Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about tracing out and describing the elements of an individual word, as well as the historical changes in form and sense which that word has experienced over its history.

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Where does the "dysfunctional or broken" meaning of the word "demic" come from?

As a rail enthusiast I often hear the word "demic", which Wiktionary tells me has a dialectical meaning of "dysfunctional or broken". However it does not list any reason why it ...
7 votes
3 answers
349 views

Why do “would” and “could” make questions polite?

An excerpt of the article from thoughtco.com: Key Words That Make Direct Questions More Polite In informal situations, one could use the word “can” in a direct sentence. In the United States, “can” ...
8 votes
1 answer
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What is the origin of the phrase "la ti dah"?

What is the origin of the phrase "la ti dah"? Two famous usages of the phrase: it is exclaimed often by the title character in the movie 'Annie Hall', and it is used the lyrics of singer Van ...
6 votes
6 answers
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Was the blue screen of death ever just a blue screen?

Etymologically speaking, at least according to Wikipedia, the term Blue Screen of Death: originated during OS/2 pre-release development activities at Lattice Inc, the makers of an early Windows ...
16 votes
4 answers
27k views

What is the origin of "like a bat out of hell"?

As far as I know, this expression means to appear suddenly and in a scary way. But what is its origin? I heard that it comes from Meat Loaf's song but I'd like to confirm it with reliable sources, if ...
19 votes
2 answers
39k views

Why is the exclamation mark called a "bang"?

Why is the exclamation mark called a bang? Bang is used to mean the sound of something falling but these days I hear it frequently used to mean the exclamation mark, especially in IT related texts.
8 votes
6 answers
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Why do Australians and NZers call snacks/lunch *crib*?

From another question I found out that Australians and New Zealanders call lunch and snacks crib. On the Macquarie dictionary site, there are several (user contributed) theories about why, but ...
1 vote
1 answer
61 views

Origin of “Peace Through Superior Firepower”

(I’m not sure if this is a valid question here†, as the phrase is arguably not common enough to be classed as a fixed expression.) Is there an ascertainable origin of Peace Through Superior Firepower? ...
4 votes
4 answers
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Origin, history and precise meaning of "banger" in the US music industry

I recently heard the word banger used by a young man in Chicago to describe a catchy, up-beat song. Checking Green's Dictionary of Slang, I found a definition attested in 2016 that to my mind seems a ...
7 votes
5 answers
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To Break Bread -- the origin of the phrase

I am looking for the origin of the phrase "break bread" meaning to eat (or, I expect, to share food). I know that it can be sourced to the book of Acts but I have also seen many websites which say ...
3 votes
2 answers
117 views

Why is "hammock" spelled the way it is?

The word hammock comes from Spanish hamaca. type of hanging bed, 1650s, alteration of hamack, hamaca (1550s), from Spanish hamaca, from Arawakan (Haiti) word apparently meaning "fish nets" (...
0 votes
3 answers
247 views

Semantic connection behind the etymology of "category?"

Ancient Greek had agora, from which they got the verb agorevo, meaning to speak in public assembly. From this in turn they derived kategoreo, meaning to speak against someone, to accuse someone of ...
7 votes
4 answers
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Why do we talk of 'spoiling for a fight'?

According to the OED the sense of spoiling for a fight/argument etc is of US origin. Does anyone know the provenance of this use? OED to be spoiling for (a fight, etc.), to long for, to desire ...
4 votes
2 answers
132 views

What is the origin of the idiom "get/be shot of"?

Definition Get/be shot of someone/something slang To get rid of. — Collins Examples He didn't want to be seen near me and couldn't wait to get shot of me. City experts still reckon the company ...
4 votes
1 answer
398 views

Why is it "astrologer" and "geologist", but not "astrologist" or "geologer"?

(There may be other examples in this vein, but these two stuck out to me recently.) We call someone who practices astrology an astrologer. We call someone who practices geology a geologist. It seems ...
20 votes
6 answers
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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 ...
34 votes
4 answers
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Why is a large shuriken sometimes called a "glaive"?

