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

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4
votes
2answers
429 views

Officer's shoulder bars - what are they?

I have read one historical joke, that during the Civil War Officer's shoulder bars were called "pumpkin rinds". Where are these mysterious shoulder bars from? I can find only shoulder boards or straps ...
2
votes
2answers
3k views

“Hi ladies” — Is it rude to use this greeting for 3 people? [closed]

In addressing three people in an email isn't it more polite to use their names rather than "Hi ladies"? Also when you walk into a quad cubicle isn't it more polite to address people by their names? ...
0
votes
4answers
4k views

Do we ask for check or cheque in restaurants?

I know there is a related question asked here. But its slightly different than it and seeking more information. I live in India, I have been to America couple of times. In my first trip it was ...
18
votes
1answer
781 views

In old books, why is the first word of the next page printed at the bottom of this page?

In old books from the 16th to 18th centuries, the first word from the next page is often printed right justified on its own, at the end of the current page. It's not in every book of this period, but ...
7
votes
1answer
515 views

“Machine” as a 1920s American term for “car”

I've recently been reading some of the short stories of Dashiell Hammett featuring the Continental Op. These stories were written in the 1920s and are about a detective investigating crime in and ...
5
votes
2answers
722 views

Why is “hiccup” spelled with two c's?

Is there a historical or grammatical reason for spelling hiccup with two c's?
4
votes
1answer
366 views

Why are “homework” and “work” uncountable in English? [closed]

In Bulgarian both "homework" and "work" are countable. Why are they uncountable in English then? What is the difference in meaning that makes that happen?
7
votes
1answer
421 views

Why has “sware” become “swore”, “bare” “bore”, etc?

As far as I know, there are four verbs (swear, bear, tear, and wear) whose simple past forms used to be (archaically) sware, bare, tare, and ware; but are now exclusively swore, bore, tore, and wore. ...
5
votes
2answers
447 views

What is the meaning, history, and current popularity of “of a Monday” (or Tuesday, or Wednesday, etc.)?

I was watching a 1934 Hollywood film today and one of the American characters used the phrase, Of a Tuesday. I don't think I'd ever heard an American use this in real life or in a film before then, ...
-1
votes
2answers
420 views

When and where did “not” become commonly used in contraction for, as in “didn't”? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Were contractions less common in olden days? I have read some old books in which they did not use "didn't", "wasn't", or similar contractions with "not". I just watched ...
7
votes
2answers
488 views

'Artisanal': what is its modern cultural history?

As an AmE speaker, the word 'artisanal' sounds very new to me. I see it every where nowadays on advertising and packaging for grocery store items like bread, cheese, olive oil, and I've seen it ...
7
votes
6answers
1k views

When was the word 'being' first used to refer to a human being or sentient being?

I am confused by the use of the word being to refer to a static thing. How can this word that appears to clearly be a verb gerund get turned around to be used as a thing?
-1
votes
3answers
4k views

Meaning of “whoa” [closed]

Some dictionaries define whoa as Stop! while some define it as an expression of surprise/astonishment. Is there such a word as whoa, where did it originate from and what is its actual meaning?
1
vote
0answers
442 views

Describe the detailed phonetic environment for the appearance/presence of /ɜ:/. [closed]

One recent vowel phoneme in English is /ɜ:/. It would seem that this sound only developed in a certain phonetic environment, or to phrase it differently: it only appeared under certain conditions.
14
votes
6answers
764 views

Paucity of words for relationships

Please refer the following questions asked elsewhere on this site: Is there a word that means "the wife of one's brother"? What is the relationship name of my wife's brother to me? ...
5
votes
1answer
1k views

Consonant transposition: Why is “Wednesday” pronounced “Wensday”?

It appears like a couple of consonant sounds have been transposed. How, why did that happen?
9
votes
4answers
1k views

Why did “insofar” become a word, not “insofaras”?

