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Questions tagged [etymology]

Etymology is the history of the origin of words and phrases.

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Origin of the saying “The hawk is out”

There is a brisk, chill wind blowing in my part of the world, and I was reminded of the saying: "The hawk is out" Some people claim it originated in Chicago in black communities, but I have only ...
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Would Limnlight make sense instead of limelight? [on hold]

I am familiar with the term limn: limn /lim/Submit verbLITERARY past tense: limned; past participle: limned depict or describe in painting or words. suffuse or highlight (something) with ...
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1answer
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What does a native speaker imagine when hearing “lunatic cat”?

Is "lunatic cat" like "crazy cat" or "it's nonsense, they don't say so", or something else? According to https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/lunatic there is a connection to the moon (see "...
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Why “god” in godparent?

I'm looking for the etymology of words like godparent, godchild, etc. In particular, why "god" is added as a prefix? So far I haven't found an explanation. Wiktionary (for godfather) states: From ...
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What's the etymology of 'hire purchase'?

I understand, and am not asking about, the meaning of 'hire purchase': A system by which one pays for a thing in regular instalments while having the use of it. North American term instalment ...
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1answer
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What do the bold numerals in parentheses mean in Merriam Webster Dictionary? [on hold]

Here is the specific word I am referring to: The bold numerals in parentheses are under the 2nd definition. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/just Are those sub-sub senses? Or are they ...
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1answer
54 views

Why's a call option called 'call', and put option called 'put'?

I'm asking about etymology, and not what these options are. The answers beneath don't feel convincing; can't 'call' and 'put' be interchanged in them? I'll abbreviate Call Option to CO, and Put Option ...
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Origin of 'dap' shoe

What is origin of 'dap' as name for canvas shoes which is used in parts of England such as West Country & Wales? The Chamber Dictionary has the following entry but no suggestion for its origin: ...
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Etymology of 'fladry'

'Fladry' is a comparatively recent adoption in English from Polish, with a putative origin in German. The Double-Tongued Dictionary gives this definition and partial etymology: fladry n.pl. a ...
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Does adding “pre” to a word connote bad meanings? Examples: “Presage” vs “sage”, “pretext” and “preclude”

I came across the word "presage" through the Vocabulary Builder as below (Sorry, I can only copy and past since I purchased it.) presage (v.) presij to indicate something (usually bad) is about ...
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use of “Well” in response to being summoned [closed]

In the 1940s and 1950s, if Mother were to call for one, "Oh, Jamieeee?", one was to respond "Well, Mother..." and never "What, Mother...?", the latter being considered vulgar and ill-spoken. Locale ...
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Usage of the phrase “I clutched my pearls”, esp. for males?

I came across with a phrase, “clutch one’s pearls” in the headline of the Hill (January 6). It reads : “Dem lawmaker: ‘Kind of odd’ for GOP to be ‘clutching their pearls’ over profane call to ...
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Why are tax returns called tax returns, and is the term applicable outside the US?

I have a problem with the term tax returns regarding its genesis and use in international communication. 1) Genesis and logic I do not understand the logic behind it. As far as I see, "tax returns"...
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About the word 'finewirer' and researching obscure words

I can't seem to find anywhere where I can look up reliably the meaning and etymology of this word: finewirer. A quick search on Google gives you uses of this word in texts such as Terry Pratchett's ...
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Who are the world's leading authorities on the origins of business speak?

I am writing a book on the history of Business Speak (i.e. "swim lane," "core competency"). To that end, I am tracking down the origins of some of the most widely-used business terms. I'm looking ...
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1answer
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Origin of “the grass is always greener”

Earlier versions of this well-known proverb, according to “writingexplained.org”, include: A Latin proverb cited by Erasmus of Rotterdam was translated into English by Richard Taverner in 1545, as:...
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use of “animal” as a synonym for mammal

While watching episodes of the old game show "What's My Line," circa 1957-1962, the very literate panelists regularly use the word "animal" to mean "mammal," as in "Do you work with fish as opposed to ...
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Why is it gerontology and not geronology?

I hope this is the right place to ask this, if not please give a feedback. According to the Wikipedia, the term gerontology is made up from two parts, geron and -logia, which mean respectively "old ...
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2answers
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Was the word “communist” used prior to Marxist/Leninist writings?

The word 'communism' and 'communist' were certainly popularized by the title of 'The Communist Manifesto' by Mark and Engels. But was the word 'communist' used prior to Marxist writings? Or was it ...
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What is the history of using “Jersey” for “New Jersey”?

I have long wondered the origin of calling New Jersey by the nickname "Jersey". To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shortened New York or New Hampshire to "York" or "Hampshire", or ...
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A twist of fate

I’ve spent the last few days savouring the phrase “A twist of fate”, either there isn’t much written about, or it is swamped by other people using it. From what seen on the internet it seems to be ...
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“I hope she hangs the moon”

I am always on the watch out for new unfamiliar idioms, especially in American English, and today I found one “to hang the moon”. "And so she's now talked about a lot," McCaskill added. "I'm not ...
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1answer
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When was “off-world” / “offworld” coined?

"Offworld" meaning "not on the main, current planet" is a term in some sci-fi works, and several works have been named using it, like "Offworld Trading Company" (a video game). The word definitely ...
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Is there an etymological connection between the English “arachnid” and the French “arachides” (meaning peanuts)?

What is the etymological connection; between "arachnid" (the English scientific term for insects that include spiders), and "arachides" the French word for peanuts ? Thank you
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What is the origin and scope of usage for the phrase “how about..”?

