Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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2answers
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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
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0answers
247 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
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2answers
2k 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
votes
3answers
5k 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
1k 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
1k 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: ...
13
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3answers
13k 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 ...
8
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3answers
1k 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 ...
8
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2answers
1k views

How did Shakespeare pronounce “hautboys”?

Shakespeare calls for hautboys. How did he pronounce the word, more than 500 years after Hastings (think of it!)? ohBWHA? ohBOYZ? Or what?
17
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5answers
1k views

The history of “softcore”

Over lunch recently, my colleagues and I were discussing the term "hardcore," and speculating on its origin. Our speculations evolved into "What has either a hard or soft core, where the hard cored ...
2
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2answers
480 views

Where does the term “make sure” come from?

I was reading the Mac OS X Lion upgrade page, and it said "make sure" all over the place. It struck me as odd. Where does the term "make sure" come from? What are you making to be sure? Yourself? ...
13
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3answers
6k views

Origin of “quarters” in the sense of living area

I was explaining to my son that HQ stood for "headquarters," when he surprised me by dividing the word into "head" and "quarters." I had never considered this word thusly before, but it's obvious to ...
-1
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1answer
1k views

Origin of pluralisation of verbs and nouns in English

From this question, I was just wondering why plural nouns use the ending -s, while the exact same ending is used for the third person singular form of verbs. How did we get into this weird situation? ...
9
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5answers
910 views

Has “dilemma” ever been restricted to two options?

I was surprised to discover my dictionary had this entry for dilemma: a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, esp. equally undesirable ones The ...
4
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2answers
8k views

“John Doe”, “Jane Doe” - Why are they used many times?

I posted a question ( http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/92215/john-doe-jane-doe-why-are-they-used-many-times ) and they told me to post that question here. So I'm doing it. I received ...
3
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3answers
937 views

Where did the expression “every last one” come from?

There is, after all, only one last one. Why did it become common to say "every last one"? Dictionary.com has a definition for last as follows: 8. individual; single: The lecture won't start ...
3
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5answers
5k views

When did the use of acronyms begin? [closed]

What are some of the earliest acronyms and did they know it was an acronym at the time?
5
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3answers
6k views

Where/when did the *idea* of bad words come from in English?

Bad Words: f*ck sh*t *ss d*mn b*tch ... Ok, so there's no point in listing them all. The thing I'm interested in is this: Why is it that in English we have a strong sense of a group of words ...
4
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0answers
281 views

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 = ...
3
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2answers
1k views

Genesis of the phrase “life and times”

Commonly used in the formula The life and times of ...
4
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4answers
4k 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.
6
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3answers
641 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 ...
4
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2answers
1k 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 ...
4
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6answers
15k views

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
votes
2answers
731 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
292 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 ...
2
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2answers
277 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 ...
16
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3answers
145k views

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

What are its origins and what does it really mean?
12
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4answers
4k 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
votes
1answer
385 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 ...
25
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2answers
6k 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.
17
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4answers
2k 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 ...
7
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4answers
10k 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 ...
99
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1answer
7k 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 ...
4
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4answers
11k 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 ...
2
votes
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 ...
13
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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 ...
56
votes
4answers
13k views

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 ...
5
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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... ...
2
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4answers
1k views

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 ...
3
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4answers
569 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, ...
5
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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, ...
11
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5answers
63k views

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 ...
1
vote
2answers
634 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 ...
27
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3answers
12k views

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, ...
41
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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 ...
14
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2answers
4k 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 ...
5
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6answers
30k 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 ...
10
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6answers
11k 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?