So I'm thinking about how "insofar" became a word. This slightly unfair comparison shows that it happened relatively recently. Now, whenever I've seen it written, "insofar" is followed by "as". So ...
10
votes
2answers
2k views

What makes a word offensive?

Whilst I was sat on the bus yesterday, I overheard a group of teenagers discussing various things. As per the usual social requirement at that age, every 5th word was an expletive. Not exactly the ...
4
votes
3answers
608 views

Which flavor of English (British vs. American) first had standard modern spellings?

Which flavor, British English or American English, first standardised its modern spellings? I'm mostly interested in the direction of alteration; for example, was the u dropped from colour or was the ...
9
votes
6answers
806 views

History/Orgin of “troubleshoot”?

What is the history of the word "troubleshoot"? At face value, it seems to be mean "aiming for trouble." Which must be short-hand for locating the source of the trouble by reproducing it under ...
1
vote
2answers
363 views

Where can I read old English text with new English explanations [closed]

I like old English like "Coole their heeles", "thee" ,"thy" ,"ye" etc. Where can I find old English text but with explanations and meaning? I would also like to read old text, can you list them ...
8
votes
2answers
3k views

Where does 'cooling your heels' come from?

I can't think of a possible scenario where one would tell another to cool his heels (the very first time). Even if you walk a lot, only your legs hurt a lot. Why particularly heels? How did it come ...
13
votes
2answers
523 views

Why is a w a “Double u”, but an m is not a “Double n”?

My 4 year old son just asked me this, and I have to say I am totally stumped. I hate not telling him things, so here's hoping you guys can dig me out of this hole. You can't fault his logic!
1
vote
2answers
2k views

Origin of “good night” [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What is the origin of the word “goodbye”? These are probably the most used two words in our day-to-day conversations. We normally use superlative degrees all ...
6
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the meaning and origin of “set-piece battle”?

The definition I've found that makes the most sense is Wikipedia's: In warfare, a set piece battle may involve large formations moving according to a plan and responding to the opposing force also ...
8
votes
1answer
303 views

Why bread crumbs and not stones?

In UI navigation jargon, bread crumbs are used to describe a trail of links back to the starting point. This is obviously a reference to Hansel and Gretel, where they use a literal trail of bread ...
7
votes
3answers
202 views

What is the likely definition of a women's “'health' west” from 1891?

In an 1891 newspaper advertisement (published in Manitoba, Canada) there is a reference to "wool 'health' wests in girls and ladies" which on first glance looks like a spelling error but is repeated ...
3
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are “connection” and “connexion” both used in the same work?

This question, Google Ngrams, Wikipedia, and several dictionaries all say that connexion is an alternate, obsolete spelling of connection. I am reading a several-hundred page treatise (Milton S. ...
3
votes
1answer
737 views

Origin of “to see it through”

What is the origin of the phrase "to see it through"? How early was it invented? Would it sound out of place in an attempt to emulate older (200–400 years older) English?
7
votes
6answers
8k views

Origin of the phrase “drink you under the table”

I have often heard people say I could drink you under the table or Mary drank Joe under the table This typically means that someone could drink more alcohol than someone else. What is ...
5
votes
1answer
1k views

Origin of “tootsie” or “tootsy” (foot)

I was just sitting thinking I had cold tootsies meaning my toes or feet! This got me wondering, where on earth does the word tootsie/tootsy come from? I did Google this and got definitions ...
6
votes
3answers
668 views

Is there a synonym for “defenestrate”?

Thesaurus.com lists no synonyms for defenestrate, and I can't think of any (aside from its definition). However, according to etymonline, it has been in use since 1620 (although Wikipedia refers to ...
42
votes
7answers
27k views

What did “google” mean in the 1900s?