It’s unclear to me how those two words even make sense together, yet they can be used to suggest something akin to “..and now this” in almost any propositional phrase. Where does this come from / ...
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Is it technically correct to call an almond drink “milk” in English?

For the past few years in Italian supermarkets, we have all sorts of "healthy" and "organic" alternatives to dairy milk for vegans and for consumers who are lactose intolerant. For example; soy milk (...
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1answer
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“Hello, welcome in” as opposed to “Welcome”

In the past year, I have noticed an interesting trend with some of the stores that I have shopped at with my fiance; when you first walk into the store, an employee will be at the door greeting ...
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1answer
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Why do Christianity and Islam not end with “-ism”?

Apart from Christianity and Islam all more wide-spread religions seem to end in "-ism", such as Hinduism, Confucianism or Judaism. According to Wikipedia It means "taking side with" or "imitation ...
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Why do we call it “combination lock”? [closed]

Variation lock seems more accurate by mathematical definitions Edit(to give it more context) Hey, can you tell me the combination of your lockbox ? Why don't we say variation(or permutation)? The ...
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1answer
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How did “womanizer” develop its current meaning?

A womanizer is: a man who always seems to have a new girlfriend, and who has no hesitation about starting up a new relationship before he's ended the last one. Usually, these relationships are ...
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Etymology of 'ballpark figure'? [duplicate]

I know ballpark figure means estimate, but I don't understand why it means estimate. Literally, how does ballpark make figure an estimate? Ballpark means a baseball stadium or field from google ...
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1answer
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What does psychogrammatic mean?

In a recent interview, that Mark Levin had with Victor Davis Hanson, Hanson uses the word psycho-grammatic in reference to how Donald Trump ran his campaign. My Oxford dictionary does not recognise ...
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Etymology of “between a rock and hard place” [duplicate]

I don't find any of the origin stories posted for this phrase plausible. Has anyone scoured the many concordances of the English Bible? If the answer is no, I'll embark on the task myself.
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1answer
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-sen for -self in English: history and usage

In my class there is a gentleman from the north of England who uses "-sen" instead of "-self" in such words as "himself" ("himsen") and "myself" ("mysen"). As far as I can tell, he always uses "-sen" ...
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Why is a drunk person often said to be “cut” or “half-cut”?

The usage is confirmed as sense 8 of the adjectival cut per the OED - see below. However no etymology is given. slang. Drunk, intoxicated. 1673 R. Head Canting Acad. 171 He is flaw'd, ...
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Origin of “name and shame”

According to Phrase Finder, the idiomatic expression name and shame was originally used as a noun phrase, From the Pennsylvania newspaper The Warren Ledger, October 1884: "None are ...
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Back-dating “drunk driver”

I've been impressed by the quality of research done on this forum. I have "drunk driver" meaning one who drives an automobile while intoxicated from 1948. I'm pretty sure it's older than that. Can ...
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1answer
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“Incumbent” as “current”. Usage and its etymology

Empirical research on neighborhood change, however, has produced no conclusive evidence that incumbent residents are in fact displaced under circumstances of gentrification. (source) This is ...
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Why did confort become comfort?

According to Wiktionary the english word comfort should derive by the french word confort. So why did english adopted the term replacing the french "n" with the "m"?
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The Etymology of “husband’s tea”

I am an English teacher. While teaching my students l am often asked about English idioms and their etymologies and meanings. As a rule, I can find the answers to their questions. But there's an idiom ...
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1answer
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What is the origin of “Curses!” as an expression?

I understand it is said to express annoyance, frustration, and the like. However, I do not know about its origins. According to Etymonline: Curses as a histrionic exclamation is from 1885 Did ...
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From Black Friday to Cyber Monday!

Sources available on line say that the expression “Cyber Monday” is just a few years old, dating its coinage to 2005: The term "Cyber Monday" was dreamt up in 2005 by a marketing team at Shop.org,...
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What is the etymology of the word clout when meaning influence?

Merrian Webster defines clout 4 : PULL, INFLUENCE political clout She parlayed her box-office clout to wealth and independence — B. S. Pierre Etymonline explains that clout: Sense ...
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1answer
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Meaning and etymology of “to have a flag day” [closed]

I've come across the phrase "to have a flag day." From context it's clear that it's not talking about any kind of celebration of a literal flag, rather, it seems to refer to a synchronization point ...
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First written use of expression “smokin' hot” [closed]

I'd be grateful to know the year the expression "smokin' hot" was initially used in a written work. Thank you.
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Why do ash (trees) and ash (burnt residue) have the same name?

I've often wondered why ash (trees) and ash (burnt residue) have the same name. I've looked up the origin of both words, but I don't see anything that explains why the names are the same. From the ...
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Continuous(Progressive) module in Old English

I'm curious as to the origins of the Continuous(progressive) module. Whenever I meet texts emulating old speech, like in: video game RPGs, books like the Saxon Chronicles, Hollywood movies about the ...
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2answers
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Why is “builded” an archaic variant of built, given that usually the language evolves the other way?

In one of the Nature articles related to Google n-grams site [1], as well as in the book [2], the authors describe (and quantify the rate of) the process of regularization of English irregular verbs. ...
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1answer
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Why do we say “traffic jam”?

A thought occurred to me during a tedious journey yesterday, when travelling why do we use the word jam when describing being …caught in a traffic jam? It is just a queue, in this case, it ...
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2answers
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Are “phonics” and “Phoenician” related?

I was watching a history lecture recently, and the professor stated that after the Greek "dark ages," during which their previously used written language was lost and forgotten, a new written language ...