Words and phrases whose origin is unknown or in serious dispute, according to reputable reference works.

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3
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2answers
275 views

How did an “arm” become a “mile”?

The common saying "give an inch and they'll take a mile" means: Make a small concession and they'll take advantage of you. For example, I told her she could borrow the car for one day and ...
1
vote
2answers
52 views

Do “empirical” and “imperial” share a common etymology? [closed]

Nothing more to my question, really. I just wonder if the words share an etymological root. Thanks.
5
votes
1answer
75 views

Etymology of “Devil-may-care”

I want to know about the origin of the compound adjective devil-may-care: Cheerful and reckless: light-hearted, devil-may-care young pilots All OED has is The exclamation devil may care! ...
13
votes
2answers
2k views

Origins of the word “mom” and “mother”

Apologies in advance for this question being only indirectly related to the English language, but I find it fascinating. I note with interest that the English words "mother" and "mama" have similar ...
0
votes
0answers
109 views

Origin of going “number 1” or “number 2” in the bathroom

I was wondering about the origin of using the terms "number one" and "number two" for going to the bathroom (for those unaware, number one is urinate, number two is defecate, at least in the US). I ...
5
votes
2answers
111 views

Where does the word 'Simoleon' come from?

Simoleon is another word for money. si·mo·le·on /səˈmōlēən/ I once thought that the word Simoleon came from the popular PC game The Sims. However, recently I heard the word used in ...
7
votes
1answer
137 views

Origin and earliest recorded use of 'fungo'

In baseball, a fungo bat is, according to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), "a long thin bat used for hitting fungoes," and a fungo is either "a fly ball hit esp. for practice ...
5
votes
3answers
188 views

Are there previous formulations of this quote from George R.R. Martin

I love this quote from George R.R. Martin — 'A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.' I just learned today of a similar formulation from St. Augustine ...
0
votes
2answers
245 views

Early usage, you can take the boy out of the country

Regarding the common English form, You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy... (Meaning - "This boy remains a bucolic rube even though he moved from ...
2
votes
1answer
67 views

Does “killed the dog” mean flatulence?

I have been using this idiom as a synonym for "passing gas" ever since I heard it in the cult comedy classic, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. Here's the usage: Kung Pow: Killed the Dog I happened to say ...
10
votes
3answers
1k views

What is the origin of the phrase “triple threat”?

"Triple threat" means things in different contexts. For performers, it refers to someone who excels at acting, singing, and dancing. In basketball, it refers to a person who has the option to pass, ...
3
votes
1answer
57 views

Origin of the exclamation “Jeannie (Genie?) Martins”

My mother often uses the term "Jeannie Martins!" (or perhaps Genie Martins, I've never seen it written, though this seems less likely) as a general exclamation. Jeannie Martins, it's cold outside! ...
-2
votes
1answer
50 views

What's the origin of the word “nachos”? [closed]

Just like it says on the tin! Looking for root words or early usages, ideally "first usage" or an unambiguous etymological origin.
1
vote
1answer
93 views

Origin of 'Dutch Courage'

I was wondering if anyone could shed some more definite light on the origin of the phrase 'Dutch Courage.' I have found two, almost certainly apocryphal, origins: 1: From the Thirty Years War in ...
1
vote
0answers
56 views

Did “based off of” come from a TV show for children?

"based off of" is a new alternative to the standard and traditional "based on", and the first time I heard it used by an adult was couple of months ago. How does a locution become widespread among ...
1
vote
1answer
43 views

How many fish heads?

I am wondering about the origin of the common non sequitur "How many fish heads?". Is it an oblique reference to Douglas Adams'"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" where when the dolphins leave they say ...
6
votes
1answer
114 views

Origin of the term 'truther' as applied to conspiracy theorists

Today's Oakland [California] Tribune has a story from the Palm Beach [Florida] Post carrying the headline, "Sandy Hook truther fired by college." The story is evidently quite similar to one that ...
6
votes
3answers
366 views

What is the etymology of “dope” meaning excellent, great, impressive?

Dope is a rather new slang word that is used to define someone or something excellent, great, impressive. OED says that it is originally in African-American usage and chiefly among rap musicians and ...
6
votes
2answers
156 views

Squeegee with a squeegee

Squeegee is: a scraping implement, usually consisting of a straight-edged blade of india-rubber, gutta-percha, or the like, attached to the end of a long handle, for removing water, mud, etc. ...
-4
votes
1answer
68 views

Why is the 12/26 holiday homonymic with the fistifcuffing sport? [closed]

I know that it wants the phase of "unwrapping the gifts", but I don't know why it should use such odd phase so that it seems to make an innuendo with the particular sport industry.
17
votes
3answers
980 views

Origin of the name 'Knickerbocker Glory'?

A Knickerbocker Glory is a type of ice cream sundae, but I'm having trouble finding out where the name originates. Searching on the internet has given me several conflicting answers (e.g. it's named ...
5
votes
1answer
158 views

Where did 'cahoot" come from, when did it first appear, and how did it acquire its pejorative sense?

According to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), cahoot, meaning a partnership or league, and usually expressed in the plural form "in cahoots," has a first known publication date ...
12
votes
3answers
279 views

Source of 'BB' in the sense of 'small, spherical pellet of shot'

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) has the following entry for BB: BB n (1845) 1 : a shot pellet 0.18 inch in diameter for use in a shotgun cartridge 2 : a shot pellet 0.175 ...
8
votes
1answer
682 views

Source of the phrase “call [somebody] out of name”

I was introduced today to the phrase "Call out of name" as in: She claimed the other girl called her out of name. I had to ask what it meant and the answer was "she called her a bitch". I'm ...
10
votes
3answers
14k views

Origin and variants of phrase: “let's blow this popsicle stand”

I'd like to know the origin and precursor or derivative variants of the phrase "let's blow this popsicle stand". Reliable, conclusive, source-supported, authoritative and consistent information about ...
2
votes
1answer
84 views

Where does the phrase “It's just business” originate?

