Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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2
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2answers
59 views

Origins and history for phrase “tote that barge”?

In the 1927 musical "Show Boat" there is a famous song -- Old Man River -- with the lyric "Tote that barge. Lift that bale." being sung by the slaves/laborers in the musical. The word tote typically ...
0
votes
2answers
65 views

How was English orthography reformed?

I understand that English speakers have dictionaries, manuals of style, and grammar books at their disposal to know how to write correctly, but is there the most basic book of rules on which all ...
28
votes
4answers
6k 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? ...
6
votes
5answers
810 views

Why “Koran” changed to “Quran”?

According to the article Quran or Koran?, in 2000, AP started to use Quran instead of the more familiar Koran. Does anybody have information as to why this happened, and why newspapers today are ...
11
votes
8answers
12k views

Where did the idiom “giving a heads up” come from?

I know giving heads up means to inform someone, but how does that relate to the literal meaning i.e. giving heads up? What's the background? Where did it come from?
11
votes
3answers
870 views

Where did the practice of using apostrophes for possessive nouns but not pronouns originate?

Where did the practice of using apostrophes for possessive nouns but not pronouns originate? For example, possessive nouns (both proper and common) are written with a apostrophe before the final s: ...
1
vote
2answers
43 views

When did “Whatever.” begin to be used as a sentence?

"Whatever." is often used in slang as if it were a complete sentence, vaguely conveying meanings such as "I don't care" or "I'm not going to challenge what you say, but I'm not necessarily going to ...
2
votes
3answers
104 views

Swear words in common usage by educated people in 1916

What swear words might have been commonly used in conversation (and, in particular, oral argument) in and around 1916, by literate men? As sources from the time are largely written, it is difficult to ...
12
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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 ...
25
votes
4answers
2k views

Is there a historical trend towards shorter sentences?

From my own reading of older books (eg. 18th, 19th century) in various styles (novels, philosophical treatises, scientific publications), it seems that sentences were longer back then. Is there good ...
2
votes
6answers
3k 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
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1answer
61 views

DNA of English language [closed]

Many Indian languages including Hindi(the language most spoken in India) owe their origin to Sanskrit.Similarly,is there any language which predated English and owes its origin?
0
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1answer
32 views

History of the phrase 'Nina from Carolina'

According to online dictionaries, the definition of this is "the sum of 8 and 1" or 9. What is the origin of this?
1
vote
0answers
43 views

Why did English writers formerly capitalize so many words? [duplicate]

Or, I guess it could be worded, since when and why was it counted as part of a formal writing style to capitalize many general nouns? (After all, it's not German ...) This is also a trend in legal ...
2
votes
3answers
42 views

term for the marriage of words and art

I'm looking for a term, preferably one or two words, that refers to the union of visual art + words/language. Probably a noun. Something that might describe an instance where art and language come ...
14
votes
3answers
1k views

What was going on with “quha”, “quhat” and the like in Scots and English?

From the Dictionar o the Scots Leid: Quha, Quhay, interrog. and rel. pron. Also: qwha, qha, qua, qwa, wha, vha, hua; qhaa; quhaw; quhai qwhay, whay, quay; quhae, whae; quhe, quhey, qwhey. ...
17
votes
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 ...
0
votes
2answers
595 views

Reform of English writing? [closed]

As is commonly known, English is quite notorious for having a writing system that is far removed from the actual way it is most commonly pronounced. I understand that there are important historical ...
9
votes
4answers
1k 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 ...
2
votes
1answer
52 views

“Ninehammer” as variant spelling of “ninnyhammer”

I'm reading Neal Stephenson's historical novel Quicksilver, published in 1998 and set around 1700. There are several passages where the characters use the word ninehammer, as in the following: ...
2
votes
2answers
101 views

Word to describe the structure that holds/stores a shield (and possibly other weapons)

I am looking for a word that would used to describe either many shields, or a structure that would be used to carry them in storage. If I look at this medieval photo, there is a wooden structure on ...
-2
votes
2answers
95 views

How and why did “AM”/"PM” come into play, as opposed to “a.m.”/“p.m.”?

From several sources, including english.stackexchange.com, one should write 3 p.m. instead of 3 PM. How did the all-capitals variant appear, and especially why? Is it because with typewriters and in ...
13
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2answers
2k views

What's the origin of Pig Latin?

Having studied Latin at High School and not being a native English native speaker, I have trouble understanding what the point of Pig Latin is. The text transformation rules, indeed, bring to ...
19
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7answers
32k views

Why is a woman's purse called a “pocketbook”?

It's not a book, and it doesn't fit in anyone's pocket. Why does my brother-in-law insist on calling his wife's purse a pocketbook? I'm interested in the etymology, and in the chronological and ...
1
vote
1answer
80 views

Has “Extraordinary” Ever Been Spelled with an A-O Ligature?

