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Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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Why is the English word of Chinese origin “Shih Tzu” used to refer to a dog breed not known in Chinese as “Shih Tzu”?

It is well known that it comes from a Wade-Giles transcription of the Mandarin Chinese word for "lion dog" (獅子狗 shih1-tzu0-kou3, from 獅子 "lion" + 狗 "dog"). This is part is indubitable. There's no ...
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European country names as US last names

An etymology / genealogy question: Americans sometimes have European country names as last names, presumably due to origin. But I only see SOME European countries as surnames, not others. I hear ...
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1answer
64 views

Etymology of “drawback”

What's the etymology of "drawback"? Most sources I've found give a date all the way back to the 1720s 1, but with only vague explanation apart from the date. Etymology Online says: "hindrance, ...
3
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1answer
76 views

Origin of “[noun]-shaped object” as a negative phrase?

I've seen this type of phrase used in many different contexts to mean "something with the form of an object but lacking substance or quality". Examples: Wal-Mart bikes are sometimes called "bike-...
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0answers
44 views

How did quit come to mean quite

I've often been confused how 'quite' can mean so many things and upon leaning that it comes from 'quit' I only have more questions. How did quit semantically drift to come to mean quite?
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Was “Congress” used to refer to an entity before the Constitution?

According to Merriam-Webster, a definition of Congress is "1a: the act or action of coming together and meeting". The first known use of the word is "1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a" and the ...
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1answer
74 views

There is any relation between the English verb “ask” and the French expression “est-ce que”?

I was thinking about the pronunciation of the English verb "ask" and how it's similar to the French expression "est-ce que", used to start questions in some cases. I searched for the origin of "ask" ...
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47 views

committee and commitment

Why is one spelt with one t as in commitment where other stems of this word use two t's, such as committee and similar? Is there an etymological explanation for this difference?
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1answer
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Letter U in American English vs British English [duplicate]

Why was the letter 'U' dropped from many words such as colour, odour etc? And also why is the letter 'l' spelt as a singular, when in British English it's used as a double 'll' in most words, ...
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8answers
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Etymology: “bricked” (to render an electronic device inoperable)

Bricked (informal): cause (a smartphone or other electronic device) to become completely unable to function, typically on a permanent basis. The absolute earliest google hit I was able to find on ...
2
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1answer
91 views

Origin of “my dog ate my homework”?

Is there a specifc incident or origin story for the common joke/comedic phrase "my dog ate my homework"? I always wondered whether there was a student who became notorious for not turning in their ...
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0answers
47 views

Where does compulsory do support come from?

We are familiar with the concept of "do support", where the verb do is used as a modal verb. It can be found frequently in Shakespeare and before and it is claimed to derive from the Celtic languages ...
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How recent is the use of “so” as in “I'm so full”, and did it originate in US or UK English?

On another site somebody has claimed that "so" in constructions like "I'm so full" is "modern California-style young people's colloquial English". But is it? I'm over 50, I'm a native English speaker,...
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2answers
88 views

“Fling in the Hay”

I have trouble finding anything about this. Google offers several quotes at the top of the results: Rowena Cory Daniells, "The King's Bastard", 2016 'You fancy her!' Lence nodded, 'And ...
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1answer
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“Brief moment” is what type of (incorrect) expression?

"Bow down", "momentary pause"small little" and "brief moment" are what types of expression? As an editor, I constantly have to correct this in people's writing.
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1answer
111 views

What's happening in this sentence using “far away”?

"David and Emma live far away in the mountains." What grammatical role do the words "far" and "away" have in that sentence? I realize that "far away" must be an adverbial, that can be both a ...
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1answer
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Tumblesauce for somersault: Has anyone else heard of this term outside of Jewish communities?

I grew up calling "somersaults" tumblesauces. A Google search turns up a Jewish women's forum deliberating on whether this is a Jewish thing (I am Jewish too by the way.) So, has anyone else here ...
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2answers
122 views

Where did “Bob” come from? [duplicate]

Examples: Yes Siree Bob Bob's your uncle Who is bob and where did he/she come from?
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When did “committee” become a collective noun, and why?

According to dictionary.com, "committee" comes from late Middle English, with the suffix -ee added to the word "commit". Typical use of the -ee suffix would imply the meaning of "one who commits" or "...
2
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1answer
221 views

White Noises, Person or People

What is the earliest printed use in English, including relevant context, of 'white person' or 'white people'? As nearly as I have been able to discover, the term is first found in print in these ...
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1answer
155 views

White Noises, Woman or Women

What is the earliest printed use in English, including relevant context, of 'white woman' or 'white women'? As nearly as I have been able to discover, the term is first found in print in these ...
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1answer
31 views

Meaning of “penetrate at a bound”

I was reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation recently when a phrase stuck out to me: “penetrate at a bound [to].” In context, with boldface added: “The best men on the planets of the kingdoms are sent ...
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0answers
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Are there other interjections to substitute for “jeez”, “good grief”, “oh my god”, "and other interjections containing religion? [duplicate]

I would like to know if there are interjections expressing exasperation, annoyance, anger, frustration without connection to religion. Preferably doesn't originate from it either. No euphemism too. ...
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3answers
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When and how did the word hashtag come about? [duplicate]

What caused the change from calling "#" a pound sign to calling it a hashtag? Why? I know that Twitter had much to do with the coinage, but how and why did it come about?
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1answer
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What term predated “even” when referring to numbers?

