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Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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Why do people seem to get so triggered at the word “plebeians”? [on hold]

While having online conversations people seem to get triggered when the word plebeian is used to describe the commoners or common people. They seem to think its bad or something. What's wrong in ...
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Why do we refer to computers and other machines as being up or down?

Generally when a machine is working we refer to it as "up" and when it's not we say the machine is "down." What is the origin of this?
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What is the origin of the word “efforting”?

I hear this word used in place of words or phrases like "trying to" or "attempting to". What is the word origin of this verb? re: Article regarding the word "efforting"
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Did English peal derive from pea [on hold]

Did English peal derive from pea by analogy with kneel and knee?
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1answer
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Did English seal derive from sea? [on hold]

Did English seal (pinniped) derive from sea by analogy with kneel and knee?
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Origin of the word “spraunce”

I was recently talking to someone who said a restaurant was spraunce, meaning it was well-presented and high-quality (that being the sense I was familiar with). We briefly discussed the fact that he ...
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What is the entomology of “ligger”?

This answer on a prior question points out that ligger is defined by UrbanDictionary as: Ligger An individual who attends parties, openings, social gatherings and events with the sole ...
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3answers
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Origin of the phrase: “they went back to the well”

I am fairly happy with the meaning of this phrase but am wondering are there any good theories on where it originated? I have one theory that makes sense in an Irish context. Dotted around Ireland we ...
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2answers
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Why is there a word for 'H'? [duplicate]

Why is there a word for the letter H, but not for the other letters? In Lexico–formerly Oxford Dictionaries–for example, H = aitch, as in ‘drop one's aitches’
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3answers
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Origin of 'wee hours'

What is the origin of the term wee hours? (Also small hours) Wee hours the early hours of the morning after midnight. (Oxford Dictionary of English) I also looked at Merriam, the Free Dictionary ...
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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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1answer
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Cuff word origin

I was wondering if the origin of the word (cuff/ to cuff) is Arabic as it exists in Arabic, pronounced exactly the same (kaf) and has the very same meaning (folding the end part of the sleeve or/and ...
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2answers
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Why is the origin of “threshold” uncertain?

The Barn, Church Hall Farm, Broxted, Essex (England) See the YouTube video (13.40) George Clarke: The architecture of threshing barns is absolutely driven by their function. With two opposing ...
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The “prickmouse” and the “butcher's broom”

I sometime go for walks in the wood near where I live, and in the undergrowth, beneath the oaks and pines, you'll find an evergreen prickly shrub which is called pungitopo in Italian. The word is ...
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4answers
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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 sprag '...
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What is the first usage of the word “doobie” in OED? [duplicate]

It is almost impossible to get a clear answer to this question in the US online. For example: Ted and Fay were smoking a doobie to clear their heads before going out.
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Origin of “not for quids” phrase

At various times I've supposed the informal Australian phrase “not for quids” (which apparently is analogous to “not at any price”) derives from quid, which refers to sovereigns, or guineas. At ...
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4answers
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Etymology of “throw good money after bad”?

The idiom "throwing good money after bad" refers to spending more money on something problematic that one has already spent money on, in the (presumably futile) hopes of fixing it or recouping one's ...
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2answers
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What's the etymology of the expression “let it slide?”

Today, my three year old son was doing something he wasn't normally supposed to do but we were letting him get away with it (wearing a backpack to the dinner table). He pointed out that he wasn't ...
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2answers
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What is the origin and scope of usage of the phrase “So long…” used to bid goodbye?

We often colloquially use the phrase so long to say goodbye. For eg. So long, we'll see you next week or He said so long and left. What is the origin of this phase? Rather, how did it come into being?...
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7answers
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How did the slang meaning of “flog” come about?

I've searched multiple dictionaries and Etymonline but the only origin for "flog" that I can find is: 1670s, slang, perhaps a schoolboy shortening of L. flagellare "flagellate." This clearly ...
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8answers
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How did “ropey” come to mean “of poor quality”?

Rope is typically long, strong and fibrous. So how did us Brits come to use "ropey" to describe something of poor quality? British informal of poor quality:     a portrait by ...
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1answer
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Etymology of the expression “to entertain an idea”

The expression to entertain an idea/thought/etc. has perplexed me for a while now. Given the meaning of the verb entertain, I find it quite weird for it to be used in such a way. So, how did this come ...
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Where does English get the word “condom” from?

Although once a word that dared not speak its name, thanks to popular-culture references as well as the devastating AIDS tragedy, condom seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. But does anybody ...
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3answers
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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 ...
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2answers
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Origin of the phrase, “5 Minutes Early Is On Time; On Time Is Late; Late Is Unacceptable”

We had a recent question on the Workplace which resulted in this answer: 5 Minutes Early Is On Time; On Time Is Late; Late Is Unacceptable! Someone asked for a citation and I attempted to locate ...
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Creating a new term: Datocracy [closed]

I'm a data scientist and i'm currently writing an evolutionary book on a big data methodology. I've created a new term for my new PHD thesis and the term is Datocracy. I've researched on the Greek ...
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2answers
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The word “chemist” and its origins?