For example, instead of spelling it as extraordinary, you would write it as extrꜵrdinary. This also applies to its derivations, such as instead of extraordinaire, you would write extrꜵrdinaire. I'm ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

Why king and queen rather than king and kingess?

Dukes have duchesses, counts countesses, princes princesses, mayors mayoresses, and even emperors empresses. Yet kings have queens rather than say, kingesses. Why is this so? If this was due to some ...
17
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12answers
3k views

Is the word “palaver” in common use anywhere in the English-speaking world?

In a sci-fi movie from 1957, an astronaut says he's "going to palaver" with the cave-dwelling natives. I'd never heard the word before, but my husband—a history buff—knew it by its ...
36
votes
4answers
43k views

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 ...
2
votes
1answer
76 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", ...
5
votes
8answers
2k views

Usage and meaning of the word “Ragging” in India

This is my first post here on an unwelcome situation in India, described by a word, "Ragging". Wikipedia article states that: "Ragging is a practice similar to hazing in educational institutions. ...
2
votes
2answers
1k views

What happened to King Canute

I was watching Downton Abbey season 4 episode 2. The conversation goes like this: Violet Crawley: Now I asked Branson to come here because I have an idea. Mary Crawley: Granny, you must call ...
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5answers
1k views

Did the CIA really introduce 'conspiracy theory' into popular usage after JFK?

I heard that after the JFK assassination the CIA, through assets in mass media, introduced the term 'conspiracy theory', with it connotations of something clearly ridiculous, and only believed by ...
15
votes
5answers
7k views

Origin of “Put up your dukes”

This link claims that one cannot be sure of origin of this phrase. Three explanations are given here, but they are not very convincing (I am not a native speaker). In one of our newspapers, ...
0
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0answers
23 views

Origin of the phrase “There's a fine line between pleasure and pain” [duplicate]

What is the origin (or original) of the phrase "There's a fine line between pleasure and pain"?
11
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4answers
2k views

Meaning and origin of “bite the bullet”

I just learnt about the expression "to bite the bullet", meaning Accept the inevitable impending hardship and endure the resulting pain with fortitude (as seen in its article in phrases.org). I have ...
4
votes
2answers
14k views

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 ...
0
votes
4answers
76 views

So I would really like to know what this quote means by William Howard Taft [closed]

"The intoxication of power rapidly sobers off in the knowledge of its restrictions and under the prompt reminder of an ever-present and not always considerate press, as well as the kindly suggestions ...
1
vote
1answer
40 views

History of alphabet soup

What is the first metaphorical use of “alphabet soup” to refer collectively to some kind of diversity? Does it date any earlier than the film “North by Northwest”, in which the expression is used by ...
11
votes
2answers
138 views

Are omissions like “he has a Facebook [account]” an ellipsis of the modern age, or has this always been going on?

Some English speakers omit "account" in conversational speech when referring to their membership in an online service. For example: "Here's a link to my Tumblr." "I took a break for a while, but I ...
1
vote
1answer
88 views

What is the name of the grammatical device where 18th and 19th Century sentences started with 'which'?

In the movie Master and Commander - we see the following two dialogues between Jack Aubrey and his servant Killick: Dialogue 1: JACK: Killick? Killick there. KILLICK appears. JACK ...
11
votes
1answer
751 views

What to call statues that flank entryways?

What's the term for statuary, usually paired, that flank entrances? Ex: The Lion pedestals at the NYC Public library, Assyrian Ox-God statues built into gates of ancient cities. My placeholder term ...
0
votes
0answers
49 views

Why are we using 'the' less?

I saw this ngram, and found that the word 'the' is less frequently observed these days, as compared to the past. I know this is a silly question. But why is this happening? Also, surprisingly, ...
4
votes
1answer
2k 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 ...
12
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2answers
5k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
5
votes
4answers
474 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 ...
3
votes
2answers
11k views

Origin and meaning of “damn straight”

The phrase "damn straight" is now used as a way to emphatically agree with a statement, but where does it come from, and what did it mean originally?
0
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1answer
65 views

On a certain usage of the word “only”

Some documents such as medical prescriptions and cheques employ the word "only" in an interesting manner: (Dpbsmith via Wikipedia) On cheques the usage is something like "Three hundred dollars ...
3
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4answers
2k views

“Hot cakes” or “flapjacks” in 1890s American South?

Which term is more likely to have been used by my main character, a young man from a wealthy Macon, Georgia family, in 1893?
12
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2answers
26k views

Why is the plural of “deer” the same as the singular?

Why is the plural version of deer identical to the singular version? If mouse became mice, then why did the singular deer not change to something else in the plural?
6
votes
2answers
77 views

Why are certain competitions called a “Classic?”

In the town I live in, there have been a number of competitive events called "classics" (e.g. "Bicycle Classic," "Golf Classic"). I assume this term is used because the event is a long-standing, ...