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

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Origin of the adverbial phrase “all but” meaning “very nearly”?

The definition of “all but” means “very nearly,” but this makes no sense logically. For instance, if someone says “That word is all but forgotten” it means that whatever word the speaker is referring ...
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1answer
67 views

Is “I be”, grammatically correct?

Bishop Robert a prominent Hebraist and theologian, with fixed and eccentric opinions about language, wrote "A short introduction to English grammar(1762). Many schoolroom grammars in use to this day ...
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Why is the adjective form of “governor” gubernatorial?

Why isn’t the adjectival form “governatorial” or something similar? Why did “gubernatorial” become the standard and accepted adjective for “governor”? Govern’s adjective is governable and not ...
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2answers
120 views

How is quean related to queen?

To my untrained eye, the words quean and queen look suspiciously similar, although they are quite different in meaning; so how did it come to be like that? Is this a coincidence, or are they ...
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3answers
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Is English(Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc) a language, or a dialect? [on hold]

Dialect in the linguistic sense of a variation of a language. English, the language of the Angles foreigners who came to Britain, has left its mark on this Island. Ænglisc or English a Germanic ...
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1answer
51 views

Historical grammatically of “Do not go gentle into that good night”?

I am not by any means a poetry expert, but I know a bit about grammar and writing. Ergo, I can say that in Dylan Thomas’s most famous poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, the refrain that the ...
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2answers
58 views

Why is the phrase “for the life of me”?

I can’t understand why the phrase “for the life of me” isn’t “for the life of mine.” Mine is a possessive pronoun, not me. You don’t say, “Some friends of me.” You say, “Some friends of mine” OR “Some ...
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2answers
94 views

What is the origin of the term “bull****” in its figurative sense? [on hold]

When/how did the word "bullshit" or the phrase "I call bullshit" (or its multiple variants) become acceptable in English? Was it a direct adaptation from another language or was it introduced in some ...
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1answer
154 views

When did “escort” become an euphemism for prostitute?

Escort was originally a military and masculine term: 1570s, in military sense, from Middle French escorte (16c.), from Italian scorta. which was used figuratively from the first half of the 20th ...
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1answer
62 views

Why does “No” mean “Number?” [duplicate]

I frequently see the abbreviation "No" to mean "Number" (or "Nos" to mean "Numbers") instead of the much more common meaning of the word (a negative statement or denial). Sources cited here say it's ...
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Why is the phrase “cake walk” informally used to describe an easy to achieve task, while its origin says a different story?

From Oxford Dictionaries Online: cakewalk ˈkeɪkwɔːk/ noun 1. (informal) an absurdly or surprisingly easy task. "winning the league won't be a cakewalk for them" 2. historical a ...
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1answer
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Etymology of all of the different meanings of the word nick [closed]

Such as “In the nick of time” and “I nicked a corner on my phone” (of course, there are a ton more possible uses, those were just 2 examples).. Are they all related to the name Nick? Are any of them ...
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1answer
76 views

Etymology of “boy” as an exclamation/interjection [duplicate]

In the sentence "Boy, is there a lot to answer for" (from a recent EL&U comment), "boy" is used for expressing a strong reaction, especially admiration or excitement. How did this meaning/usage ...
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5answers
567 views

What does “sitter” refer to in babysitter?

According to Etymonline the noun babysitter is from 1914: also baby-sitter, "person who looks after a child or children while the parents are away," 1914, from baby (n.) + agent noun from sit (v.)....
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1answer
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initialised or initialized which one is correct spelling? [duplicate]

I have often seen initialised in lots of text, but when I want to write it in Microsoft office word, it says it was misspelled and it should be initialized instead of initialised. so here is my ...
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4answers
2k views

Is it a finished basement or a furnished basement? [closed]

When one buys a house with a fully done basement, is it known as a furnished basement or a finished basement? I’ve heard both used, but I was always under the impression that the right usage is a ...
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1answer
387 views

When was the word 'curry' first used?

English is a living and growing language, with new words / phrases being added regularly and some from foreign languages. The Britishers started trading with Mughal India from early 1600's before ...
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3answers
129 views

That's mighty white of you…"

What is the origin of the phrase "that's mighty white of you brother"; is it simply a racist statement as it appears to be, our does it have another, older or obscure derivation? I've always wondered ...
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1answer
76 views

What does it mean if someone says they are “blessed”? [closed]

If Person X says that they're "blessed", does this have to imply that they believe they've received a blessing from some higher power? Or could it just mean they feel "fortunate" or even just happy ...
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2answers
65 views

How did “dial back” come to mean “to reduce pressure on sth”

In a recent article from CNBC they say: ”Trump will dial back his trade pressure if markets tank.” Dial back/down is defined by Longman Dictionary as an AmE phrasal verb meaning: to reduce ...
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4answers
178 views

Is the term Indian Giver politically correct?

My son is Cherokee & uses this term & I was concerned if that is a proper term. I thought it originated because the US government historically gave land & such to tribes, then took it back ...
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1answer
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What is the origin of “tablet” as in a pill?

How did we make the leap from 'writing surface' to 'pill'? The only reference I could find was in Etymonline. The meaning "lozenge, pill" is first recorded 1580s.
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What is the origin of “see things in a different light” or “see things in a new light”?

I was really wondering if this phrase is modern (post-electricity) or older than that. (musing) I was driving home one day last week and the sun was hitting a building I had not previously noticed in ...
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2answers
56 views

Etymology and usage of “enfetter”

Recently, I was playing a word game where you are given a list of clues and you have to come up with the appropriate word, using provided groups of letters. I got rather confused when the clue was ...
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Why are traitors called moles?