I have learnt that the word "glaive" originally meant a sword and became a polearm sometimes later. But in modern day games and fantasy fiction, sometimes it refers to a frisbee-sized shuriken. What ...
1 vote
0 answers
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Etymology of phrase, "to get the better/best of" [closed]

What is the origin of the term, "to get the better/best" of? While I've looked at some sources, they say the meaning without giving the etymology of the phrase. Since the meaning has to do ...
1 vote
1 answer
121 views

Where does the term 'circuit breaker' come from?

Per the BBC, the United Kingdom discussed implementing a 'circuit breaker' in October. Israel, New Zealand, and Singapore have used 'circuit breakers', and it seems that Singapore was the first to use ...
9 votes
6 answers
31k views

What is the origin of the term "screw" in the case of a prison guard?

The term screw can refer to a prison guard. An example of this is seen in the folk song The Catalpa: So come all you screw warders and jailers Remember Perth regatta day Take care of the rest of your ...
2 votes
3 answers
2k views

Why does the word "Catholic" have two contrasting meanings?

catholic means including a wide variety of things; all-embracing. and Catholic means of the Roman Catholic faith. But whenever I hear the someone say, "I'm catholic", it's hard for me to ...
5 votes
2 answers
1k views

When did students start to "play truant" from school?

The first definition given by dictionaries of truant is that of a student who stays away from school without permission. The term is probably more commonly used in the idiomatic expression: to play ...
2 votes
2 answers
726 views

Birth of the word "tonite" and its popularity

Watching an old film dating back in the 1930s, I came across the word tonite, the wrong and more phonetic-like variant of "tonight" (it was written on the advertising poster of a night-club). When ...
10 votes
4 answers
11k views

Origin of "old school"

I always thought the phrase "old school" was a rather modern, hipster invention. It turns out the term itself is rather old-school, with Webster reporting the first recorded use in 1803. But I'm ...
11 votes
4 answers
6k views

Where does "nickel tour" come from?

I heard "Nickel tour" is to show you around. From usingenglish.com we can read: If someone gives you a nickel tour, they show you around a place. ('Fifty-cent tour' is also used.) I also read it ...
5 votes
1 answer
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Meaning of 'the consonant s, which no more belongs to the word, than any other letter in the alphabet'

The following is a passage from Noah Webster's Preface to his Compendious Dictionary published in 1806. Could anyone help me understand the part of 'the consonant s, which no more belongs to the word, ...
13 votes
3 answers
1k views

Etymology of "slang"

Slang lexicographer Eric Partridge once called slang a "prize problem word" with regard to etymology. The OED maintains it as: A word of cant origin, the ultimate source of which is not ...
9 votes
6 answers
12k views

Origin of "in a pig's eye"

This Wikipedia article says that "in a pig's eye" is rhyming slang for "lie", but I'm not convinced. The article also claims "in a pig's bottom" exists as a variant - but I doubt that's ever had any ...
4 votes
1 answer
63 views

The origin of and the difference between primogenitor, primogeniture and progenitor

In Etymonline, the etymology of primogenitor (and primogeniture) is very similar to progenitor. The word's meaning: Ancestor or forefather. However, nowhere do I find the reason of the split from the ...
20 votes
7 answers
7k views

What's the upshot?

Upshot has been used in my presence about six times today. I know what it means in the figurative sense, and I assumed it was derived from sports so I looked up its etymology. Dictionary.com ...
2 votes
2 answers
1k views

Where does the term “old salt” originate

I know an old salt is an old sailor in maritime jargon, but where does the term originate. Does it have to do with the fact that sea water is salty? Why does the old salt have to be old, can’t s/he be ...
0 votes
0 answers
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What is the history of the incomplete "can"/"could" verb?

