Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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Why himself and themselves, not hisself and theirselves? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Why “themselves” and “himself” I = myself   you = yourself  he = himself   she = herself  it = itself   we = ourselves  you = yourselves  they = ...
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2answers
1k views

Genesis of the phrase “life and times”

Commonly used in the formula The life and times of ...
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4answers
3k views

Where did the word 'Wheelbarrow' come from?

I'm fairly confident that it's not a mangled 'Wheeled Barrel'. I've heard of barrows in reference to deep graves, or underground storage chambers.
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3answers
605 views

Why names such as Hastings-on-Hudson?

This question is either about etymology or language generally, as names have this feature in other languages too, but I'm just curious how the practice of naming towns in proximity to bodies of water ...
3
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2answers
959 views

Origins of English Double-C Pronunciations

Looking into Pronunciation of double consonants, turned up an apparent rule for pronouncing a double-C in English that seems to parallel the Italian rule for pronouncing a single C. If the "cc" is ...
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6answers
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What does “everything's gone pear-shaped” mean?

I've recently heard this phrase spoken twice on a British television show, and I assume it means something along the lines of, "everything's fallen apart," generally meaning, things are bad right now. ...
4
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2answers
649 views

How were key positions on the typical QWERTY keyboard chosen? [closed]

It's hard to know where to ask this question, but I decided to ask it here because of how uniquely the keyboard relates to the language being typed. The keyboard appears to be English-specific, but ...
4
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1answer
284 views

Did English ever have an informal version of “we”

Related question: Did English ever have a formal version of "you"? In Portuguese (and probably other languages as well), similar to what happens with the second-person, there are two words ...
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2answers
258 views

Is it safe to use the British standard for numbering in a novel with a worldwide audience? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Billion and other large numbers Where I am from (Barbados) I grew up knowing a Billion to = 1000 000 000 000, not 1000 000 000, and it was some years before I learned to ...
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3answers
131k views

Can someone explain the phrase “All is fair in love and war”?

What are its origins and what does it really mean?
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4answers
3k views

Etymology of “computer” before computer referred to a machine

Before the term "computer" referred to electronic analog or digital computers, it was said to be used to describe people who did computing. Was "Computer" actually a formal job title? How long did ...
2
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1answer
370 views

What is the equivalent of “noughties” and “tweens” for 1900-1920? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicates: What is the name of the first decade in a century? “nineteen-hundreds” I have often heard the period between 2000-2010 called the "noughties", and the ...
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2answers
5k views

What causes the pronunciation “nucular”

What is the name of the phonetic shift behind the common mispronunciation of the word nuclear (nucular)? Or, if the answer is "none", then I would appreciate learning the origin of the pronunciation.
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4answers
1k views

How did English get the “What is your name?” construction?

As a dabbling polyglot, I've found myself learning the basics of several languages over the course of my lifetime. One of the first things that is taught in any language is personal introductions. I ...
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4answers
9k views

What is the history and geographic area of the word “finna?”

In St. Louis, I learned of the word, "finna." I know it is slang/contraction for "fixing to." By asking dozens of people, I've learned that it is used by people of many different races and cultural ...
93
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1answer
6k views

Did English ever have a word for 'yes' for negative questions?

The Germans have doch and the French have si as a word that means "yes" in response to a negative question, such as: Don't you want some ice-cream? Yes [I do]! In English, we only have yes (as ...
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4answers
9k views

Why are the people of the United States called “Americans” when the whole continent is “America” [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Why are the United States often referred to as America? Is it because there wasn't a proper adjective like "United Staterns" or something? Why are Canadians not called ...
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3answers
2k views

Origin of term “doublespeak”

I googled "doublespeak", and I got this: A false Etemology? The word "doublespeak" wasn't "coined in the early 1950's" (I'm on shaky ground here but I doubt if anyone can show me a cite much ...
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6answers
3k views

When and how did “momentarily” come to mean “in a moment”, rather than “for a moment”?

"Momentarily" used to mean "for a moment" only, and not "in a moment". Thus, newscasters could be divided into two clear groups: those who would say "we'll be back momentarily," and those who would ...
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4answers
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How did Americans greet each other before “Hi”?

I had assumed that "hi" was a somehow abbreviated form of "hello," but though both of these words appear to have originated from a noise to attract attention, hi actually predates hello. These words ...
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4answers
1k views

Were “devil” and “damned” really offensive words in Victorian times?

I've been reading Trollope's The Way We Live Now, and have noticed a little stylistic quirk; that the words devil and damned appear blanked out, as d----- and d------. They appear in sentences like... ...
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4answers
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nebula and nebulous - a question of origin

While looking up nebulous, I noticed the origin of the word is dating back to 14th century. Surprised since the nebulae wasn't discovered at that time, I checked nebula to find that its origin dates ...
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4answers
541 views

What exactly does “my grandfather built this house” mean?

When someone says that "my grandfather built this house", say now or even 20-30 years ago, do they mean their grandfather literally built that house from ground up? Foundation, framing, wiring, ...
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2answers
1k views

Etymology of “German” and “germane”

"German" is an adjective referring to anything from Germany. However, I recently stepped across this word "germane". "Germane" means to be "closely related". Being interested, I looked up its history, ...
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5answers
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What is the origin and history of the word “motherf---er”?

I'm not a native English speaker, but I would like to know how and why people started using mother fucker. Today it seems it has lost its meaning because people use it all the time, but was there a ...
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2answers
607 views

The history of the use of “man” [closed]

The pronoun 'he' used generically, as well as a lot of words including "man-kind" or generic "man" are sex-biased and are not acceptable. However, not so long ago, they were the proper used terms for ...
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3answers
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How does the “be-” prefix change the words to which it is applied? How did it come about?

