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

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4
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2answers
394 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
2k 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
184 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
1k 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
295 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
162 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
993 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
866 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
864 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 ...
11
votes
3answers
582 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. ...
2
votes
2answers
13k 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
2k 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
663 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
826 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
202 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
690 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
441 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 ...
13
votes
4answers
727 views

“Yes marry have I” usage

I was looking through the original text of a popular nursery rhyme “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book when noticed an expression whose meaning I can’t understand: “Yes, marry, ...
7
votes
1answer
234 views

Does “tapall” or “tappies” mean “mail” in English?

I had been wondering about a non-native word in Tamil: Thabal, meaning post. This word has origins from elsewhere, and I had not been able to figure out the etymology. Searches in Internet had also ...
27
votes
5answers
7k views

Hip Hip Hooray!

I am looking for the etymology and history of the cheer “Hip Hip Hooray”. I’m curious due to its interesting entry in Wikipedia, which reads thusly: The call was recorded in England in the ...
1
vote
2answers
425 views

Capitalizing “U” in “United States” [closed]

Is it true that until the Civil War we did not capitalize the U in United States?
14
votes
4answers
458 views

Name of the trade(s) that are involved in making animal-drawn carriages

What are the terms for tradesmen involved in making carriages? One specific vocation comes to mind: wheelwright or, simply, wheeler. But, obviously, that name implies narrow focus of the profession. ...
-2
votes
1answer
782 views

The growth of English

English is (to her credit) widely considered a language of .. mixed breeding, seeing as to how she accepts favours from just about anybody and everybody. What I'd like to know is how and by how much ...
4
votes
3answers
11k views

What is the origin of the phrase “two nations divided by a common language”?

What is the origin of the phrase "two nations divided by a common language"? I have seen it attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill. The most likely looking source ...
6
votes
1answer
2k views

Variations in the pronunciation of “ea”

Perhaps this is more of a Linguistics question, so I apologize if this is not posted in the right place. Why is it that these words in English sound so different? earth   = /ɜrθ/     “urth” hearth ...
13
votes
5answers
1k views

Rhyme in Elizabethan sonnets

In sonnets from the Elizabethan period, "move" rhymed with "love" although they don't today. Recognizing that changes in spelling rarely keep up with changes in pronunciation, how were "move" and ...
7
votes
2answers
946 views

Why do we say that someone “practices” law or medicine?

I’m wondering why we refer to providing legal or medical services as a practice of law or medicine, respectively. For example, we say that a lawyer practices law or a doctor practices medicine. This ...
5
votes
1answer
373 views

Changing person and tense in a quote

I'm reading Cranford (1853) by Elizabeth Gaskell, and encountered the following passage: "Have you seen any numbers of Pickwick Papers?" said [Captain Brown]. (They were then publishing in parts.) ...
40
votes
5answers
2k views

What did we say before “clockwise”?

Before there were clocks, what did people say to describe the clockwise and anti/counter-clockwise directions? Whilst we're on the subject, when was the word "clockwise" first used?
7
votes
2answers
375 views

History of pronunciation of “moiety”

Wiktionary shows the pronunciation of moiety as /ˈmɔɪ.ə.ti/, which I think agrees with the audio versions at merriam-webster.com and howjsay.com. (Be warned that both those links produce audio when ...
7
votes
2answers
1k views

Why is “can” such an odd verb?

The English verb can is very strange for several reasons: It drops the to on any infinitive verb forms that follow it. That is, unlike in the verb want in the sentence I want to eat, you would not ...
1
vote
1answer
200 views

Did “Fool” used to mean “mentally handicapped”?

In 1861, JS Mill wrote in his book Utilitarianism: it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. I'm curious what ...
8
votes
2answers
1k views

Researching the real origin of SNAFU

I know the wiki origin puts SNAFU as appearing during WWII as the first in a long line of military slang, BUT, years ago I recollect reading in an electronics magazine, likely 'Wireless World' from ...
8
votes
4answers
14k views

Where did the “unavailable” meaning of “Out of Pocket” come from?

The phrase "out of pocket" is often used in my office to mean "unavailable". I've found reference to this on the internet as well, but no obvious clue to where this meaning comes from. Where does ...
5
votes
2answers
174 views

Dialectal and historical usage of “not care” in the meaning of “not mind”

In standard Present-day English, "I don't care to be there" means the same as "I don't wish to be there." Apparently, this is not the case in some present and historical dialects. Wylene P. Dial ...
4
votes
1answer
226 views

What's the etymology of English letter casing terminology?

The popular consensus around the web (i.e., Wikipedia) seems to be that "upper case" and "lower case" originate from typesetting convention of upper and lower drawers for letters, possibly preceded by ...
46
votes
7answers
3k views

Why does legal English continue to remain archaic?

Perhaps this is a question for Law.SE if one exists, but I am asking here as there are other nice questions on English history. There is some historical development account presented in Wikipedia, ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

The history and use of the term “moth hour”

I had never heard or read the term moth hour before, but am reading the American author Jan Karon's book "In the Company of Others" and she uses it several times. The book is set in Ireland, and there ...
19
votes
1answer
3k views

Historical reasons of footnotes' sequence symbols

According to the @Mahnax's answer to this question, the footnotes' sequence symbols is the following (Chicago Manual of Style Online): * (asterisk; but do not use if p values occur in the table; ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

What is the origin of “number” as in song or dance?

What is the origin of number as another word for a song or dance? For example: And then, when Astro came out to perform his sing-off against Ms. Francis for the right to stay in the competition, ...
7
votes
1answer
178 views

Etymology of “inkhorn”

I had never heard the word inkhorn before I saw it used in http://english.stackexchange.com/a/62354/13812. The NOAD says that this is a historical noun meaning a small portable container for ink, and ...
2
votes
5answers
571 views

Why do some non-English words become English words?

Why do some non-English words become English words even though there is already are English words meaning the same thing that are more universally understandable? For example, He received kudos ...
4
votes
2answers
2k views

Etymological origin of “deosil” and “widdershins”

I've been hearing the words "deosil" used for clockwise and "widdershins" for anticlockwise, but where do they come from? I'm told that "widdershins" is from a Scottish term meaning "against the ...
5
votes
1answer
318 views

Why “USSR” but not “UCSR”?

USSR stands for Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The adjective "Soviet" is formed from the noun "Soviet" which in Russian means "Council". (That was roughly the idea behind the revolution and USSR ...
5
votes
1answer
372 views

How has the usage of 'should' varied over time? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: “Should” versus “would” In Spring 1936, Evelyn Waugh sent a marriage proposal to Laura Herbert, in which he wrote: [...] On the other ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Origin & history of name “she oak” or “sheoak” (a Casuarina tree)

In wikipedia's Casuarinaceae article (and somewhat similarly in its Casuarina article), one finds: The most widely used common name for Casuarinaceae species is sheoak or she-oak (a comparison of ...
2
votes
1answer
581 views

Describing Historical Events

When we describe historical events, like events related to the Roman empires, Persian empires, etc., what is the best way to describe peoples' thought with a connection to the present? People ...
1
vote
0answers
731 views

What does “dictated not read” mean in a literary sense? [closed]

There have been letters ended with the phrase: Dictated, not read, This means that the secretary printed and distributed it without review from the author. But, when this is emphasized in ...