Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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6
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3answers
62 views

Why are Leicester & co pronounced as they are?

What is the origin of the pronunciation of words like Leicester, Gloucester, Worcestershire? Presumably, the pronunciation predates the spelling but what is the history here? What language do the ...
4
votes
3answers
511 views

The etymology of “redhead” vs. “ginger haired”

All my life I have known people with reddish, orangey hair, to be termed ginger haired. Just as you don't call a blonde a 'yellow head' red head just wasn't a word that was said (wouldn't orange head ...
7
votes
2answers
1k views

Where does “Let's roll!” come from?

Where does the idiom "Let's roll!" come from?
2
votes
3answers
737 views

Etymologies of “basilisk” and “basilica”

I recently confused a "basilica" with a "basilisk", with the former being a church building and the latter being a mythical snake-like creature. The similarities of the two words made me curious of ...
9
votes
1answer
353 views

When did “ain't” become slang?

In Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, there are several places where "ain't" is used instead of "am not", such as: "I ain't afraid of him, if you mean that," continued Lord Nidderdale. — ...
2
votes
2answers
41 views

Term for aboriginal people of Canada in a historical context

The tribes that inhabited Canada before European contact are generally known as First Nations today. From what I can tell, this term is fairly new. What term could I use to refer to First Nations ...
2
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0answers
83 views

The stages of history

Is there a word or short phrase that encompasses the three main stages of Western history: ancient, medieval, and then modern?
13
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7answers
4k views

When did the term “flip flop” displace the term “thong” in North America for a type of sandal?

To Australians like me "thong" means a kind of sandal such as recently repopularized by the Havaianas brand but we know it means a kind of G-string in other English-speaking parts of the world. To ...
2
votes
1answer
238 views

Spelling of the word “connoisseur”

From what I gathered on the Web, "connoisseur" is spelled that way because it is derived from the old french verb "connoître" (to know) which has now been spelt "connaître" for close to two ...
2
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1answer
96 views

Words that changed meaning in past hundred years [closed]

I am looking for a list of words that were used to mean something different from for what they are used now. some words are such that whose meaning has changed completely and some words have more ...
49
votes
6answers
5k views

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 ...
5
votes
6answers
487 views

Which is the older sense of the word “linguist”?

I have been listening to some rants on YouTube against people learning a bunch of languages calling themselves "linguists". I'm personally interested in both linguistics and languages as a hobby but ...
4
votes
1answer
115 views

What is the oldest variety of English in the Americas?

There are several varieties of the English Language in the Americas, from Alaska to the Falkland Islands. To mention just a few: American General and its varieties Canadian General Bajan ...
8
votes
4answers
7k 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, ...
10
votes
3answers
198 views

Why is the surname Gray more common than the surname Grey in the UK?

An EL&U question from 2010 asks Which is the correct spelling: "grey" or "gray"? The answers very sensibly point out the split between the UK and former British commonwealth ...
2
votes
1answer
56 views

Etymology of the “Chicago Seven” construction

There are many examples of a construction of the form "City + Number" used to refer to an incident involving a particular small group of people. It is often used when it is alleged that the people in ...
2
votes
2answers
61 views

Is there an historical thesaurus?

Is there something like a thesaurus that offers terms more often used in the past? For instance, I beg you would, in Shakespearean times, be prithee, while chicks during the 1920s would be dolls. ...
1
vote
3answers
315 views

Why are “some” letters silent in English? [closed]

There are many such words that we all know about, but please explain why the makers of the English language made up words with silent letters?
4
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5answers
16k views

What is the origin of the phrase “two nations divided by a common language”?

What is the origin of the phrase "two nations divided by a common language"? I have seen it attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill. The most likely looking source ...
5
votes
2answers
856 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, ...
6
votes
1answer
173 views

“mark” in generational naming of products

What is the story behind the word mark as a synonym for version in products, such as Canon 5D Mark III or Aston Martin DB Mark III?
13
votes
3answers
96k views

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

What are its origins and what does it really mean?
28
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4answers
3k views

Why did only English undergo the Great Vowel Shift, making pronunciation stray so far from spelling?

Lots of people have wondered why English seems to be one of very few languages with such irregular spelling, far from its pronunciation. The answers include the Norman invasion, and the Great Vowel ...
13
votes
5answers
1k views

History and usage of “dooryard”

I have been interested in the expression "dooryard stop" recently. This is an expression that is used to describe a short visit in someone's dooryard (driveway) that often means not staying long ...
3
votes
4answers
293 views

What is the history of the word “lobby”?

