Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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2
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1answer
2k 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 ...
7
votes
2answers
3k 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
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1answer
81 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
664 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
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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 ...
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2answers
4k views

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

When was it first used and in what context?
1
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2answers
190 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
873 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
527 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
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4answers
592 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
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1answer
143 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
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1answer
154 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
708 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
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2answers
779 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
411 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
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1answer
156 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
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1answer
461 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
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1answer
180 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
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1answer
200 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 ...
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0answers
91 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
877 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
338 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
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4answers
917 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
657 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 ...
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0answers
144 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
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1answer
94 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
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4answers
2k 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
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3answers
170 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
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3answers
597 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
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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
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1answer
3k 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
647 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
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1answer
317 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
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1answer
308 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, ...
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2answers
134 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 ...
5
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2answers
4k 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 ...
12
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2answers
205 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
201 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
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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
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1answer
732 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
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2answers
426 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
281 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
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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
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3answers
617 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
565 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
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2answers
351 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
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3answers
714 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
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3answers
268 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
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5answers
1k 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
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2answers
404 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 ...