Questions about how English has changed.

learn more… | top users | synonyms

43
votes
3answers
2k views

How “macro” in computer programming came about

The prefix macro- is normally used for large things like macroeconomics and macroscopic. How did it come to be used to describe text macros in the programming world?
30
votes
5answers
3k views

Is Valley Girl speak “like”, entering the language?

So like, I had this teacher? And he's like, "You're late?" And I'm like, "There's like other people late too?" I've always cringed at the word "like" strewn about in a spoken sentence. Well now ...
29
votes
5answers
2k views

Is it possible for a new irregular verb to appear in English language?

Consider these verbs in past tense: faxed, emailed, googled they are all regular verbs made out of new nouns. Are there any new irregular verbs that I'm not aware of?
23
votes
8answers
3k 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 ...
17
votes
3answers
5k views

Gay (homosexual) and gay (happy)

When did the main meaning of the word 'gay' shift from happy to homosexual? How did the meaning evolve, if there is a relation between the two?
14
votes
2answers
402 views

What’s going on with “drink > drench”? Is it like “passage > passenger”?

Edit: I am looking for a particular linguistic term for this process (which here uses terminal palatalization to indicate such) of turning passive verbs like drink into active verbs like drench. I ...
13
votes
4answers
641 views

When does a mistake become standard usage?

We all know that word meanings and usage change over time (though not all of us are happy about it). How long does a word have to be used in a particular way for that usage to be "okay"? At what ...
12
votes
6answers
2k views

When and how did “fail” become a noun?

Does anyone know when and how fail became a noun? I'd love to see one of those charts that shows the date of origin and subsequent growth of this usage.
12
votes
6answers
406 views

How common is the confusion between “affect” and “effect”?

I stumbled onto a US Congress representative’s website with what I think is a blatant and very visible mistake: Namely, the sentence in yellow, “How does the population change effect our district”. ...
12
votes
1answer
5k views

Why is the “J” in San Jacinto pronounced like an English “J” instead of an “H” in Texas?

Many Spanish words taken into English have a "J" sounding like "H", but San Jacinto follows a different rule: San Jose La Jolla San Juan Jiminez Why is San Jacinto not pronounced San Hacinto in ...
10
votes
3answers
676 views

is letter “y” derived from “ij”?

It is my intuition, that the origin of the letter y comes from ij based on the usage in Dutch where it very closely resembles ij in both sound and shape. I would go so far as to say it looks like a ...
10
votes
3answers
927 views

Evolution of the meaning of “to dwell”

The Old English meaning of "to dwell" (dwellan) is to mislead. Can we trace the gradual shift from this original sense to that of Modern English: to reside, to inhabit ?
9
votes
2answers
1k views

Phrasal verb “be a thing”

I’m looking for the origin of the phrasal verb “to be a thing”. It means roughly “exist” or more specifically “be recognised” or “be a phenomenon”. I first noticed it around 2008–2009. Is ...
8
votes
3answers
921 views

Why has Southern US English all but abandoned adverb forms?

In Southern US English, adverb forms are almost always replaced by their adjective forms. For example: The journey was awful long. He's running real fast. He ran to the store quick. He ...
8
votes
4answers
895 views

What is the historic process for converting vulgar words into simply rude words?

I have noticed a pattern involving vulgarities where the previous generation's evil words become accepted as merely off-color or rude in the following generation. Is this merely each generation's ...
8
votes
3answers
120 views

Does etymology have a word like cladistics?

A recent question on EL&U about a current hip-hop expression led my research into a meme that is evolving faster than drosophila. This expression and its variants have gone viral on internet ...
7
votes
3answers
4k views

If the English language is always evolving, why do we need to learn and follow grammatical rules?

Since language evolves over time — the best example I can think of is slang where it mostly doesn't follow grammar rules — why is there a need to preserve grammar or stress that proper ...
7
votes
3answers
932 views

What is this an example of: “a napron” becomes “an apron”? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: “A whole nother” way of looking at things I recently learned that the word apron was once apparently napron, but the current form has resulted from ...
7
votes
2answers
952 views

Why does appraisal have so little to do with praise?

Appraisal and praise can be traced back to a common Latin root: pretiare (“to reward”). One thing that I do not understand, though, is how they came to have such different meanings: praise is ...
7
votes
1answer
474 views

Why has “sware” become “swore”, “bare” “bore”, etc?

As far as I know, there are four verbs (swear, bear, tear, and wear) whose simple past forms used to be (archaically) sware, bare, tare, and ware; but are now exclusively swore, bore, tore, and wore. ...
5
votes
2answers
663 views

Recent grammar additions

A lot of questions have been dedicated to how evolution of English got many constructs of the old either fall out of use, merge, or evolve into different forms but still with 1:1 relation to original. ...
5
votes
3answers
252 views

When did 'venereal disease' become STI?

Why is it that the term venereal disease has been dropped in favour of sexually transmitted infection, or 'STI' for short? The change seemed to date from the advent of AIDS. Was it that the word ...
5
votes
4answers
164 views

How are artificial constructions such as l33t classified with regards to English?

L33t or its various other titles* is a derivation of English but I have no idea what term should be used to describe it. Other examples of these things would include lolspeak and the massive ...
5
votes
2answers
666 views

Has there been an Anglo-Saxon movement in English?

We know there has been an influence (or attempt at influence) of Latin grammar on English, especially in the 19th century. And of course, many new words coined today in (say) the sciences draw upon ...
5
votes
1answer
189 views

Is there a technical term for the degeneration or evolution of words?

