Questions about the history and trends of the English language

learn more… | top users | synonyms

0
votes
2answers
47 views

Explain the quote?

[We command all] Ministers of the so called reformed religion, who do not choose to become converts and to embrace the catholic, apostolic, and roman religion, to leave our kingdom
2
votes
1answer
388 views

Is the use of “conversely” to mean “on the other hand” correct?

I've previously used "conversely" to mean "on the other hand". For example. I always thought this the correct usage. Conversely, I might be wrong. However, the OED defines it as: In the ...
3
votes
4answers
764 views

When did “consumption” become “tuberculosis”?

Tuberculosis was commonly called "consumption" for many years. When did "tuberculosis" or "TB" overtake "consumption" as the common term, in English, for the disease? This Ngram isn't much use; it ...
31
votes
5answers
4k views

During the “Cold War”, did Americans/Westerners call it such?

I am old enough to remember the fall of the Soviet Union, but not old enough to have had any interest in world affairs in the times before. Did Americans/Westerners refer to the "Cold War" by that ...
26
votes
8answers
4k views

Why have the subjunctive and indicative converged in Modern English?

It is to me a curious fact that the subjunctive mood of verbs in English has so nearly disappeared in modern times. In fact, even the correct form and usage of the subjunctive in Modern English barely ...
0
votes
2answers
96 views

Unusual adjective position and evolution of Present perfect

In English, an adjective is usually placed on the left side of the noun it describes. But there are some exceptional phrasings here and there. I had so great a time. The English present perfect ...
4
votes
1answer
169 views

Meaning of 'to make a screen to' (1791 US)

Source: p 64, RIGHTS OF MAN: Being An Answer To Mr. Burke’s Attack On The FRENCH REVOLUTION, by Thomas Paine, 1791. Paine's "Answer" above immediately follows: p 64, The Revolution in France, by ...
7
votes
4answers
6k 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 ...
11
votes
5answers
9k views

What is the origin of the phrase “'til the cows come home”?

What is the origin of the term 'til the cows come home? While discussing this with friends tonight, the group had two possible explanations: Cows return to their barn for milking at a given time ...
5
votes
4answers
433 views

Capitalization of the word universe

Playing around with Google's Ngram viewer, where you can see how many times a word is used in books, I stumbled on this: It shows how often universe and Universe have been used in books. I think ...
0
votes
0answers
15 views

New Etymological Knowledge [migrated]

If a scholar or layperson, wanted to submit a discovery of the origin of some obscure word or phrase not previously known, what would be the criteria they should follow acceptable to the academic ...
11
votes
2answers
399 views

Is the term “KTV” in use in any English-speaking country?

While travelling recently for two months in mainland China I noticed many buildings with the English letters KTV in their signage. At first I thought this was something to do with company names or ...
24
votes
2answers
1k views

Of Yuppies and Yippies and Hippies

While innocently passing by on my way to Big Rep City, I happened to overhear (alright! I was dropping eaves) a dialogue in some podunk Commentary Cafe wherein two fellow ELU consumers were debating ...
6
votes
3answers
258 views

If a word is coined / popularized / used only or mainly by second-language speakers of English, is it still considered to be an English word?

It seems that there are quite a few terms that look like English and are used in English spoken by non-fluent or fluent but nonnative speakers of English as a second language amongst themselves, but ...
3
votes
0answers
114 views

What was the command of “Fire at will” before gunpowder? [duplicate]

I've seen some discussions about the command of "fire" before gunpowder was invented. That may be "shoot", "loose", "throw" etc. But what was the command of "fire at will"? Are there any clues? ...
3
votes
1answer
53 views

The move from towards toward toward?

On this page, it is claimed that the usage of "towards" was dominant (I guess both in Britain and America) compared to "toward" until the 19th century when Americans moved toward toward. (Edit: an ...
4
votes
2answers
434 views

Why are I and O always capitalized, but a is not?

There are three single-letter words. They are the article a, the pronoun I, and the interjection O. The pronoun I and the interjection O are always capitalized, but the article a follows normal ...
0
votes
0answers
35 views

Why some verbs have their nouns form exactly like them while the others are not?

From the “Start from the beginning” vs “begin from the starting” question in ell.SE, user δοῦλος has explained that the noun form of begin is beginning, while the noun form of start is still start. ...
22
votes
3answers
2k views

Why did the letter “o” disappear in the word “pronunciation”?

The verb pronounce has the letter o in its second syllable, but in the noun pronunciation, that same letter disappears from the corresponding position. Why is that?
13
votes
8answers
801 views

Why doesn't English have a separate word for “head hair”? (head hair vs. body hair)

The answer can be "Because it doesn't!" or "It wasn't needed!" in short but there might be a historical or linguistic explanation behind this. (Of course, every language might be lacking a word that ...
20
votes
3answers
1k views

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 ...
3
votes
1answer
84 views

What's the earliest reference to a non-article word that still exists today?

Assuming around 1800 is "par" for "earliest mention" of an English word by most of our esteemed GR (GR: General Reference) text, is this for any particular reason strongly cut off at that time? I'm ...
0
votes
0answers
26 views

Older mineral names

When browsing through names of minerals in English, one notices that they appear to very commonly be of Latin origin or otherwise latinized or at least foreign; I mean names like "Magnetite", ...
1
vote
2answers
55 views

Are there any special words or phrases for people that were emigrating in history?

