3
votes
1answer
49 views

Is William Blake's usage of “to break a net” idiomatic or metaphorical?

The following passage is from William Blake's 1793 work "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell": A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, ...
1
vote
5answers
92 views

What word is this?

In the film Gangs of New York, what is this word spoken? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADmX9eMEV9U&t=1m38s It sounds like benay. What does it mean? The subtitles don't have anything for this ...
5
votes
6answers
463 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 ...
3
votes
2answers
151 views

What does “U” mean in a “2U herd”?

In the song Old Chisholm Trail, a famous cowboy song there's the following line: I started up the trail October 23rd Started up the trail with a 2U herd (emphasis mine) For lyrics. I know 2U ...
2
votes
2answers
157 views

What does this line in the chorus mean?

From New York Girls by by Finbar Furey Shipmates listen unto me, I'll tell you in my song Of the things that happened to me When I come home from Hong Kong CHORUS: To me a-weigh, ...
-2
votes
1answer
186 views

What did the word “arcade” mean before video games? [closed]

I was browsing a document on the history of Leicestershire in the UK. About halfway down the page, in the "Leicester in the 19th Century" section, it said: Silver Arcade was built in 1899. What ...
6
votes
2answers
813 views

What is a cock-feeder?

I've been reading Tyburn Tales, a Victorian book about the malefactors who suffered on the gallows at York. This includes potted biographies of some of the more flagitious criminals, including a ...
1
vote
3answers
147 views

Modern use of “bourgeoisie”

How can I use bourgeoisie properly in this day and age? I understand that at one time it meant part of the wealthy "middle class". Back then the middle class owned the means to production (merchants ...
0
votes
1answer
224 views

On English Phrases with Essential Changes in Meaning [closed]

In any living language the change in meanings of the words and phrases is a natural phenomenon. But sometimes this change is very essential and a certain word or phrase loses its original meaning ...
1
vote
3answers
512 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
2k 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 ...
9
votes
1answer
291 views

Did 'fornication' ever mean vaulting?

The following dialog is an excerpt from Terry Pratchet's Making Money: “Isn’t the fornication wonderful?” After quite a lengthy pause, Moist ventured, “Is it?” “Don’t you think so? ...
3
votes
2answers
325 views

When did “text” come to be defined as something other than words?

I think the answer to this question may be in the OED, but I don't have access to the service. I am discussing "texts" using definitions (from dictionary.com) like this: text: any theme or topic; ...
6
votes
4answers
454 views

What is the role of “every” in idioms like “every so often”?

There are a couple of idioms whose meaning is from time to time or occasionally. Every so often (Every) once in a while (Every) now and then/again Every actually is a determiner (or, broadly ...
5
votes
2answers
2k 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
591 views

What is “Who are ya?” and whence it came?

“Who are ya?” seems a popular chant or taunt with English football fans, both on and off the stands. Is it a fair assessment that it means to diminish the opposition as unknown and insignificant? ...
3
votes
4answers
284 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.
4
votes
4answers
1k views

Decadence of the word decadence

Everyone who is not from the US that I know gives the same quizzical look when some food commercial claims that a TV dinner is decadent. When did it start being used to mean luxurious? And why? (Our ...
0
votes
1answer
272 views

In the phrase “common sense”, in what sense of the word is “common” used?

As I understand it, there are several definitions of common, but I can't find any source that can highlight the etymology of the phrase. The linked definitions are pretty rigorous, but a less strict, ...
1
vote
2answers
120 views

Meaning (and History?) of “back of”?

I've come across the term "back of" (meaning "behind" in a physical or metaphorical sense) in a number of different works from around the turn of the 20th century*. Was this a linguistic fad of some ...
10
votes
3answers
586 views

If a “tittle” sits atop an “i” or a “j” (“ı” or “ȷ”), then where do “jots” sit?

In the KJV translation of Matthew 5:18, it reads: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. If a ...
6
votes
2answers
372 views

Meaning of “Y-o-u-u Tom!”

In the opening chapter of Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt Polly calls out to him in a rather peculiar fashion: She went to the open door and stood in it, and looked out among the ...
6
votes
1answer
160 views

What do references like “Docc Rom.” and similar mean? [closed]

In the book Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought, by Dorothea Waley Singer, references often have a form of 18 Doc. Ven. XV. or 49 Docc. Rom. XX, XXI. How to decipher them?
10
votes
4answers
3k views

“That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” [closed]

With Neil Armstrong's death today, many news sites are posting articles that quote Neil Armstrong as "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.". My question is, does the quote ...
3
votes
2answers
758 views

Where and when did the negative connotations of “manipulation” appear?

When we think of manipulating objects, we might think of a juggler, magician, chef, etc. When we think of manipulating people, however, it almost always comes with negative connotations. These ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

Why is it “the day is young”, not “still early”? What is the history of the phrase?