I have been a bit of a movie buff lately, and I have noticed the same phrase in several movies I have been watching lately (with some minor variation): "It's just [good] business" This has ...
2
votes
3answers
2k views

What is the origin of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”?

I hear this term everywhere I go and from almost everyone I meet. I know this means to be more empathetic. Emotions and feelings if seen from a scientific point of view are just neurological responses ...
1
vote
2answers
159 views

Use of “I called myself” + gerund/participle

Is anyone familiar with this construction and its origin? Is it standard or non-standard? "I called myself taking a nap but ended up sleeping half the day." "I called myself cooking dinner, ...
3
votes
3answers
770 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
1answer
658 views

What is the origin of the phrase “has some teeth to it”?

I know the phrase "has some teeth to it" refers to something that cuts and/or takes hold of something. It's used a lot in arguments / discussion of topics where serious / good counterpoints are used, ...
2
votes
1answer
274 views

History of the Expression “Search Me”

The phrase "search me" is so ubiquitous in the English language that it is found on every list of common idioms. It is a situational idiom for "I don't know" in response to any direct question. But ...
10
votes
1answer
575 views

Expectaltee: A person who expects something

The word of the day: † expectaltee, n. Obs. rare. A person who expects something. [OED] You might ask how on the earth expectaltee is a word. Well, apparently it is a word but the origin is ...
11
votes
2answers
2k views

Yikes! Where did it come from?

(humorous, slang) Expressing fear. (humorous, slang) Expressing empathy with unpleasant or undesirable circumstances. [Wiktionary] Yikes! Where did it come from? OED says "Origin ...
-1
votes
1answer
83 views

Origins of “from the outside” (to mean from the beginning)

I came across a sentence that went something like this: I wish I'd known about this from the outside - I would have done a better job. I've heard "from the outside" used like this before a ...
18
votes
2answers
1k views

Did ‘alakazam’ magically appear out of the thin air?

I doubt it. But when did alakazam enter English, where did it come from, and who first used it? I vaguely recall the TV magic show The Magic Land of Allakazam (1960–1964) from my Texas childhood, and ...
1
vote
1answer
195 views

Does “precipitation” have anything to do with “precipitous”?

precipitation the action or process of precipitating a substance from a solution. rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to the ground. archaic,the fact or quality of acting suddenly and rashly ...
2
votes
3answers
2k views

Origin of “Stick to your knitting”

I know that "Stick to your knitting" means to stick with what you're familiar with/good at rather than giving your opinion or trying your hand at something out of your area of expertise. But I can't ...
3
votes
1answer
581 views

What does “ILL OR NAH” mean

A t-shirt was given to me as a present by a friend of mine. There is a cherokee chief head image and a text on it which is written "ILL OR NAH". I am hesitating about wearing it because i do not know ...
4
votes
3answers
924 views

What is the origin of “woof!”?

We know that woof is the sound a dog makes when barking. It is used both as a noun and a verb. The word is onomatopoeic but it is also used as an interjection. People woof too when they are attracted ...
2
votes
1answer
233 views

Origin of “Every dollar you spend is a political act”?

Who was the first to say this? Every dollar you spend is a political act. I find it here and there and it seems like a quote, but I can't find the origin.
12
votes
4answers
1k views

What is the origin of “rat”?

A simple little word for a common little fella. Yet, the origin is unknown (or not?). Both OED and Etymonline are bold enough to say "of uncertain origin"; but, of course, they try to explain the ...
6
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are Irish people called “turk” and “turkey”?

Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang (edited by John Ayto, John Simpson) lists the following slang words used for Irish people: bog-trotter, harp, Mick, Paddy, Pat, turk, turkey I can guess why ...
31
votes
5answers
4k views

Origins of “turn over in his grave”?; “turn over in her grave”? etc., etc

The best result of my google-search for the origins of the idiomatic phrase, “turn over in the grave” was this, from wikipedia: One of the earliest uses is found in William Thackeray's 1849 work ...
7
votes
1answer
987 views

Why does a Cheshire cat grin, and how long has it been doing so?

Most people are familiar with the expression "grin like a Cheshire cat" from Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (1865), which goes so far as to provide a glimpse of the grin without the cat. But the ...
1
vote
2answers
2k views

There's a pork chop in every beer, origin

I first heard this expression when, as a bartender, I asked a patron who'd ordered a pint if he wanted to see a menu. His response: "I'm all right, thanks. There's a pork chop in every beer." I've ...
1
vote
3answers
588 views

why say “take” when we really mean “leave” (a piss, etc.)

The use of "take" in colloquial expressions of urination and defecation continues to both confound and amuse even the youngest of language enthusiasts. Just ask my son, who will insist with a smile ...
3
votes
2answers
2k views

origin of “gingerly”

For years I thought gingerly meant "with spirit or liveliness," I suppose because "spirit and liveliness" define the noun ginger. But no; gingerly means "cautiously or carefully." How did it take on ...
3
votes
2answers
500 views

What is the origin of “Boxing Day”?

OED gives the definition and a quote from 1833 as the earliest reference as: The first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various ...
2
votes
1answer
327 views

’Tis the season

Google has a new doodle that says ’Tis the season when you put your cursor on it: What is the origin of this usage? or even the contraction ’tis? Details: There is a popular carol called “Deck ...
1
vote
4answers
792 views

Where does the expression “at a crack” come from?

The phrase at a crack is sometimes used to mean at one time. For example §§: Companies that have had generations of employees growing up under a no-layoff policy are now dumping 10,000 ...