I would like to know if the word "lobby" would have been used in 1890s Georgia (United States) and to what exactly this word would have referred in that time.
1
vote
0answers
56 views

What was the cricketing metaphor used by Margaret Thatcher which provoked Howe's retort? [closed]

Sir Geoffrey Howe, in 1990, used a cricket simile to devastating effect in the House of Commons to bring down the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. He famously said of her on the subject of ...
3
votes
3answers
194 views

Etymology of English “Achoo” relative to other sneezing onomatopoeiae

So I was recently curious about the sound that people sneeze with in other languages and was surprised to notice the difference between the English onomatopoetic word "Achoo" and that of other ...
11
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3answers
553 views

What is the first recorded appearance of the mistranslation “Red Square”?

Does anybody know when the mistranslation "Red Square" made its first recorded appearance? Have there been any noteworthy attempts at establishing the correct translation "Beautiful Square" at some ...
21
votes
1answer
3k views

What are the historical reasons for the conventional sequence of footnote symbols?

According to @Mahnax's answer to this question, the Chicago Manual of Style Online states that the correct sequence of footnote symbols is as follows: * (asterisk; but do not use if p values occur ...
3
votes
2answers
54 views

How to research the expansion of the meaning of “wildlife” to include plants?

Washington State USA has a law that requires counties to designate and protect "Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas." The legal rules for implementing this statute include language strongly ...
1
vote
1answer
85 views

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde unknown ( Biblical?) Reference [closed]

Okay, so I am an avid reader, and have recently undertaken a challenge to read Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, along with Robert Louis Stevenson's other literature. Having recently completed Jekyll & ...
7
votes
5answers
3k views

Are curly braces ever used in normal text? If not, why were they created?

Are they actually used in normal text? I mean something like a 'normal' book (not a manual, or a technical document). I don't think I've ever seen them yet they clearly predate programming which is ...
2
votes
1answer
60 views

When/by whom was the computing use of “agnostic” to mean independent coined?

Agnostic, as a term to refer to a particular philosophy with respect to spirituality and mysticism, was coined by Thomas Huxley; Wikipedia gives the date as 1869 while Wiktionary says 1870, but the ...
1
vote
1answer
96 views

What is the history of cricket's fielding positions? [closed]

It always seems to me as though the fielding positions in cricket reflect two different systems which have grown up independently and been brought together. For example some positions on the leg ...
12
votes
4answers
2k 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: ...
11
votes
4answers
7k 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 ...
1
vote
2answers
81 views

Were American, Australian, and New Zealand English dialects ever spoken in Britain before the colonization of these lands? [closed]

Were American, Australian, and New Zealand English dialects ever spoken in Britain before the colonization of these lands?
1
vote
1answer
55 views

History of usage of singular “they” (gender-neutral) [duplicate]

I have just read in Emma by Jane Austen a phrase which surprised me: I can think of but one thing - Who is in love with her? Who makes you their confidant? (Jane Austen: Emma, Chapter VIII, ...
9
votes
2answers
972 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?
0
votes
2answers
46 views

Which is more correct: “skewen” or “skewn”?

Which spelling for the past participle of skew is more correct: skewen or skewn? (I recognise it is not the more common spelling of skewed, but regionally and personally skewen is more in use in ...
1
vote
1answer
66 views

In the Dickensian era, was a capital letter preserved through apostrophe contractions?

Assume that a certain word is capitalised, for example "Microsoft." Say (for whatever reason, perhaps slang) you were going to shorten that certain word, using an apostrophe. Today, I'd say we would ...
13
votes
3answers
727 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. ...
0
votes
2answers
46 views

Historical use of 'repetitive' and 'repetitious' in BE/AE

Two oddities (I think so, anyway) I've just now stumbled across with the ngram viewer: In 18th century American English, things got very repetitive. Is there an historical reason that books written ...
7
votes
2answers
609 views

Last names that are English words with an extra 'e'

I noticed that there are a lot of last names that have an 'e' at the end. The pronunciation usually isn't changed from that of the base word. Poole Steele Browne Clarke Why do English words not ...
3
votes
1answer
92 views

Why is Gilt a word when we have Gilded? Is this town big enough for the both of them? [duplicate]

We would never say "I builded my own house", and we would never say "I ment my fences" - as far as I can tell, words either went the d-to-t route, or they went the add-ed route. Gild, for some reason, ...
-1
votes
2answers
768 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..."?
12
votes
5answers
2k 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 ...
12
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1answer
2k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
8
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4answers
1k 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
144 views

Why is there “Black English” but not “White English”?

African American Vernacular English is shortened to a less precise phrase "Black English". Also, Black English is used in a broader sense: Black English is a term used for both dialects of English ...