Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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40
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5answers
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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
393 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 ...
1
vote
1answer
206 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
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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 ...
10
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4answers
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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
184 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
246 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 ...
47
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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
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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
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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
190 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
604 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
3answers
3k 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
344 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
378 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
2k 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
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1answer
604 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
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0answers
829 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
448 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
5k 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
870 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
537 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 ...
6
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2answers
884 views

Why is “hiccup” spelled with two c's?

Is there a historical or grammatical reason for spelling hiccup with two c's?
4
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1answer
418 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
448 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
512 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, ...
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votes
2answers
432 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
548 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?
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3answers
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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
458 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.
15
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6answers
859 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
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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
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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
641 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
997 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
377 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
582 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
3k 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
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1answer
315 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
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4answers
213 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
815 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
9k 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 ...