Based on this question, I was curious if there is an actual term that describes how words' meanings change or become deprecated over time.
5
votes
0answers
947 views

How should one use “awesome” today? [closed]

Lately I have been hearing the word awesome used in many places. I'm trying to figure out how it is used. It has already been discussed on this site a bit. See "When I'm sad, I stop ...
4
votes
3answers
2k views

Has the use of the idiom “last week” surpassed the use of the correct “yester-week”?

In his book Write It Right, which was published in 1909 -– a hundred years ago -- Ambrose Bierce disagreed with the usage of the words “Last” and “Past” with “week”. He explained : Last and Past. ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

When did “crew” become a sport? When did “crew team” come into use?

When I was a child, there was a sport called rowing; if four or more people rowed together in the same boat, they would be known as a crew. At some point, either before or during my childhood, the ...
4
votes
2answers
877 views

What word describes our habit to use extremes in language, and what are its implications?

I have heard that in America, and likely elsewhere as well, we are beginning to be more gratuitous with our use of extreme words when not entirely accurate, such as the words "awesome", "always", ...
4
votes
1answer
170 views

When I shelve only one thing, am I not putting it on one shelf?

As there are plenty of nouns used as verbs, why is it that I do not shelf, but rather shelve, an idea? Since the -lves is just the special case plural of -lf, it seems curious that the -lve is used to ...
4
votes
4answers
639 views

Is English becoming easier or harder to learn? [closed]

As we all know, English is evolving. Constructs considered repugnant 100 years ago are widely-accepted today. Thousands of words in our vocabulary have fallen into disuse while thousands more have ...
4
votes
2answers
316 views

When did beast become a verb?

In recent times, people have started using the word beast as a verb (i.e., beast it, you've got to beast harder). Is there any information about when this trend started and how it came about?
4
votes
4answers
280 views

What does “cyber-” actually mean?

I'm heading into the postgraduate phase of my Computer Science-oriented studies, and I can't put my finger on what this root means. According to Etymology Online it comes from Cybernetics, which in ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

When a foreign word or phrase becomes English [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What are the criteria to adopt new words into English? There are many words or phrases in English that are clearly of foreign origin yet become so commonplace they are ...
4
votes
1answer
80 views

Has language begun to converge in the age of mass media?

I understand that this question may be perceived as a bit broad for this site, but I've decided to post it anyway. I figured that with the number of linguists, linguaphiles, and all-around language ...
4
votes
2answers
159 views

What is the difference between these two “scip”s?

In a question about ships, I added an answer with the etymologies that underpin both ship and -ship. "Ship" stems from scip: "O.E. scip "ship, boat," from P.Gmc. *skipan (cf. O.N., O.S., Goth. skip ...
4
votes
0answers
116 views

Is there a U.S. equivalent or version of the Plain English Campaign? [closed]

I recently found out about the Plain English Campaign, a UK-based movement for simplification of document language. They advocate the use of plain English in corporate-to-consumer and ...
3
votes
5answers
3k 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?
3
votes
2answers
999 views

When did “fag” become an offensive word?

I'm from Pennsylvania. With the recent threat by the Westboro Baptist Church to protest the funeral of seven children who perished in a fire, I've been thinking a lot about their infamous catchphrase: ...
3
votes
3answers
653 views

Is there an 'official' way to suggest a new word become part of the English language? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Regulatory bodies and authoritative dictionaries for English Creating a new word What are the criteria to adopt new words into English? I've always been told, at ...
3
votes
3answers
300 views

Reasons for using the same word for people and language of a country?

Ever since my first days of learning English I have been puzzled by this simple phenomenon: Why the word "English" can both mean the English language, and the English people? Is there any historical ...
3
votes
1answer
2k views

What is the origin of “uh”, “um”, “erm” and “er”?

This question may be a better fit on linguistics.SE, but it pertains specifically to English fillers. Also, the question may have a more straightforward answer than what I'm expecting. TL;DR: Are ...
3
votes
3answers
196 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
4k views

“Off on a tangent” vs. “off tangent.”

Tonight I heard someone say, "We're going off tangent here." I take this to be a mistaken conflation of "off on a tangent" with "off track." However, is a shift occurring? Is "off tangent" ...
3
votes
1answer
1k views

“Ta” and “ta-ta”

If "ta" means "thank-you", how did "ta-ta" come to mean "goodbye?" Isn't it basically repeating "ta?", in which case, wouldn't it mean "thanks, thanks!"? Is there a reason why? Does it lie in their ...
3
votes
2answers
203 views

Is “because-noun” a new preposition?

There are a handful of articles suggesting that a new preposition has appeared in the form of "because-noun": The Atlantic Stan Carey Grammar Girl Isn't "Because (of)... whatever" a causitive? ...
3
votes
1answer
336 views

Attention, focus, and respect as distributable resources

I'm curious about why we say things like, "If I could have your attention please", "Please give me your focus", and "Please give me the same respect you want for yourself". When did these become ...
2
votes
2answers
4k views

The etymology of “religion” comes from “legere” meaning to read + “re” meaning again. Or does it? (more inside) [closed]

The etymology of religion as mentioned in the title comes from Etymonline. And that's very interesting. It makes sense too. My question is, how do the phrases, "to read", "to choose", "to gather", ...
2
votes
2answers
1k views

Is the correct usage of “Diagnose (verb)” losing its ground?

In spite of many references on the correct usage of ”Diagnose”, usage of passive construction followed by a with-phrase – e.g. “The patient was diagnosed with cancer” — and usage of patient as object ...
2
votes
1answer
149 views

The origin word “English”? Language that dominated the beginning of English existence? [closed]

I've read so many questions in ELL on the origin of English words. But I've never found the origin of the word English itself. I'm also curious about the history of English as a language. I mean, in ...