Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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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 ...
48
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7answers
63k 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
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2answers
2k 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
506 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 ...
8
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4answers
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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 ...
11
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4answers
4k 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, ...
10
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2answers
1k 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
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3answers
643 views

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

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?
4
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3answers
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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 ...
39
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6answers
7k 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: ...
10
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1answer
614 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
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2answers
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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
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2answers
273 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 ...
10
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2answers
5k views

How did pirates really talk?

In this question we learned that the common portrayal of pirate English is not historically accurate. Given that they were professional sailors, they probably had a wide store of nautical jargon; but ...
3
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1answer
151 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
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3answers
1k 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
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2answers
298 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
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2answers
2k 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
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1answer
183 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 – ...
11
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3answers
6k views

Why (and since when) is prostitution called “the world's oldest profession”? [closed]

According to Wikipedia, the phrase the world's second oldest profession is "spying" and the world's oldest profession is prostitution. I was always raised with the understanding that prostitution was ...
1
vote
2answers
702 views

Does Caesar and Augustus refer to the same person? [closed]

In this recording of a Documentary about Dark Age For three days, the great capital of Caesar and Augustusis ravaged by its unwelcome guests, the stunning architectural marvels that stood for ...
133
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3answers
5k views

Where were “should”, “shall”, and “must” in the 18th Century?

According to the following Google Ngram, in the U.K. the modals should, shall, and must were virtually missing from English writing during the 18th Century (I've added will for a comparison modal ...
9
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3answers
10k views

History of the phrase “for Mother Russia”

When I played the Battle Zone II video game in the late 1990s, which was plotted around a war between a New Soviet Union and a future analog of the USA, I noticed that Russian tanks and pilots ...
7
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3answers
8k views

Do you “call an audible” when you “play it by ear”?

I recently overheard the phrase, "call an audible" and mentally likened it to, "play it by ear." But when I went to look it up, I discovered that the general consensus is that the former hails from ...
4
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2answers
274 views

Is there any categorical name for these kind of words?

Words which are derived from Sanskrit (which is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism) Or Hindi into English. For example: avatar ...
4
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1answer
572 views

Chicks - Girls, Cats - Boys?

The 1950's song Fever (covered, among others, by Elvis Presley) contains the following lines: Now you've listened to my story Here's the point that I have made Cats were born to give chicks ...
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2answers
3k views

Origin and meaning of “along the lines of”

Where does the phrase along the lines of come from, and what are you really saying? For instance, if you were commissioning a sculpture you might sit down with the artist and a pen and paper and say ...
21
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3answers
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Old English instead of Latin in early Britain

For almost 400 years, Britain was a Roman province. During that period, naturally, Latin was an important language in the region. When the Germanic tribes invaded the British Isles (around the 5th ...
8
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2answers
932 views

History of the phrase “olden days”

When and where was the phrase olden days coined?
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3answers
3k views

Name of castle part

What do you call these? Please provide a reliable source with your answer.
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2answers
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Use of “f ” instead of “s” in historic, printed English documents

I was at a museum in London yesterday, and one of the items on exhibit is a document from the eighteenth century. It uses the letter f a lot where s should be used—for example, in Majefty. Did the ...
2
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2answers
7k views

When did Indo-European descendants stop speaking Old English? What were the influencing factors in the shift from Old English to Modern English? [closed]

There is Old English, and there is the English we speak now. When did exactly did the British (or Americans) change from speaking Old English to speaking the current form of English?
5
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1answer
1k views

Good and bad - suppletive adjectives

In English, there are three suppletive adjectives: good, bad and far. Their comparative and superlative forms derive from different stems, i.e., we have best instead of *goodest, worse instead of ...
10
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3answers
799 views

“Invoke” and “invocation”

We invoke something using an invocation. Is the use of a k and a c in words of the same root like this unusual? Might I reasonably expect invocation to be spelled invokation?
7
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1answer
735 views

What is the meaning of the idiom “Like the Nation”?

In the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there are several curious references to "the nation". For example, in chapter 22: And at last, sure enough, [...] the horse broke loose, and away he ...
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6answers
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History of “have a good one”

I used to work at a grocery store. When bidding farewell to customers, my coworkers would often use phrases such as "Have a nice day," "Enjoy your day," and the like. One particular phrase that ...
6
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1answer
2k views

Origin of “they”, “them”, and “their”

I know that they, them, and their did not exist in Old English. What language are they derived from?
12
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4answers
3k views

Examples of Ancient Brythonic words in modern English?

So, from a cursory understanding of English history (and I am very happy to say that) I was able to, one might note that the cultural history of those who lived in England might proceed: ...
4
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2answers
1k views

What does “bad-ass wives” exactly mean? Why did “bad-ass” come to mean “tough and aggressive”?

Time magazine carries the list of ‘Top 10 Bad-ass wives’ (in the world, or in history) in its July 21 issue with the lead copy: When a comedian tried to throw a pie in her husband's face, Wendi ...
4
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3answers
803 views

Is the term “antagonym” widely used to describe a word that is its own antonym?

There are several words which have contradictory meanings. They may have one meaning now, and have had a different meaning in the past. For example, the current definition of peruse is: to look ...
1
vote
3answers
169 views

Oh, Say Can You See?

In the Star Spangled Banner, the opening line/question is "Oh, say can you see..." Is that grammatically correct? Why isn't it "Oh, say you can see...?"
3
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1answer
2k views

Etymology of seemingly weird collective nouns [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Terms for collections of animals In the collective names unkindness of ravens, shrewdness of apes, murder of crows, I cannot find any remote relation to a group. What is ...
11
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2answers
5k views

Why is “gauge” spelled with a 'u'?

I was rather old before I realized "gauge" is pronounced (and sometimes spelt) "gage". The etymology doesn't reveal too much: mid-15c., from Anglo-Fr. gauge (mid-14c.), from O.N.Fr. gauger, from ...
2
votes
0answers
273 views

Why do we use a leading dollar sign? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicates: What is the difference between 20$ and $20? Why is the unit of measure placed before the value for currencies? Are there other measures where the unit precedes value? ...
27
votes
2answers
3k views

What is the name for the process which turned “iced cream” into “ice cream”?

There are several words (mostly related to food) which are shortenings of their historical forms. For example, the cold treat ice cream was originally known as iced cream in the 1680s. The -ed ending ...
5
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3answers
6k views

Origins of the phrase “You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”?

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. This phrase is famously used in Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan. The metaphor itself is so simple and powerful I'm sure it ...
11
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1answer
2k views

Is it true that yeast was once called “Godisgoode”?

In this article discussing beer, it is said that in medieval times yeast (possibly only brewer's yeast) was called godisgoode. Is that the case? (Searching on Google sheds very little light on the ...
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3answers
2k views

Use of the term Hans in an American name in the 1700's

I'm doing some research on family history. I am trying to track some people that came to the U.S from Germany in 1737 on the ship "Charming Nancy". Here's the link: ...
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3answers
15k views

Why is the right jack in cribbage also called “his Knobs”?

Before we got married, my husband taught me cribbage as his way of showing me how important our relationship was to him. One of the points in cribbage is for having "the right jack," or the jack ...
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3answers
2k views

What's the origin of the word “sprite”?

EDIT: I appreciate all the answers and the effort provided here, but my question is not about the meaning about the word in English, but about the genesis of the word in computer graphics—I linked ...