
3answers
3k 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’? ...
0
votes
1answer
63 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
121 views

When did the word “snafu” enter the colloquial vernacular?

Roughly when did the word "snafu" enter the colloquial vernacular? It was a military term, but at some point it came into fairly common use among the general population. If you can narrow it down to a ...
15
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5answers
3k views

Why does the letter ‘o’ appear in the word ‘people’?

My two daughters demanded to know this. I speculated that it was artificially inserted, perhaps in the 17th-18th century, perhaps to make the word look more like populus, somewhat similar to the way ...
2
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3answers
792 views

When did “Pensylvania” become “Pennsylvania”?

On the Liberty Bell, it's spelled Pensylvania. Likewise on plenty of maps from the colonial days. When did it become Pennsylvania (with three n's)?
0
votes
3answers
111 views

On the evolution of the meaning of “few”

Was the word "few" used exclusively to refer to groups of eight people (or things) at some point of time? There is a well-known verse in the New Testament which implies the plausibility of such a ...
6
votes
7answers
1k views

Where does “my ass” come from?

The usage of my ass to mean me is now relatively common. My impression is that it originated from AAVE and has since been included in various other dialects. The NGram below implies it became popular ...
1
vote
5answers
118 views

What word is this?

In the film Gangs of New York, what is this word spoken? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADmX9eMEV9U&t=1m38s It sounds like benay. What does it mean? The subtitles don't have anything for this ...
5
votes
6answers
601 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 ...
21
votes
2answers
536 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) ...
3
votes
2answers
263 views

What does “U” mean in a “2U herd”?

In the song Old Chisholm Trail, a famous cowboy song there's the following line: I started up the trail October 23rd Started up the trail with a 2U herd (emphasis mine) For lyrics. I know 2U ...
26
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5answers
3k views

Why are knobs called “pots” by some sound designers?

I was recently introduced to the term "pots" to mean "dials" or "knobs" in the field of sound design and audio engineering. (It rather took me by surprise; I had no idea what the sound designer was ...
2
votes
2answers
553 views

What does this line in the chorus mean?

From New York Girls by by Finbar Furey Shipmates listen unto me, I'll tell you in my song Of the things that happened to me When I come home from Hong Kong CHORUS: To me a-weigh, ...
-2
votes
1answer
655 views

What did the word “arcade” mean before video games? [closed]

I was browsing a document on the history of Leicestershire in the UK. About halfway down the page, in the "Leicester in the 19th Century" section, it said: Silver Arcade was built in 1899. What ...
1
vote
1answer
80 views

Since when is capital of a country used to denote government actions?

Nowadays, we commonly use capitals (I refer to the cities) to denote a action taken by a government. e.g. "New Delhi decided to pass the food bill." Here New Delhi refers to the Indian ...
2
votes
2answers
394 views

Roast duck vs. roasted duck

We can say ‘fried fish’, ‘baked potato’ or ‘minced pork’ using past participles for modifiers. However, ‘roast’ is different - either ‘roast duck’ or ‘roasted duck’ works, it seems to me. How should ...
31
votes
5answers
4k 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
896 views

What is a cock-feeder?

I've been reading Tyburn Tales, a Victorian book about the malefactors who suffered on the gallows at York. This includes potted biographies of some of the more flagitious criminals, including a ...
0
votes
0answers
38 views

Why “qu” is pronounced “qw” (as in quit, question) [duplicate]

Or to put it the other way, why qu is not spelled qw, as qwit, qwestion, for quit, question.
1
vote
1answer
334 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 ...
1
vote
2answers
334 views

Why is the letter 'X' given importance in mathematics? [closed]

In mathematics the letter 'X' is always given importance over other letters. Why is it so?
9
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5answers
3k views

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 ...
6
votes
2answers
286 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 ...
2
votes
3answers
291 views

Modern use of “bourgeoisie”

How can I use bourgeoisie properly in this day and age? I understand that at one time it meant part of the wealthy "middle class". Back then the middle class owned the means to production (merchants ...
61
votes
5answers
25k views

If the letter J is only 400–500 years old, was there a J sound that preceded the design of the letter?

I understand that the letter "J" is relatively new — perhaps 400–500 years old. But since there has long been important names that begin with J, such as Jesus, Joshua, Justinian, etc., and which ...
5
votes
2answers
245 views

What is the real history of the word “scenario”?

In a moment of revery, I pondered from what language the word "scenario" originated. Unsurprisingly, it's Italian in origin, according to etymonline, but the etymonline etymology surprised me - the ...
3
votes
4answers
769 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 ...
1
vote
1answer
213 views

What does it mean that two languages are genetically unrelated? [closed]

I would like to know what does it mean that two languages are genetically unrelated? I have seen answer in this topic Genetic Relatives what does it mean that languages are genetically realted but ...
8
votes
1answer
598 views

Why do English men's names almost always stress the first syllable?