Are there any special words or phrases for people that were emigrating in history (18th, 19th, 20th centuries)? Or maybe the words which were used in that time and how were people calling the ...
6
votes
1answer
226 views

A ligature “og”

I met a ligature "og" in one of the manuscripts. It is hard to see this ligature there (look at the word "logicae". Have you met anything similar? Is there a better manuscript with this ligature or ...
2
votes
5answers
743 views

Is “I'll be John Brown” a common phrase?

The phrase: I'll be John Brown! is an occasionally-used term in North Carolina. Mostly thought to replace taking the Lord's name in vain (GD). Is it used elsewhere? How long has it been ...
2
votes
3answers
501 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?
9
votes
5answers
3k views

Did the slang term “The Bomb” meaning “Very Cool” come from the American Jazz scene?

Searching Google for the history of the slang term "the bomb" (as in "That song is the bomb") yields a number of results in 40s/50s jazz glossaries, but they tend to at best give an artificial example ...
5
votes
2answers
483 views

What is the orgin of “So long”?

What's the origin of this strange substitute for farewell? We say it all the time, but I can't figure its meaning.
0
votes
1answer
77 views

Are products of wordsmithing proper english?

Several languages in which English has its roots have easily definable rules. For example, sticking "A" in from of an adjective can mean the opposite of that adjective (Asymmetrical, symmetrical), ...
10
votes
4answers
1k views

Quotation ascribed to Benjamin Franklin, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

There is a cottage industry in the United States of manufacturing quotations and ascribing them to the American Founding Fathers. A recent one, "We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

“for good” expression in an unfortunate event?

I just heard an expression while watching a TV series yesterday. Someone just died and they said: He is gone for good I googled it and found that "for good" means "forever" in this context. But ...
0
votes
3answers
66 views

Word for popular conception of a period of history

Recently, I listened to the Heroes and Legends course from The Great Courses. At one point, the author said a word which he defined as something along the lines of "Popular (and often exaggerated) ...
2
votes
1answer
61 views

The history of 'aisle' and 'isle'

I've read about how the word 'aisle' and 'isle' each came from the French 'aile' and 'ile', respectively. I also read how the there was confusion between the two words, such that when 'isle' gained ...
16
votes
3answers
120k views
1
vote
3answers
5k views
9
votes
2answers
10k views

what is the origin of the phrase “a penny for your thoughts”?

Googling for the origin of "A penny for your thoughts," I have only found the origin of a likely-related phrase "my two cents" and simple dictionary entries for "a penny for your thoughts." What is ...
-2
votes
2answers
1k views

Build a house, plant a tree, father a son

What is the origin of the phrase (and the principle) "build a house/home, plant a tree, father/raise a son/child" and its derivation (perhaps) "write a book, plant..."?
6
votes
4answers
3k views

What does “enough” mean in expressions like “Fair enough” or “Funny enough”?

As a non-native speaker, I already get used to the word enough in expressions like those below, but I sometimes still got confused of it. It makes me wonder what it actually means and where does it ...
2
votes
1answer
89 views

Where do all the fox references come from? [closed]

A person can be crazy like a fox, and attractive lady is foxy or even a fox, an old book might have foxing, to outsmart someone is to outfox them, if you are confused you are foxed, and there are ...
26
votes
2answers
5k views

How and when did American spelling supersede British spelling in the US?

Considering that Webster published his first dictionary in 1806, is there a recognised tipping point (year, decade, etc.) that marked the move from traditional British spelling to Webster's American? ...
0
votes
1answer
55 views

Hance/Hence connection?

In researching the verb 'hence' I noted the several forms listed in the OED, two of which were: "hennes or henes" from Middle English usage. Similarly with the verb 'hance' I noted that scholars have ...
20
votes
6answers
5k views

“How come” vs “Why?”

What are the differences between the terms "How come ... we eat breakfast?" and "Why ... do we eat breakfast?" The words phrase based in how seems really awkward to me, and I don't understand this ...
15
votes
3answers
4k views

What is the origin of “like a bat out of hell”?

As far as I know, this expression means to appear suddenly and in a scary way. But what is its origin? I heard that it comes from Meat Loaf's song but I'd like to confirm it with reliable sources, if ...
10
votes
4answers
2k 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 ...
15
votes
5answers
13k views

Why “hoist” in “Hoist with one's own petard”?

He was hoist with his own petard is one of my father's favorite phrases. As a child I had developed a vague understanding of the idiom in which petard was a kind of flag, which is why it was hoist, ...
0
votes
1answer
86 views

Dating Colloquial Expressions and Slang

I remember hearing "be more chill" meaning, "calm down" in the nineties but it was not in common use ten years later - although "chill" as a verb with the same meaning lingers on. The expression "I'll ...
0
votes
2answers
120 views

Who came up with this quote: Thomas Paine or Dean Alfange?

"I do not choose to be a common man, It is my right to be uncommon … if I can, I seek opportunity … not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen. Humbled and dulled by having the ...
1
vote
1answer
38 views

Language Evolution

Language changes all the time, most often in usage but also in spelling and grammatical form. At what point does a widespread misspelling or incorrect grammatical usage become acceptable and correct? ...
7
votes
3answers
3k views

What's the difference between “to and fro” and “back and forth”?

I'll give you an example from "The Mask of The Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe: "Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang;" How does that differ from: "Its pendulum ...