Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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7
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1answer
5k 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, ...
11
votes
4answers
3k 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 ...
12
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the origin of “like a bat out of hell”?

As far as I know, this expression means to appear suddenly and in a scary way. But what is its origin? I heard that it comes from Meat Loaf's song but I'd like to confirm it with reliable sources, if ...
3
votes
1answer
283 views

When and why has “bike” developed from “bicycle”?

It's not obvious for me why and when bike developed as short form from bicycle. Could you explain that, please? And is it odd to say mountain bicycle or motor-bicycle?
1
vote
1answer
146 views

Who translated “He's a muddled fool, full of lucid intervals.” [closed]

I have revised herein my question of Aug 18 and update my research based on the most helpful suggestions of Peter Schor and tchrist of Aug 18, 2013. I'm not a Cervantista and don't speak Spanish. ...
6
votes
4answers
438 views

What is the role of “every” in idioms like “every so often”?

There are a couple of idioms whose meaning is from time to time or occasionally. Every so often (Every) once in a while (Every) now and then/again Every actually is a determiner (or, broadly ...
3
votes
2answers
340 views

What happened around 1700 that transformed / changed the English language?

When looking at examples listed in OED it is very noticeable that English differs greatly before 1700s and after (roughly) and it becomes recognizable and very similar to modern starting roughly from ...
4
votes
2answers
111 views

“In the unlikely event”

You hear it in most safety demonstrations. "In the unlikely event" ... of a water landing, of an emergency evacuation, of a fire etc. etc. etc. Did this phrasing come from somewhere specifically?
2
votes
1answer
977 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
2k 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
75 views

Use of 'what?' to end an assertion

I'm interested in the colonial English habit of ending an assertive statement with the question "What?", as if asking for agreement from the listener. For example: Pleasant weather. What? What ...
9
votes
2answers
596 views

Why is “poison” in English pronounced so differently from French “poison”?

Why is poison in English pronounced so astonishingly differently than the French pronunciation of poison? Considering that they have exactly the same origin. Is it just randomness or is it on purpose ...
0
votes
2answers
2k views

Origin of “don't have a coronary”?

I'm assuming the entire phrase would be "don't have a coronary occlusion" meaning "don't have a heart attack." I haven't been able to find anything useful regarding when or where it might have ...
1
vote
2answers
2k views

Where does the phrase “cool your jets” come from?

When was it first used and in what context?
1
vote
2answers
164 views

“Thunderstorm” vs. “tempest” in common usage

When did "thunderstorm" replace "tempest" in common English usage? I ask the question because my great-great grandmother, who lived in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, used the term frequently in her ...
3
votes
1answer
516 views

What is “Who are ya?” and whence it came?

“Who are ya?” seems a popular chant or taunt with English football fans, both on and off the stands. Is it a fair assessment that it means to diminish the opposition as unknown and insignificant? ...
9
votes
1answer
452 views

When did it become incorrect to use apostrophes with possessive pronouns?

I'm reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, and I notice that she invariably uses an apostrophe with possessive pronouns — in a way that would be considered incorrect now. For example: (Elinor is ...
7
votes
4answers
532 views

Why “Koran” changed to “Quran”?

According to the article Quran or Koran?, in 2000, AP started to use Quran instead of the more familiar Koran. Does anybody have information as to why this happened, and why newspapers today are ...
-2
votes
1answer
129 views

Language aesthetics and era [closed]

I was just wondering about this today. I know that language does change over time, but what about the colloquialisms and/or general style of an 'era', make it so 'cool'? For example I've been ...
0
votes
1answer
142 views

Rationale behind 'wardrobe' malfunction [closed]

I happen to read a lot about 'wardrobe' malfunction and showing some fault in the dress they wear. Why is it called a 'wardrobe' malfunction, as though it happens only due to some messing up in the ...
1
vote
2answers
610 views

Origin of the term “eating your own dog food”

I'm trying to find the first usage of the term "eating your own dogfood", as a reference to companies, especially software companies, using their own products in house in order to more effectively ...
9
votes
2answers
651 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
337 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
146 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
388 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
167 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
154 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
89 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
602 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? ...
3
votes
4answers
279 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
660 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
550 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
130 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
91 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
160 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
468 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
1k 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 ...
12
votes
1answer
2k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
0
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2answers
514 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
262 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
253 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
118 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
3k 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
184 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
167 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
2k 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
562 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
379 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
247 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 ...