Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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4answers
879 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
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2answers
991 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
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1answer
119 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
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1answer
69 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
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1answer
309 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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
3
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3answers
6k views

why do we say “too bad”?

At first glance you'd think the correct use of the expression "too bad" would be in a conversation like this: Sure stealing candy would be bad but stealing candy from a baby is just too bad. But ...
2
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1answer
326 views

When was “Uh huh” invented? is “Uh huh” a formal English?

I am not a native English speaker, i don't understand deeply English language. So i just want to ask you this. Many years ago, maybe before 2000, i seldom heard English people say “Uh huh”, “Uh huh” ...
3
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1answer
88 views

Who is Mrs Trimmer in Charles Dickens' novel “The Haunted House”?

Who was Mrs Trimmer in the following excerpt? And Prince Arthur, nephew of King John of England, had described himself as tolerably comfortable in the seventh circle, where he was learning to ...
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3answers
912 views

Did the CIA really introduce 'conspiracy theory' into popular usage after JFK?

I heard that after the JFK assassination the CIA, through assets in mass media, introduced the term 'conspiracy theory', with it connotations of something clearly ridiculous, and only believed by ...
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3answers
440 views

OxFORD and CamBRIDGE

All of a sudden the scales fell from my eyes: OxFORD and CamBRIDGE. Is there a serious reference for this - not so surprising, but linguistically amusing - fact that these two prominent university ...
2
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1answer
620 views

Pronunciation and meaning: “wind” and “wound”

I find it curious that there exist two words spelt wind ("a breeze" vs. "to turn") and two words spelt wound ("an injury" vs. the past participle of wind), and that the words in each pair are ...
3
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3answers
150 views

Why is this a hyperbaton?

According to Wikipedia, this is a hyperbaton: "Whom god wishes to destroy, he first makes mad" — Euripides Is that right, and if so, why? My native language is Swedish, but I speak English ...
5
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1answer
613 views

Eyeglasses, spectacles, goggles and glasses. But in which order?

You would think that finding out if the word eyeglasses preceded the word glasses would be a simple matter. Not so. Did eyeglasses and spectacles as I suspect, precede the word glasses? Goggles I ...
0
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1answer
62 views

Rephrase the question about history? [closed]

Here is what i want to ask - if you are given a chance to meet and talk to a person from history, who that would be? This above phrase doesn't sound good when asked as a question. Please ...
6
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4answers
4k views

What does “enough” mean in expressions like “Fair enough” or “Funny enough”?

As a non-native speaker, I already get used to the word enough in expressions like those below, but I sometimes still got confused of it. It makes me wonder what it actually means and where does it ...
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2answers
827 views

Masculine/feminine nouns in English [closed]

Have there been any significant tendencies to distinguish nouns for male and female in English? Let's say in the past 100 - 200 years? E.g. you have only a bunch of them: actor/actress hero/heroine ...
-2
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2answers
1k views

Build a house, plant a tree, father a son

What is the origin of the phrase (and the principle) "build a house/home, plant a tree, father/raise a son/child" and its derivation (perhaps) "write a book, plant..."?
6
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3answers
230 views

General history of the English language – book / website recommendation? [closed]

Having just come across this site, I am finally asking a question that's been on my mind for a while … I am looking for a book, website or infographic that gives a (relatively) concise, ...
0
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3answers
116 views

What is changed in 'guerrilla' and 'guerrillas' usage during the last two hundred years?

"guerrilla: a member of a usually small group of soldiers who do not belong to a regular army and who fight in a war as an independent unit" (M-W) Surely there are specific historical reasons ...
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2answers
80 views

Paraphrasing a context [closed]

What I can infer from the passage is, about about taking the possession by military force. Is it right? The above writing seems arduous to me to comprehend. I want to paraphrase it clearly but ...
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5answers
5k views

Are curly braces ever used in normal text? If not, why were they created?

Are they actually used in normal text? I mean something like a 'normal' book (not a manual, or a technical document). I don't think I've ever seen them yet they clearly predate programming which is ...
9
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1answer
1k views

What is the earliest recorded pun in the English language?

So, I'll admit I love a good pun. Done correctly, it is humor for the clever that builds up rather than tears down. Plus, it beats an emetic in the right situation. That said, I wonder how far back ...
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1answer
2k views

Why is Beowulf considered one of the most important works in the history of the English language? [closed]

Apologies if this is too subjective of a question. I'm currently studying Beowulf. I've seen it referred to as one of the, if not the first, most influential works of Anglo-Saxon literature. Some ...
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1answer
109 views

How old is the phrase “A Healthy Pee” (or “A Healthy Piss”)

What is the earliest usage of the phrase "a healthy pee" or "a healthy piss"? The letter "P", or its spelled form, "pee", used euphemistically for "piss" (because "piss" begins with that letter -- ...
9
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1answer
463 views

Did 'fornication' ever mean vaulting?

The following dialog is an excerpt from Terry Pratchet's Making Money: “Isn’t the fornication wonderful?” After quite a lengthy pause, Moist ventured, “Is it?” “Don’t you think so? ...
6
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1answer
228 views

A ligature “og”

I met a ligature "og" in one of the manuscripts. It is hard to see this ligature there (look at the word "logicae". Have you met anything similar? Is there a better manuscript with this ligature or ...
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3answers
3k 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 ...
3
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2answers
452 views

When did “text” come to be defined as something other than words?

I think the answer to this question may be in the OED, but I don't have access to the service. I am discussing "texts" using definitions (from dictionary.com) like this: text: any theme or topic; ...
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2answers
1k views

How did the term “dongle” come into use? [duplicate]

Why was the word "dongle" chosen to represent this kind of hardware device? I can imagine that it was related to the word "dangle"... since dongles tend to dangle - but that's just my hunch and not ...
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5answers
14k 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, ...
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2answers
2k views

What is the etymology of “yellow”, and why is it so different in other European languages?

It seems like most of our names for colors come from our German roots (blue/blau, green/grün, red/rot, etc.). But yellow is gelb in German, amarillo in Spanish, jaune in French, and giallo in Italian. ...
15
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8answers
7k 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 ...
15
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3answers
5k 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
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1answer
517 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
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1answer
182 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
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4answers
579 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
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2answers
539 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
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2answers
155 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?
3
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1answer
3k 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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3answers
4k 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
82 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
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2answers
733 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 ...
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2answers
494 views

What is the orgin of “So long”?

What's the origin of this strange substitute for farewell? We say it all the time, but I can't figure its meaning.
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2answers
3k 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 ...
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6answers
5k views

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

When was it first used and in what context?
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2answers
212 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
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1answer
1k 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
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1answer
588 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 ...