Questions about the history and trends of the English language

learn more… | top users | synonyms

6
votes
3answers
262 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
votes
3answers
120 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 ...
-1
votes
2answers
91 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 ...
8
votes
5answers
7k 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
votes
1answer
2k 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 ...
1
vote
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 ...
1
vote
1answer
124 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 -- ...
10
votes
1answer
626 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
votes
1answer
259 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 ...
4
votes
4answers
4k 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
votes
2answers
579 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; ...
1
vote
2answers
2k 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 ...
15
votes
5answers
21k 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, ...
48
votes
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
votes
8answers
11k 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
votes
3answers
6k 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
664 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
195 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. ...
7
votes
4answers
678 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
620 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
188 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
votes
1answer
4k 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
3answers
5k 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
88 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
823 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 ...
5
votes
2answers
649 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.
0
votes
2answers
4k 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
6answers
7k views

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

When was it first used and in what context?
2
votes
4answers
5k views

Where did the word 'golliwog' come from?

I am aware that the term is considered offensive. And I know that it refers to soft faced black dolls. But before that character was introduced, did 'golliwog' have meaning? I mean was it made up, or ...
1
vote
2answers
237 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
2k 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
658 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 ...
6
votes
5answers
828 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
175 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
195 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
961 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
1k 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
593 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
195 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
2answers
604 views

Reform of English writing? [closed]

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
198 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
354 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 ...
2
votes
3answers
2k 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
526 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
2k 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
843 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
105 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
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
votes
3answers
208 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 ...
4
votes
4answers
2k 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 ...