I know chemist means someone who sells medicines or drugs. However, we use physicist for someone who studies/researches physics, and so will anyone naturally understand. But it has always confused ...
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1answer
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Definition, Origin, and Extent of “Matter” as a title in Literature

Why was "Matter" chosen for the Matter of Britain, the Matter of France and the Matter of Rome? What would the exact definition of "Matter" be in this instance? Written/Printed Material, or a Theme/...
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1answer
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Origin of the phrase “What's crackin'?”

My web search turns up accounts of it being Southern, Black American or/and Aussie slang. Would like some clarification on this.
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3answers
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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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0answers
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How did 'consideration' shift to signify grounds and the act of deliberation, then inducer of a grant or promise?

Frederick Pollock. Principles Of Contract. (1902) p. 170. p. 220/400 here.         The name of Consideration appears only about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and we do ...
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Etymology of “German” versus etymology of “germane”?

German is an adjective referring to anything from Germany. However, I recently stepped across this word germane meaning to be closely related. Being interested, I looked up its history, and germane ...
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Origin of the phrase “stone cold loser”

I have googled but can't find any reference to this. Does anyone know the origin of this phrase (recently used by Trump to refer to the London Mayor)
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Do the verb “muse” and the noun “Muse” have a common etymology?

I was wondering about that: the New Oxford American Dictionary says to muse comes from the French muser, which comes from the Latin musum. The Muse comes form the Latin musa, which comes from the ...
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4answers
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Etymology of “thirsty” as slang for horny, covetous, desirous

I've been seeing this a lot more recently (mostly in YouTube comments). What is its etymology? Is this a recent invention? Example: YouTube video with 2M views: 17 Thirsty Athletes Caught Staring at ...
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4answers
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How did “pissed” come to mean “drunk” or “angry”?

How did "pissed" come to mean "drunk" or "angry" in expressions such as: "I'm pissed" OR "I'm pissed off"? All dictionaries I consulted just gave that definition. So, does it have anything to do - ...
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1answer
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Back and book etymology

I know, that most of you will think, that it is absurd, but please read to the end. Sorry for my English Introductory: When I read the Ostrog Bible I saw, that in the OCS the verb "to unbend a book"...
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Etymology of “chookas”

"Chookas" is an Australian (?) word, used in the theatre to wish people luck, much like "break a leg". Wikipedia points to the Behind Ballet blog, which explains: I have been told that the use of ‘...
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2answers
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What's the etymology of sound' in 'sound in damages, tort, contract'?

OED: 6. to sound in damages: in legal use, to be concerned only with damages. Also to sound in tort, to sound in contract, etc. 1780 M. Madan Thelyphthora II. 153 There is not one [...
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Origin of “someone is a character”

The Collins Dictionary has If you say that someone is a character, you mean that they are interesting, unusual, or amusing. I haven't been able to find an origin of this usage. Where does it ...
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1answer
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Is there a link between margarita cocktail and margherita pizza? [closed]

They sound the same, but is there any link between margarita cocktail and margherita pizza?
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What does “handsome properties” mean?

I have come across the phrase in H.D.Thoreau's book "Walden or Life in the Woods". The passage is following: "I one evening overtook one of my townsmen, who has accumulated what is called "a handsome ...
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How did 'even' semantically shift to emphasize something surprising or extreme?

This post's title refers to ODO's definition 1. Used to emphasize something surprising or extreme. [ OED : ]  II. In weakened use as an intensive or emphatic particle. (In later use many uses of ...
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1answer
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'even': How might've the sense of 'introducing an extreme case of something more generally implied' arisen from 'emphasizing identity'?

I quote only the germane sentences from Etymonline on 'even (adj.)': The adverb is Old English efne "exactly, just, likewise." Modern adverbial sense ([2.] introducing an extreme case of ...
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How did 'up to' evolve to mean 'regardless of', in maths?

Even the OED seems not to have featured it. I couldn't find an explanation on Etymonline. [Wikipedia:] If X is some property or process, the phrase "up to X" means "disregarding a possible ...
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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 ...
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Origin of the figurative sense of “smear”

One meaning and usage of smear as a noun, from M-W, is: usually unsubstantiated charge or accusation against a person or organization — often used attributively. a smear campaign a smear ...
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1answer
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What did “Aryan” mean in the 1930s?

Anthony Burgess once said, (through the narrator of one of his books…) “The term Aryan has a purely philological significance. It can be applied only to languages.” -Earthly Powers pg 371 The ...