What is the origin or reasoning behind calling someone inside an organisation feeding information to people outside it a mole?
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4k views

Why were slum kids called “urchins”?

To the eyes of Mr. Jeremiah Cruncher, sitting on his stool in Fleet Street with his grisly urchin beside him, a vast number and variety of objects in movement were every day presented. A Tale ...
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2answers
104 views

Phonetics versus spelling in the initial letter of a word

My dad and I were playing a game in the car where we picked a letter and then each alternated saying a word that started with that letter. We did it with b, for example, it might go: Dad: bath me:...
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2answers
4k views

How did words like align get a g?

One answer for Is there an etymological explanation for the silent ‘g’ in “paradigm”? mentions that words such as align, apophthegm, arraign, assign, benign, campaign, consign, deign, design, ...
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Is there an etymological explanation for the silent ‘g’ in “paradigm”?

Whenever I come across the word paradigm, I have to make a small conscious effort not to pronounce the letter ‘g’. In Italian, it is spelled paradigma and each letter is individually pronounced i.e. ...
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2answers
2k views

Etymology of using “ya” instead of “you”

I have noticed that some people in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio often say "ya" instead of "you"? As in "Didya do your homework?" instead of "Did you do your homework?". Does anyone know ...
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2answers
79 views

How did we get from 'emerge' to 'emergency'? [closed]

One would assume these both have the same origin - though I'm quite prepared to be corrected... ...but how did we get from 'emerge' - to come out of, to leave... to 'emergency' with the blue lights, ...
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etymology: have a bone to pick with sb?

I've heard the phrase: have a bone to pick with sb ever since I was a kid. Cambridge defines it as: C2 to want to talk to someone about something annoying they have done: But, I can't seem to ...
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Origin of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”

According to the following source the adage The apple doesn't fall far from the tree originated in AmE in the first half of the 19th century: The first recorded use in the USA was by Ralph Waldo ...
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1answer
42 views

Etymology and the solution to choose which definition of a verb ( or a noun etc )

I am currently writing my company's blog, using one of Sherlock Holmes series, Scandal in Bohemia. In the course of reading, I encountered a sentence. "The circumstances are of great delicacy, ...
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1answer
57 views

What was evergreen in the late 19th century?

The botanical metaphor “evergreen” is now used for whatever exhibits an enduring freshness, success, or popularity. The term originally appeared in the 17th century: 1640s in reference to trees and ...
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4answers
289 views

Where does the expression “green wave” come from?

"Green wave" is an idiomatic expression used in traffic circulation that refers to: A green wave occurs when a series of traffic lights (usually three or more) are coordinated to allow ...
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3answers
128 views

Does this OED citation of “third-rate,” and the origin of the idiomatic term, relate to the British Royal Navy?

According to Wikipedia, this site, and etymonline, third-rate derives from a term related to ships, particularly a rating system in the British Royal Navy. However, etymonline dates the term to ...
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1answer
57 views

How would a native speaker interpret (or understand) the word “weal”? [closed]

It seems there are several possible translations for the word "Weal". Does the notion of "well-being" come to your mind when you read or hear that word? What comes to a native English speaker's ...
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3answers
73 views

Is “catarolysis” a word? Whether it is or not, how might it be broken down into Greek or Latin derivatives?

Some definitions I have seen are: "catarolysis - n. - cursing to let off steam" and "catarolysis: letting off steam by cursing" and "catarolysis /kat uh RALL ih sis/ n The practice of cursing to ...
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0answers
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What is the origin of the drafting term “screened back”?

In engineering/architectural drafting, many people consider grey lines - usually used to indicate existing work or reference work belonging to other disciplines - as "screened back". When older ...
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2answers
74 views

What's the origin of “shot away”?

What's the origin of the phrase "shot away" as meaning a person is behaving in an unhinged manner?
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25k views

Tag (the game) = “Touch and Go”?

I have been seeing the following post making the rounds on social media today: How old were you when you learned that the game TAG stands for "Touch and Go"? I was today years old... Now even ...
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505 views

What is the origin of “home free”?

I always assumed that the idiomatic phrase home free had its origin in baseball, and at least one relevant dictionary seems to confirm this. Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of ...
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1answer
95 views

Origin of “dog(ging) it”?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "dog it" as: Do less than is required; loaf or shirk. For example, I'm afraid our donors are dogging it this year. This expression originated in sports ...
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1answer
99 views

'Bone-idle' - what is the origin of the meaning?

Phrases.org quotes Robert Forby in his glossary The Vocabulary Of East Anglia, 1830, commenting that the entry falls short of mentioning the actual wording 'bone-idle' : Bone-lazy, bone-sore, bone-...
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Why verdigris and not rust?

My son asked me about the discoloration on our outside brass doorknob, and I told him that it was verdigris, explaining that it was basically rust that formed on brass, bronze and copper. I know what ...
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409 views

What's so idiomatic about “unrequited”?

Unrequited, according to the most influential dictionaries, is a term mostly used in reference to love. As the following source notes: Unrequited is used almost exclusively in the context of ...
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2answers
56 views

How did we get both sub- and infra- prefixes?

It seems that both sub- and infra- are prefixes that mean "below", leading to their use in different words to provide a similar meaning. We even have some words that are the same apart from these ...
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194 views

Etymology/history of “dib-dob” as military slang for foreign currency

Dib-dob is used as a generic term for foreign currency (I've come across it for Euros and Dollars). I've recently heard this used by some RAF types, and had heard it before, from someone presumably ...
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232 views

Origin of slang “fire” meaning “cool” / “great” and does it have any relation to “fam”?

Fire as a slang adjective appears to be the bleeding-edge version of "cool." To some extent, the word appears to be interchangeable with dope. One thing that seems odd to me is that it often seems ...