Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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4
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1answer
54 views

Usage of 'last June' in newspaper archive

I found a UK newspaper article from October 1918, which made reference to 'last June'. What's the likelihood of that meaning June 1917, as opposed to June 1918? I assume if it was 1917, they would ...
0
votes
0answers
38 views

Where does the meaning of 'underwater' come from?

When we say or hear the word 'underwater', we usually think of this Underwater refers to the region below the surface of water where the water exists in a natural feature such as an ocean, sea, ...
3
votes
2answers
423 views

What purpose does third-person verb conjugation serve or used to serve?

There is one thing in English that doesn't make sense to me: adding 's' (or 'es') to verbs when the subject is a third person. It seems redundant and adds no extra information to the sentence. "I ...
8
votes
4answers
466 views

When did initial-origin words (PRONOUNCED AS WORDS) start happening?

Someone was just asking if there were words like lol formed, before, the txtmsg era. Of course there were - for example "laser". However .. in fact what was the earliest example of this in English? ...
1
vote
1answer
60 views

When is the period that coined the most English words?

It seems that there are numerous words being made every day. This got me wondering, when was the historic period when most new words were formed that are still part of Modern Standard English? Since ...
9
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2answers
111 views

Did people actually talk like they do in Pride and Prejudice?

The characters in Pride and Prejudice seem to speak in a way that is very distinct from most contemporary anglophones. Among the major unique features are: Richer vocabulary Readiness to use obscure ...
14
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5answers
7k views

Is it true that the 100 most common English words are all Germanic in origin?

There is an oft-quoted statement that the 100 most common (frequently used) words in the English language are entirely Germanic/Anglo-Saxon in origin. (Also sometimes said is that ~80% of the 1000 ...
6
votes
2answers
293 views

Why doesn't English have a word that means both Hello and Goodbye?

Multiple languages, including some from which England draws its words, have words that mean both "Hello" and "Goodbye": French - Salut! Italian - Ciao! Hawaiian - Aloha! German (Austrian) - Servus! ...
7
votes
2answers
114 views

The Royal We: Who are “we”?

Although King George III of Great Britain did respond to a Loyal Address using the personal pronoun I: My Lords, I thank you for this dutiful and affectionate Address. The satisfaction which you ...
336
votes
6answers
93k views

Did English ever have a formal version of “you”?

From the top of my head, Danish "De" (practically never used), German "Sie", Chinese "您", French "vous", Spanish "usted" are a formal way of addressing someone, especially if one isn't familiar with ...
13
votes
4answers
6k 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
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4answers
744 views

What is the origin of the phrase “hurt(s) like a bitch/motherf***er/bastard”?

Intuitively, what would make a 'bitch' hurt? Perhaps calling a woman 'bitch' after she breaks up with you, hence it 'hurts'? A 'motherfucker' hurts, for good reason (no one likes their mother to be ...
4
votes
3answers
166 views

What are the pronunciation and etymology of the dog's name “Tige”?

"Tige" was apparently a popular name for American pet dogs even before Buster Brown (1902). I just ran across the same name in chapter 32 of Huckleberry Finn (1884): "Begone you Tige! you Spot! ...
0
votes
1answer
3k views

Dressing gown vs housecoat

As far as I can tell they refer to the same thing (bathrobe). I'd like to know the roots of both, and if possible the history of their evolution. Specifically if the usage is influenced by social ...
6
votes
2answers
251 views

“might want no fact of distinguished die” - grammatical deconstruction and meaning?

The original draft of the Declaration of Independence (BlackPast.org)...has the following: ...that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those ...
1
vote
1answer
94 views

Pronunciation of “Ozymandias”

Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem Ozymandias is written in iambic pentameter and contains the famous lines 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' I can ...
19
votes
4answers
954 views

Why the “top” in “top hat”?

I've always wondered why it's called top hat, and not just a hat, or some other word, which would better describe this specific type of hats. I mean, all hats are placed on "top", right? Could it ...
2
votes
0answers
57 views

The origin of the verb “has” (the verb “have” for third-singular person)

From what I know, in Simple Present, all verbs are followed by -s/es if the subject is a third-singular person. Such as makes, matches, buys, and studies. I also know that if the verb is have, it ...
24
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2answers
2k views

“Fire” a weapon before firearms existed?

Did the verb “fire a weapon” exist before the actual introduction of firearms on battlefields? More specifically, does it make sense for a creative work to have archers (or whatever ranged weaponry) ...
6
votes
2answers
4k views

Why is “can” such an odd verb?

The English verb can is very strange for several reasons: It drops the to on any infinitive verb forms that follow it. That is, unlike in the verb want in the sentence I want to eat, you would not ...
15
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7answers
2k 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 ...
5
votes
1answer
85 views

How did the term “crayfish” become “crawdad”?

I am given to understand that "crawdad" and "crayfish" refer to the same creature (or group of creatures resembling small lobsters that live in freshwater), and that the difference is dialectical. ...
11
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2answers
1k views

Are there or were there any other conjoined pronoun-verb combinations like “methinks” in English?

And why was this ever considered grammatically correct? Why not "Ithinks"? Edit: When I ask "why," I'm wondering for example, whether or not "me" has always been the first-person objective case in ...
1
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1answer
63 views

History and English demonyms

A friend of mine told me English demonyms, words that identify people from a particular place (Roman, Japanese, Dutch etc.), largely depend upon the historical period in which the term originates. ...
5
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4answers
414 views

Are there any cases of a word that originated in English replacing another word in English in common usage?