What does the be- prefix change when applied to adjectives and verbs? There are many such words that seemed to be coined of this process, for example: behold, beget, befallen, beridden, ...
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4answers
4k views

Who is Jesus H. Christ?

When used as an expletive, the name Jesus Christ often gets an H inserted into the middle of it for some reason. I've heard lots of guesses about what the H stands for, the most popular one being ...
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2answers
3k views

Why did 'y' disappear as an internal vowel in English spelling?

Why did the character 'y' disappear in favor of 'i' in English spelling? I've often noticed this replacement when merchants try to sell or advertise something as archaic or old-timey, writing wife as ...
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6answers
27k views

What is the origin of the saying, “faint heart never won fair lady”?

Having heard the phrase, "faint heart never won fair lady" for the third time in very short span, I'm determined to find out its origin. Unfortunately, when I Google, I'm getting a bunch of ...
7
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3answers
1k views

Was what happened to the pronunciation of the word “church”, as compared to the Scots-English “kirk”, a general phenomenon in Middle English?

The other day, I was reading a history of the Norman and Angevin kings, and came across the word kirk in an ecclesiastical context, which I had to look up, having no clue of its meaning. The Online ...
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5answers
9k views

Where does the phrase “get crackin'” come from?

"There's a lot of work to be done, so we'd better get crackin'" I've often used this expression, but I have no idea what we might have been cracking, originally? Any insight?
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4answers
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Why use the word “copy” in “do you copy that”?

I notice "do you copy that?" is used in movies to ask for confirmation in telephone/interphone conversation. I only know copy means make things duplicated, so why use it in "do you copy that"? Is ...
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2answers
2k views

Is the history of h-dropping in English in any way related to the silent h of French?

I was reading up on Richard the III, and his exploits just now in Wikipedia — as is the nature of Wiki, that further me led to stumble to Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's page, where I learned ...
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6answers
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What we've gelost — why doesn't English use the prefix “ge-”?

The Germanic languages that I'm familiar with all use a prefix similar to ge- on past participles: German: Ich habe mir den Fuß gebrochen. Dutch: Ik heb mijn voet gebroken. But English ...
7
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2answers
195 views

Monsters! another question about what-was-it-then

Etymonline has the original meaning of monster as c.1300, "malformed animal, creature afflicted with a birth defect" but I am curious to know the term used at that time -- and even earlier -- for ...
27
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3answers
17k views

Why doesn't “its” have an apostrophe?

I know that its is the possessive and it's is the contraction, and know when to use them. But why doesn't the possessive have an apostrophe? "The bear's eating a fish." [contraction] "The bear's ...
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5answers
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Etymology of “Easter”

I’ve heard claims that the word Easter has the same Bronze Age root as east, Ishtar, Astarte, and ultimately star. Is this the correct etymology of the word Easter?
7
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4answers
651 views

When and why did the em-dash and the hyphen supplant the semicolon?

It seems to me that semicolons are rarely used today in ordinary English writing - even in newspapers and books. They appear to have been replaced, in many cases, by em-dashes and hyphens (the hyphen ...
12
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3answers
4k views

What does the “right” in the “The Right Honourable” mean? Why is it there?

I don't think the right in the "The Right Honourable" means "correct", because I can't see how that makes sense in context. I considered right as a British slang intensifier that means "really", but ...
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4answers
1k views

Are the verbs that are conjugated to end in “-n” in the past related?

There are many words that in English are conjugated in the past tense to end in "-n": grow goes to grown, sew goes to sewn, throw goes to thrown, etc.. I'm guessing it was probably the regular ...
4
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4answers
453 views

Which meaning of “to conceive” came first?

"To conceive" has two primary meanings to give birth to originate (an idea) Either one could be a metaphor for the other. MW just gave the etymology of the Latin parts without giving a history ...
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3answers
3k views

Where does “hot damn!” come from?

There is the exclamation "hot damn", which one might use, in certain contexts, similar to " All right!", or "Excellent!" (American English, as far as I know.) Google ngrams says it doesn't see it ...
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3answers
1k views

Evolution of the meaning of “to dwell”

The Old English meaning of "to dwell" (dwellan) is to mislead. Can we trace the gradual shift from this original sense to that of Modern English: to reside, to inhabit ?
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5answers
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How and in what way did the Danes come to influence English?

I was looking for some insight into the farewell greeting ta on The Urban Dictionary just now, and came across this mostly excellent top-ranked answer (adapted slightly, emphasis mine): A slang ...
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6answers
2k views

Pronunciation of the English alphabet

Why are there inconsistencies in the pronunciation of the consonants of the alphabet? For example: 'b' is pronounced like 'bee' but 'm' is pronounced as 'em' rather than 'me'. The pronunciation of 'h' ...
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2answers
2k views

Why did Old Testament scholars choose to employ “to know” in a sexual sense?

For those of us not familiar, the verb to know once had an archaic sexual sense, often found in the Old Testament, and as illustrated in the following story found in Genesis 19: 4 But before they ...
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3answers
3k views

Different ways to pronounce “augh”

In the word laugh, it is pronounced "aff". In the word naught, it is pronounced "aw". Are there any other ways to pronounce "augh"? Bonus points for etymology explaining from where these ...
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5answers
9k views

Can one say “I should like” rather than “I would like”? Is the former grammatical?

My focus here is on the should in the sentence fragment "I should very much like...". Why is it there in place of would? It seems strange that should is used in the subjunctive mood there -- is it ...
12
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1answer
477 views

Ordering of English sound changes in verbal morphology

As we all know, the Early Modern English 3sg verbal ending -eth has become -s in Modern English. This presumably happened in two steps: Elision of the unstressed e in the final syllable Changing ...