I know that Google got its name from the word googol (10100), and that Google/google referring the search engine/using the search engine are recent additions to the dictionary. Their definitions are ...
11
votes
2answers
1k views

First usage of parentheses or brackets ( and )

I have found several sources (Wikipedia, Eats Shoots & Leaves) that claim Erasmus was the first person to use parentheses (also known as brackets). He supposedly called them lunulae (because they ...
2
votes
1answer
306 views

What is the story behind “Get off my lawn”? [closed]

Often when someone wants to make a point that they are really experienced in the field they say something along the lines of, "I've been in this line of work for as long as your age, get off my lawn ...
6
votes
4answers
3k views

Etymology of “mullet”?

I was pondering the names of haircuts the other day, and I could understand the origins of most of them: pudding basin, crew cut, duck's arse, and bog brush are all reasonably obvious, but I was ...
9
votes
4answers
2k views

Origin/reason for the “hit by a bus” phrase

Often at my job when someone is becoming a single source of knowledge or otherwise has a skill that no one else on the team or the department has, a common expression is: If John was hit by a bus, ...
9
votes
2answers
644 views

father-in-law = step-father?

I've been reading Middlemarch, and came across a usage of father-in-law which, from context, must mean step-father. Later in the same novel, the phrase father-in-law was used as we would use it today. ...
2
votes
1answer
349 views

When did the alternative meanings of 'beard' start being used?

I read that beard can mean something like "confront someone".. When did a word that means a little facial hair turn into a hostile verb?
3
votes
3answers
1k views

Were there any other synonyms to “sustainability” before the 80s?

The German word for sustainability, Nachhaltigkeit, arose (according to Wiktionary) in the 18th century. Ngrams shows this. I was wondering if the concept of sustainability did not exist before ...
34
votes
6answers
3k views

How did “Jew” become pejorative?

For some reason, the word Jew often carries a pejorative or offensive connotation, which the related adjective Jewish does not carry. This is most obvious when either word is used as an attributive: ...
9
votes
1answer
487 views

English Subjunctive: An Imposition from Latin?

Often English grammar (as well as Koinê Greek, e.g "deponent", and probably others), has often been ruled by what I call "totalitarian grammarians" who impose Latin structures on it rather than doing ...
4
votes
2answers
7k views

Where did the slang usages of “cool” come from?

I see and hear two general slang usages of cool - one meaning great (illustrated by a and b below), and one meaning acceptable/okay (illustrated by c and d). The following are Dictionary.com's four ...
4
votes
2answers
215 views

Was “oop” really more common than “oops” till 1990?

Ngrams shows a marked preference for oop over oops up until 1990: Is Ngrams to be trusted here? Is it strange that I've never seen oop in writing? Even Dictionary.com doesn't have anything more ...
7
votes
2answers
3k views

How did pirates really talk?

In this question we learned that pirates did not really talk how they are commonly portrayed. Given that they were professional sailors, they probably had a wide store of nautical jargon; but what ...
3
votes
1answer
128 views

Was the term “Knights of the Round” ever commonly used?

There's an arcade game by Capcom called Knights of the Round, whose name always piqued my interest. It's based on the Arthurian legend of the finding of the Holy Grail. During the game ending, the ...
12
votes
3answers
701 views

Why is “Saturday” Romanic?

Sunday and Monday are named after the sun and moon (English < Germanic), and Tuesday through Friday are named after Anglo-Saxon/Germanic gods. This seems consistent enough so far, but then we come ...
6
votes
2answers
244 views

Has the incorporation of foreign phrases in English stopped?

I know English contains many words taken directly from another language - chauffeur, for example - but I am interested in foreign phrases. These are phrases you'd see in writing or spoken aloud, such ...
8
votes
2answers
424 views

Why is the current unrest in the Arab world called the “Arab Spring”?

Does spring in "Arab Spring" refer to the season - or something else?
2
votes
1answer
157 views

Fashionable photographers

I saw somewhere this quote from Wodehouse's Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927): "Statistics show that the two classes of the community which least often marry are milkmen and fashionable photographers – ...