The verb can/could is incomplete in the following sense. There is a present tense: I can You can He/she/it can […] There is also a past tense: I could You could He/she/it could […] But there is ...
4 votes
1 answer
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Etymology of angle shooting in poker?

angle shooting. Intentionally using an angle to exploit an opponent such as obscuring the size of their chip stack or acting out of turn. […]. — Wikipedia Another definition… [Angle shooting is] ...
14 votes
5 answers
5k views

Making sense of dollars and "geetus"

Of all the slang words for money, one of the oddest to me is geetus. The word appears here in an article from 2013, although the word is much older than that. Let’s make no mistake about it. The ...
17 votes
2 answers
1k views

Origin of the phrase "to have no truck with"

This phrase "to have no truck with" has bothered me ever since I stumbled upon it, the reason being it makes no logical sense whatsoever even remotely if you go by the lexical meaning of the ...
1 vote
0 answers
56 views

Where do the Jubilee names including "Platinum" come from? [closed]

When was the name "Platinum jubilee" invented? What about the rest of the nicknames? If it's named after wedding anniversary titles, how did those titles come about? Cake Toppers.com: The ...
5 votes
9 answers
16k views

Where does the idiom “root for something” come from?

I am familiar with the idiom “to root for something” meaning that I am hoping for something to happen or taking the side of something. But what does this have to do with roots? Does it mean that I am ...
7 votes
2 answers
462 views

What is a How (placename)?

In a 1907 translation of Icelandic mythology I came across a reference to a place called "Svarin's How". This reminded me of Aslan's How in the Narnia books, a specific place name for a sort ...
3 votes
2 answers
2k views

How does the word "cardinal" relate to "cardinal numbers" [duplicate]

Cardinal number In linguistics, more precisely in traditional grammar, a cardinal number or cardinal numeral (or just cardinal) is a part of speech used to count, such as the English words one, two, ...
26 votes
7 answers
147k views

What's the difference between "Collaborate" and "Cooperate"?

Both of these words seem to mean much the same thing: working together to achieve some goal. I can instinctively feel a difference between them, but I can't easily put it into words. Can you help me? ...
0 votes
1 answer
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Where did the "picking flowers" euphemism for "answering the call of nature" come from?

Where did the "picking flowers" euphemism for "answering the call of nature" come from? Although, saying it like that makes it sound a bit obvious. I first saw it in SCP-6385: ...
7 votes
2 answers
6k views

Origin of "they", "them", and "their"

I know that they, them, and their did not exist in Old English. What language are they derived from?
0 votes
3 answers
78 views

How does the expression "to blot out" something apply literally?

In the Bible there is a references to having one's sins "blotted out" [Acts 3:19 KJV]. This expression made me think about how a writer might "blot out" an error on a manuscript, ...
5 votes
2 answers
172 views

How did the meaning of "hectic" become precisely the opposite of its meaning 100 years ago?

I found, a while ago, a small pocket dictionary published in 1921. There were several interesting words I found, but the word "hectic" caught my attention. I cannot remember the precise ...
3 votes
2 answers
120 views

Etymology of the word "erre" in English

I'm currently working on Bible translations and have stumbled accross the word "erre" in James (1: 2-18) of the King James Bible. To be more specific in verse 16: Doe not erre, my beloued ...
16 votes
6 answers
3k views

What sparked the figurative usage of “short fuse” in the 1960s?

According to the “Grammarist” the idiomatic expression “short fuse” is just a few decades old: The idiom “have a short fuse” meaning to anger quickly, comes from the fuse used to set off explosives ...
6 votes
3 answers
9k views

How did "stone-cold" come to mean completely?

It seems like such an odd arrangement of words that would, in a certain context, mean "completely." Otherwise, it just means "cold." And my Google-fu has failed me; I'm unable to locate an ...
4 votes
3 answers
795 views

Phew! Etymology

I'm interested in the etymology of the expression "phew". My online chambers dictionary says it's "a half-formed whistle". This leaves more questions than it answers, such as "why a half-formed ...
2 votes
2 answers
2k views

Origin of the slang "L7"

What's the origin of the (I believe Brit) slang "L7"? In particular what decade (or even century) did this come from? Region? Footnote - entirely possible it is not British; IDK. Could ...
2 votes
1 answer
48 views

what does the expression "I was feathered" mean?

I'm reading "A Day No Pigs Would Die." I’d just wound up running away from Edward Thatcher and running away from the schoolhouse. I was feathered if I was going to run away from one darn ...

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