While looking at names of American Presidents I noticed that English men’s names almost always stress the first syllable. Barack Obama is unusual in that he’s only the second President (after ...
1
vote
1answer
244 views

In the early 1900s, would the name (Nettie/Nette) have been more likely to be spelled Nette or Nettie?

I am developing a family album. In doing so, I have seen the name (Nettie/Nette) spelled both as Nette and as Nettie. I have not been able to locate relevant birth records. Can someone tell me ...
5
votes
3answers
271 views

What is the sense of using word “argument”, for inputs of a function?

In computer jargon, we refer to "inputs of a function" as "arguments". I was wondering what the sense is in doing so.
0
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0answers
33 views

Why *are* pants? [duplicate]

Plural, that is. And it aint just "pants". "Shorts", "boxers", "trousers", even "panties" are all plural. (Although "underwear" ("where is my underwear?") and "thongs" ("He was wearing a thong." ...
2
votes
2answers
239 views

Where does the anglicisation “Ottoman” come from?

Wikipedia on Ottoman Empire gives its naming as coming from the Ottoman Turkish language, but on that very page, the name of the language is transliterated as Lisân-ı Osmânî. In Russian we call the ...
4
votes
1answer
162 views

Origin of the word “Bluechip”

The word "Bluechip" is used to refer to large cap companies which are in existence for at least 10 years. But why are they called Bluechips? What does the word denote?
2
votes
1answer
280 views

What was “bathroom” called in 1900's?

What would have been said around 1900 for a woman saying she needed to go to the bathroom in the state of Virginia?
2
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1answer
102 views

Who came up with “mascara lights” on cars?

Mascara lights are LED daytime running lights or lamps, typically in a wavy or curved pattern: This photo shows DRLs on an Audi A4-B8: When and where did this term originate? Is it an Audi ...
2
votes
0answers
138 views

Wanderwort origins and the Indus Valley Civilization? [closed]

I have noticed that there seem to be many words that have travelled the globe due to trade, such as the word orange or rice, which have plausible origins in proto-Dravidian. Meanwhile, it is ...
5
votes
1answer
681 views

Flexibility of English: Always so?

The other day I read a question about nouns being used as verbs. An answer informed that in English any word can be used as a verb, but that it is not so in other languages. Beyond verbs, English is a ...
-3
votes
5answers
174 views

What's that M-word like “meme” but it sounds all sophisticated & sociological? [closed]

It's not memetics or mnemonics, and it rolls off the tongue and sounds great. I think that it's at least 10 letters long.
4
votes
1answer
349 views

When did the term 'microcomputer' become obsolete?

I'm old enough to remember that (around 1980) the first personal computers were referred to, triumphantly, as 'microcomputers'. When did this usage fade out?
0
votes
1answer
258 views

On English Phrases with Essential Changes in Meaning [closed]

In any living language the change in meanings of the words and phrases is a natural phenomenon. But sometimes this change is very essential and a certain word or phrase loses its original meaning ...
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2answers
2k views

What is the “oldest joke in the book?”

What is the earliest recorded joke in a published work in the English language?
0
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4answers
848 views

Do people still speak old English in South Africa? [closed]

I watched the South African film "The White Wedding", in that film, there is a white couple speaking a very weird language, it sounds like German but not German & a person in the movie said they ...
1
vote
2answers
981 views

What happened to King Canute

I was watching Downton Abbey season 4 episode 2. The conversation goes like this: Violet Crawley: Now I asked Branson to come here because I have an idea. Mary Crawley: Granny, you must call ...
2
votes
1answer
116 views

Is “steel breeze” an idiom?

I had only known of the phrase from the lyrics to the Pink Floyd song Shine on you crazy diamond and had always assumed that they had coined it. However, I stumbled upon a book by Alastair Reynolds ...
2
votes
1answer
68 views

Australis, Austrinus, Australe - in constellations

I was having a look at the official constellations, and I noticed three with similar names: Corona Australis Piscis Austrinus Triangulum Australe Now the "Austral" definitely means "southern", as ...
6
votes
1answer
286 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 ...
0
votes
2answers
1k views

Etymology of “Email Thread”

What is the history of the word thread in the context of "email thread"? You can also say "thread of a conversation". How old is that usage? Some of my colleagues say "email string" and it drives me ...
0
votes
1answer
1k views

Why do we “shed” blood, sweat or tears but not other things?

I found the following definition of shed (the verb): chiefly dialect : to set apart : segregate to cause to be dispersed without penetrating a. to cause (blood) to flow by cutting or ...