Questions about the history and trends of the English language

learn more… | top users | synonyms

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
votes
2answers
535 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
272 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
268 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
120 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
185 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
172 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
596 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
384 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
251 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
1k 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
586 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
464 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
292 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
656 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
247 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
5answers
929 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
372 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
463 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
686 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
4k 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
165 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
430 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
561 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
170 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 ...
23
votes
2answers
3k 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
485 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
160 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
318 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.
4
votes
2answers
511 views

How did “classic” and “classical” come to mean “historic”?

I assume the words classic and classical have a basis in the word class — which is to say, of a category. Why do we use those words to mean old or historically important?
7
votes
2answers
3k views

Normans vs. Saxons: cow = beef, sheep = mutton, chicken =?

The story goes that after the Norman invasion of England, the words in English for prepared foods took on their French equivalents. The Saxon serfs bred the cows, sheep, and swine, which when served ...
4
votes
2answers
202 views

First known occurrence of the word “technique” in English

I’m trying to track down the first printed use of the word technique in English. Can anyone tell me the name, author, and date of the publication in question? It would be especially valuable, on top ...
8
votes
4answers
2k views

What did 'make love' mean in the '60s?

Nowadays (in the States, anyway) to make love means only "to engage in sexual intercourse with both parties willing" (or perhaps also the similar "to engage in sexual fondling with both parties ...
9
votes
2answers
359 views

How was “ben't” used, and when did it cease to be used?

In Jane Austen's The Watsons, the maid of the titular family utters the following sentence: "Please, ma'am, master wants to know why he ben't to have his dinner?" I have never encountered ben't ...
6
votes
1answer
168 views

“mark” in generational naming of products

What is the story behind the word mark as a synonym for version in products, such as Canon 5D Mark III or Aston Martin DB Mark III?
2
votes
5answers
1k views

What is the origin of “rag” meaning newspaper?

In Australia and the UK, some folks refer to a newspaper as a rag, and I am curious how this term was coined. Although most people would ask for a newspaper, I have gone around asking "Have you got a ...
1
vote
1answer
1k views

Change from to-day to today

In old books, people often use the spelling "to-day" instead of "today". When did the change happen? Also, when people wrote "to-day", did they feel, when pronouncing the word, that it contained two ...
13
votes
2answers
931 views

Canadian spelling: why?

As a Canadian, I feel that our spelling tendencies—sometimes British, sometimes American—fit quite well with our geographic, historic and cultural placement between these two bigger countries. I have ...
13
votes
3answers
700 views

What was going on with “quha”, “quhat” and the like in Scots and English?

From the Dictionar o the Scots Leid: Quha, Quhay, interrog. and rel. pron. Also: qwha, qha, qua, qwa, wha, vha, hua; qhaa; quhaw; quhai qwhay, whay, quay; quhae, whae; quhe, quhey, qwhey. ...
3
votes
3answers
21k views

What is “Oki-doki” or “Oki-dokie” or “Okay-dokay”

Okay, since now we know what is the origin of OK (I like the Oll Korrect version), I have another question about it's relative: What is an "Oki-doki" or "Oki-dokie" or "Okay-dokay"? What is the ...
1
vote
0answers
53 views

How the English verb conjugation does not have different suffixes? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What happened to the “-est” and “-eth” verb suffixes in English? How were they once used? How do you conjugate Early Modern English verbs (other than ...
10
votes
4answers
3k views

“That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” [closed]

With Neil Armstrong's death today, many news sites are posting articles that quote Neil Armstrong as "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.". My question is, does the quote ...
3
votes
2answers
764 views

Where and when did the negative connotations of “manipulation” appear?

When we think of manipulating objects, we might think of a juggler, magician, chef, etc. When we think of manipulating people, however, it almost always comes with negative connotations. These ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

Why is it “the day is young”, not “still early”? What is the history of the phrase?

Mark Halperin’s article on the Missouri Congressman and Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin’s gaffe in August 20 Time magazine ends up with the lines: “So far, not publicly calling for Akin to ...
7
votes
1answer
209 views

When was the word “scroll” first used as a verb?

We all know that a scroll is a roll of parchment used in ancient times. A scroll can be rolled up or down, and that must have been the metaphor the creator of the computer-term "scroll" had in mind. ...
8
votes
2answers
910 views

“for good” expression in an unfortunate event?

I just heard an expression while watching a TV series yesterday. Someone just died and they said: He is gone for good I googled it and found that "for good" means "forever" in this context. But ...
3
votes
1answer
561 views

“What did you there”

A common nursery rhyme goes like this: Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been? I’ve been down to London to visit the Queen. Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there? I frightened a little ...
5
votes
3answers
3k views

Is “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” still considered ungrammatical?

I was reading The Tipping Point this morning, and the author spoke of how Winston's slogan in the 1950s that went "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" was very memorable because of its ...