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

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2
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2answers
61 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
45 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
61 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 ...
8
votes
0answers
425 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 ...
10
votes
2answers
448 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 ...
0
votes
1answer
44 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 ...
16
votes
2answers
540 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
62 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
355 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
199 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 ...
3
votes
3answers
257 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
101 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.
10
votes
2answers
418 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
676 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 ...
1
vote
1answer
31 views

Origin of “Disclosure” [closed]

I'm wondering about the word 'Disclosure', especially in the context of making something known, such as a conflict of interest. For example: Full disclosure: I am the owner of the shop I just linked ...
30
votes
5answers
3k 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
431 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
665 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
242 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
707 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 ...
1
vote
1answer
285 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
138 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
282 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 ...
3
votes
1answer
403 views

What is the origin of “Kris Kringle”?

In Canada, we use the term "Kris Kringle" for gift exchange tradition in Christmas. It is also spelled as "Kriss Kringle". In US and UK, it is called Secret Santa. Wikipedia says "Secret Santa" is ...
1
vote
1answer
74 views

Where does the response “Anytime” come from? [closed]

When someone says "Thank you" whenever I have helped them out, I naturally respond with "Anytime". I recently started thinking about this and couldn't quite figure out where this word originates from. ...
9
votes
4answers
873 views

What is the origin of the phrase “bullet points”?

In particular, was the expression coined by a single individual or is it attributed to a document? The only thing I've been able to find was a non-cited reference to its origins in the 19th century ...
5
votes
2answers
118 views

In what context did the noun 'countdown' first emerge, and when did the word first appear in print?

A recent EL&U question (What does “counting” in “Bits of plastic in oceans: 5.25 trillion and counting” mean?) led to a discussion of counting up versus counting down. In the course of that ...
5
votes
3answers
684 views

What is the origin of “alrighty”?

It is a friendlier and more colloquial version of "alright". It is also heard in the exclamation/interjection "Alrighty, then!". I usually hear it at the end of conversations in Canadian English, ...
2
votes
2answers
273 views

Where did the term “Double Standard” originate?

Is it from someone flying two flags (standards are a type of banners or flag) and say riding both sides of the fence? I'm guessing here as I can find nothing on this. but it sounds logical to me.
0
votes
1answer
192 views

Dull as ditchwater (not dishwater) … specific questions thereon

(1) who specifically, or at least when specifically, did originate the phrase? {Example answer - "that was one of Shakespeare's!"} (2) why? (3) when first did someone screw up and use ...
0
votes
3answers
2k views

“Wise man” vs. “wise guy”

Two very similar expressions yet quite opposite connotations. Wise man is an older phrase but wise guy is a newer one. I found two possible connections to wise man. There is the surname Wiseman ...
4
votes
3answers
356 views

When and where did the exclamation “Snap!” originate?

Recently I heard and an explanation for what the exclamation "Snap!" meant. He stated that it comes from the kid's card game where you yell "Snap" at a certain time to win the card pile. I'm vaguely ...
3
votes
3answers
3k views

“Sober as a judge” vs. “Drunk as a lord”. Why judge? Why lord?

Sober as a judge is a simile that is used for someone completely sober. Drunk as a lord is a simile that is used for someone completely drunk. Why is judge equated with sobriety and lord with ...
7
votes
1answer
3k views

Origin of “Why is a mouse when it spins?” riddle

Question: "Why is a mouse when it spins?" Answer: "Because the higher the fewer." There are some great responses regarding the provenance of this seemingly-nonsensical riddle at this ...
3
votes
3answers
662 views

Origin of “name happened” form: from “s*** happens” via “magic happens”?

There’s a form in current English Then <X> happened or <X> happened, where you transition the name of a thing (a person, a fictitious character, or object), to mean the dramatic ...
0
votes
1answer
251 views

When did saying “I'm offended” or “I find that offensive” become a common phrase in English?

When did saying I’m offended or I find that offensive become a common phrase in English?
2
votes
1answer
137 views

Are “bunk” and “bunker” directly related?

When did the term bunk (in the sense of sleeping berth) arise, and what if any connection does it have to the noun bunker? Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) gives a first ...
13
votes
8answers
1k 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
3k views

What is the origin of “breaking bad”?

Wiktionary gives the meaning of "break bad" but does not mention about the origin: 1. (colloquial, of an event or of one's fortunes) To go wrong; to go downhill. 2. (colloquial, chiefly ...
11
votes
3answers
600 views

Etymology of “bridge” (the card game)

I've always thought that the name of this card game comes from the English word bridge (the structure) but it is not quite like that. It's the English pronunciation of a game called Biritch, which was ...
10
votes
2answers
398 views

Is “kip” Chinese in origin?

While looking up the history of kip, I realized that the information about its origins is rather scant. The noun and verb to kip in BrEng is often said when a person wishes to take a short sleep or a ...
5
votes
3answers
15k views

Why is mutton used for both sheep meat and goat meat?

The meat of an adult sheep is called mutton. The meat of an adult goat is called chevon or mutton. In the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean, and in some parts of Asia, particularly ...
10
votes
4answers
993 views

Why “English” but not “Anglish”?

Etymology of English from Etymonline: Old English Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island ...
2
votes
2answers
5k views

Why is it called “slippery dick”?

No, no, it is not what you think! It is a poor fish called slippery dick: The slippery dick, Halichoeres bivittatus, is a species of wrasse native to shallow, tropical waters of the western ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood! What is the origin of this ...
5
votes
1answer
10k views

When and from where did “guns” become slang for biceps?

I first heard the use of guns to mean biceps in high school. I thought it was just a local slang. It turns out to be universally known. I later saw it in magazines and fitness books. I also heard of ...
2
votes
3answers
6k views

What is the origin of the term “toots” to refer to a woman?

When speaking to my female friends (who know me well enough to not take offense), I frequently use the term toots to refer to them. These are friends who know that I'm using it ironically as part of ...
3
votes
3answers
7k views

What is the origin of the phrase “Crazier than a sh*thouse rat!”?

I can't seem to find an origin to this particular phrase. Can anyone shed some light on what makes sh*thouse rats particularly crazy? I also wonder about the origin of the similar *Bat-shit crazy". ...
7
votes
8answers
63k views

Original Meaning of Blood is thicker than water, is it real?

I recently read that the phrase "Blood is thicker than water" originally derived from the phrase "the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", implying that the ordinary meaning ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

Whence does “sprog” come?

The British informal word for a child. I couldn't get any work done because the sprogs were running riot. ODO has the following: 1940s (originally services' slang): perhaps from obsolete ...