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I wasn't sure, so I looked it up, and it would seem it's specific to single words.


1.) the derivation of a word. Synonyms: word origin, word source, derivation, origin.

2.) a chronological account of the birth and development of a particular word or element of a word, often delineating its spread from one language to another and its evolving changes in form and meaning. Synonyms: word history, word lore, historical development.

3.) the study of historical linguistic change, especially as manifested in individual words.

Obviously the following sentence would be easily understood, but is it technically correct? Or is there a better way to ask the following question?

“What is the etymology of the Baseball term 'meat hand'?”

As in a first-use, or how the phrase came to be, or what made it popular – etc. What I think of as “etymology”, but perhaps that word is more technical, and specific to the linguistic breakdown and origins of individual words.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Ellie Kesselman, Drew, Tushar Raj, ermanen May 20 '15 at 23:54

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  • I think it's usually used for individual words, but it would obviously be understood if you generalized it. I don't think there's a specific word for the origin of phrases. – Barmar May 17 '15 at 5:24
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    Not the best of examples you've chosen. Meat hand is quite arguably a word just as much as it is a phrase, so whether etymology can be used for phrases or not, it can absolutely be used for meat hand. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 17 '15 at 10:54

Though speaking about the etymology of a phrase is a clear and unambiguous way to refer to how the phrase formed and its past and current usage, the term origin appears to be the one commonly used to specifically refer to a phrase.

Ngram shows no usage for etymology of a phrase or expression.

  • The well known The Phrase Finder for instance says: 1,800 English phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions, with their meanings and origins explained.

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