I'm curious if there's any cases of a word that originated in English (didn't come from a foreign source) replacing another word in every day usage?
5
votes
3answers
8k views

Why do we describe a problem or experience as “hairy”?

I'm curious about the use/history of "hairy", as in Golly Dan, that was a pretty hairy math exam, wasn't it? My dictionary sources identify two definitions unrelated to hair: the first can be ...
6
votes
7answers
4k views

When was the word 'being' first used to refer to a human being or sentient being?

I am confused by the use of the word being to refer to a static thing. How can this word that appears to clearly be a verb gerund get turned around to be used as a thing?
2
votes
6answers
11k views

Where did the word 'golliwog' come from?

I am aware that the term is considered offensive. And I know that it refers to soft faced black dolls. But before that character was introduced, did 'golliwog' have meaning? I mean was it made up, or ...
10
votes
2answers
1k views

When did British and American crochet terms diverge?

In crochet basic stitches are called different things. For example a single crochet in America is called a double crochet in the UK, a double crochet in America is called a treble crochet in the UK, ...
7
votes
2answers
796 views

Does “tapall” or “tappies” mean “mail” in English?

I had been wondering about a non-native word in Tamil: Thabal, meaning post. This word has origins from elsewhere, and I had not been able to figure out the etymology. Searches in Internet had also ...
4
votes
2answers
2k views

Change from to-day to today

In old books, people often use the spelling "to-day" instead of "today". When did the change happen? Also, when people wrote "to-day", did they feel, when pronouncing the word, that it contained two ...
0
votes
1answer
68 views

Has there been a decrease of use of the word “rend” in literature?

The word "rend" (Verb: "to tear (something) into pieces with force or violence") is such an effective word. Descriptive and visceral. Yet it seems to me it's fading from literature and becoming an ...
7
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1answer
209 views

The X in Xavier

The NOAD lists the pronunciation of Xavier as (ig)ˈzāvēər. In my own experience the parenthetical pronunciation is very common. I, however, do not know of any other x-initial words that are vowel-...
12
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5answers
5k views

Origin/reason for the “hit by a bus” phrase

Often at my job when someone is becoming a single source of knowledge or otherwise has a skill that no one else on the team or the department has, a common expression is: If John was hit by a bus, ...
2
votes
2answers
86 views

Has the definition of an adverb changed over time?

I was reading a modern grammar book recently and was very surprised to see that "yesterday" and "nevertheless" are regarded as adverbs. Has the definition of an adverb been constant over the last 50 ...
2
votes
2answers
73 views

What is the origin of the phrase “gathering wool”?

From context, it would appear to mean "no day-dreaming" or "no dilly-dallying", as in "Let's go, no time for wool gathering!" or "Pay attention, no wool gathering here!"
19
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8answers
40k views

Why did English become a universal language and when?

As we all know, English is the universal communication medium. Now we know how powerful it is to convey our thoughts. When did it become a common language? Why did they opt for this language?
6
votes
1answer
1k views

Interjection “et voilà”

I know et voilà is a French interjection and means there it is. It is very much used in the US. Why is the use of et voilà so popular in the US? Which historical fact has made it so popular?
1
vote
0answers
40 views

First mention in print of “magic smoke” (electronics)?

In electronics, "magic smoke" is the stuff that lets components work: once the magic smoke leaves the component, the component ceases to work. What is the earliest reference in print to "magic smoke"?...
29
votes
3answers
4k views

Why “daily” and not “dayly”?

Checking how adjectives related to time are created, I see: year → yearly month → monthly week → weekly day → daily Why has “day” derivated into “daily” with an ‘i’ instead of “dayly” with a ‘y’? ...
14
votes
4answers
17k 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 ...
13
votes
8answers
4k 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 ...
4
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3answers
3k views

Were there any other synonyms to “sustainability” before the 80s?

The German word for sustainability, Nachhaltigkeit, arose (according to Wiktionary) in the 18th century. Ngrams shows this. I was wondering if the concept of sustainability did not exist before the ...
193
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9answers
10k views

What is the factual basis for “pirate speech”? (Did pirates really say things like “shiver me timbers”?)

The "pirate speech" we hear/see/read, for example, on the website Talk Like A Pirate Day consists of a rhotic dialect characterized by phrases like "shiver me timbers," "ooh arh me hearties," and so ...
33
votes
2answers
24k views

Use of “f ” instead of “s” in historic, printed English documents

I was at a museum in London yesterday, and one of the items on exhibit is a document from the eighteenth century. It uses the letter f a lot where s should be used—for example, in Majefty. Did the ...
29
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4answers
5k views

Why are Leicester & co pronounced as they are?

What is the origin of the pronunciation of words like Leicester, Gloucester, Worcestershire? Presumably, the spelling predates the pronunciation but what is the history here? What language do the ...
15
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4answers
70k views

Where did the “unavailable” meaning of “Out of Pocket” come from? [duplicate]

The phrase "out of pocket" is often used in my office to mean "unavailable". I've found reference to this on the internet as well, but no obvious clue to where this meaning comes from. Where does ...
0
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0answers
23 views

What would be “India Run” in this article? Does it have some historic background I can't find?

Once the wind and current systems dominant in the Atlantic came to be known, the square sail was adopted for use on the lateen caravel, giving rise to the “caravela redonda”. or square-rigged caravel, ...
13
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3answers
8k views

Etymology of “crush”?

How did crush come to be used to mean "an intense but usually short-lived infatuation"?
1
vote
1answer
70 views

Wielders of Weapons

I'm looking for what the various wielders of weapons called. I know of a few, but would like to know of the others below : Bow and Arrow - Archer/Bowman Sword - Swordsman (???) Axe - Club - ...