Mark Halperin’s article on the Missouri Congressman and Republican Senate nominee Todd Akin’s gaffe in August 20 Time magazine ends up with the lines: “So far, not publicly calling for Akin to ...
7
votes
1answer
275 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 ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

The history and use of the term “moth hour”

I had never heard or read the term moth hour before, but am reading the American author Jan Karon's book "In the Company of Others" and she uses it several times. The book is set in Ireland, and there ...
1
vote
0answers
852 views

What does “dictated not read” mean in a literary sense? [closed]

There have been letters ended with the phrase: Dictated, not read, This means that the secretary printed and distributed it without review from the author. But, when this is emphasized in ...
7
votes
2answers
563 views

'Artisanal': what is its modern cultural history?

As an AmE speaker, the word 'artisanal' sounds very new to me. I see it every where nowadays on advertising and packaging for grocery store items like bread, cheese, olive oil, and I've seen it ...
-1
votes
3answers
5k views

Meaning of “whoa” [closed]

Some dictionaries define whoa as Stop! while some define it as an expression of surprise/astonishment. Is there such a word as whoa, where did it originate from and what is its actual meaning?
6
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the meaning and origin of “set-piece battle”?

The definition I've found that makes the most sense is Wikipedia's: In warfare, a set piece battle may involve large formations moving according to a plan and responding to the opposing force also ...
7
votes
4answers
213 views

What is the likely definition of a women's “'health' west” from 1891?

In an 1891 newspaper advertisement (published in Manitoba, Canada) there is a reference to "wool 'health' wests in girls and ladies" which on first glance looks like a spelling error but is repeated ...
5
votes
1answer
2k views

Origin of “tootsie” or “tootsy” (foot)

I was just sitting thinking I had cold tootsies meaning my toes or feet! This got me wondering, where on earth does the word tootsie/tootsy come from? I did Google this and got definitions ...
44
votes
7answers
34k views

What did “google” mean in the 1900s?

I know that Google got its name from the word googol (10100), and that Google/google referring the search engine/using the search engine are recent additions to the dictionary. Their definitions are ...
2
votes
1answer
401 views

When did the alternative meanings of 'beard' start being used?

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?
2
votes
1answer
160 views

Fashionable photographers

I saw somewhere this quote from Wodehouse's Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927): "Statistics show that the two classes of the community which least often marry are milkmen and fashionable photographers – ...
7
votes
1answer
394 views

What is the meaning of the idiom “Like the Nation”?

In the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there are several curious references to "the nation". For example, in chapter 22: And at last, sure enough, [...] the horse broke loose, and away he ...
4
votes
3answers
598 views

Is the term “antagonym” widely used to describe a word that is its own antonym?

There are several words which have contradictory meanings. They may have one meaning now, and have had a different meaning in the past. For example, the current definition of peruse is: to look ...
1
vote
3answers
732 views

Use of the term Hans in an American name in the 1700's

I'm doing some research on family history. I am trying to track some people that came to the U.S from Germany in 1737 on the ship "Charming Nancy". Here's the link: ...
13
votes
3answers
4k views

Origin of “quarters” in the sense of living area

I was explaining to my son that HQ stood for "headquarters," when he surprised me by dividing the word into "head" and "quarters." I had never considered this word thusly before, but it's obvious to ...
9
votes
5answers
697 views

Has “dilemma” ever been restricted to two options?

I was surprised to discover my dictionary had this entry for dilemma: a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, esp. equally undesirable ones The ...
3
votes
5answers
9k views

What does “everything's gone pear-shaped” mean?

I've recently heard this phrase spoken twice on a British television show, and I assume it means something along the lines of, "everything's fallen apart," generally meaning, things are bad right now. ...
7
votes
2answers
91k views

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

What are its origins and what does it really mean?
11
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 ...
11
votes
5answers
44k views

What is the origin and history of the word “motherf---er”?

I'm not a native English speaker, but I would like to know how and why people started using mother fucker. Today it seems it has lost its meaning because people use it all the time, but was there a ...
16
votes
3answers
7k views

How does the “be-” prefix change the words to which it is applied? How did it come about?

What does the be- prefix change when applied to adjectives and verbs? There are many such words that seemed to be coined of this process, for example: behold, beget, befallen, beridden, ...
12
votes
3answers
3k views

What does the “right” in the “The Right Honourable” mean? Why is it there?

I don't think the right in the "The Right Honourable" means "correct", because I can't see how that makes sense in context. I considered right as a British slang intensifier that means "really", but ...
4
votes
3answers
350 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 ...
13
votes
2answers
2k views

Why did Old Testament scholars choose to employ “to know” in a sexual sense?

For those of us not familiar, the verb to know once had an archaic sexual sense, often found in the Old Testament, and as illustrated in the following story found in Genesis 19: 4 But before they ...