Tagged Questions

Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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2
votes
3answers
821 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
5k 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
177 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
516 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
597 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
214 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 ...
26
votes
2answers
4k 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
529 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
169 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
350 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
739 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
4k 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
212 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
405 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
180 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
2k 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 ...
14
votes
2answers
1k 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
781 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
28k 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
933 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
2k 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
218 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
1k 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
619 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 ...
6
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
823 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
320 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 ...
28
votes
6answers
9k 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
586 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
531 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
927 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 ...
5
votes
7answers
18k 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
3k 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
2k 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 ...
9
votes
3answers
2k 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
409 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
433 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
2k 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
220 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
2k 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 ...
11
votes
4answers
31k 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
193 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
272 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 ...
48
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 ...