Had this posted on the Linguistics stackexchange, and was pointed here as a more appropriate spot to ask. In doing some poking around in etymologies, I noticed that while "odd" in the sense of "odd ...
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What's the history behind the phrase “I hear Violins”..?

At work I often listen to Pandora with headphones on. Today it played a beautiful chillout track I hadn't heard in years: Conjure One - Center Of The Sun. The song lyrics use the phrase "I hear volins"...
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1answer
291 views

What is the first date of documented usage and attribution of the term “white race” and/or “white races”?

From my own independent research into the origin of the terms, "white" and "race", and specifically the terms "white race" or "white races" as applied to natural persons, the earliest primary source ...
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5answers
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“Cheaper by the dozen” phrase origin?

Over on Politics.Meta.SE a comment by user Guest271314 asserts a repugnant etymology: ...You cannot expect readers to parse when you are engaging in direct communication or "colloquially" speaking. ...
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2answers
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Why, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, does “square” mean “quarrel”?

When referring to dictionaries, there seems to be no such meaning as "quarrel" under the word "square", only "in agreement". But in II 1 of A Midsummer Night's Dream, "square" in the following text ...
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2answers
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What is the etymology of the word blueprint? Why is it blue? [closed]

What is the etymology of the word blueprint? Is this a fairly recent word? I'm wondering why the word "blue" is there.
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1answer
131 views

Why has the word “discombobulate” stuck around? [closed]

I was thinking of there being very silly sounding words. The first one that popped to mind was "discombobulated"... and then that was it. Is it just me, or are silly words not really around anymore? ...
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4answers
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Why is a cold shower called a “Scottish Shower”?

A hot shower capped off with a cold rinse is often called a Scottish Shower. The expression appears to be closely related to Ian Fleming who used it in his novels, but it is not clear whether he ...
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3answers
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Did the way quotation marks are used, change at some point, in the past 100 years?

I hope this question is allowed - I'm considering it question from an etymological standpoint :) I have noticed that on vintage signs / memorabilia / magazines, phrases or words are quoted, seemingly ...
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2answers
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how did the word CHARLATAN make its way into English [closed]

How did the word charlatan find its way into English?
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3answers
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How and when did 'being fired' come to mean losing one's job?

I searched this site and also searched etymology online and could find nothing about this question. The Ngram AmE shows that the phrase 'fired from job' began in the early 1920s for AmE and the Ngram ...
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1answer
170 views

Why is “make do” considered correct

Why is "make do" considered correct? I am specifically not asking why "make due" grinds people's gears, how distressing they find it, or what they feel "make do" would mean. Lacking an etymology, ...
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Why are there are so many words for “zero”?

Null, nil and naught are all synonyms of zero, and to my knowledge, zero is the only number that has this many cognitive synonyms, if not more. Why is this? Does it have to do with English being ...
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1answer
62 views

What is the definition of “lasslorn”? [closed]

This word has been in occasional use since at least the early 17th century, when Shakespeare used it in The Tempest: “To make cold nymphs chaste crowns; and thy broom-groves, Whose shadow the ...
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What's the etymology of the military slang word “jippo” meaning gravy?

My late grandfather who served in WWII always used to refer to gravy as jippo and it has passed down into common usage by the family, while there are sources which confirm this meaning, I cannot find ...
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What's the relationship of Ursa Minor/Little Dipper to dogs?

Recently happened again upon the word "cynosure" and noted it's Greek etymology, e.g. from Wordsmith.org: Originally the term was applied to the constellation Ursa Minor or the North Star (Polaris) ...
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1answer
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Deciding pronunciation of new words that don't obey natural rules of a language

This question was sparked by considering the "word": pwn. "Pawn" and "-pone" are both existing written form and vocalizations, but "pown" pronounced like "pone" is not a valid written form. It exists ...
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Was the pronoun 'it' always reserved for inanimate objects?

If you want to refer to a singular person, you've got He/She/They. Has this always been the case in English? Was the pronoun 'it' once a part of this list? Either way, do we know what patterns led to ...
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1answer
65 views

Where does the term “to sock away s.t” originate?

I googled the words "to sock away" and came up with definitions aplenty, but no reference to the phrase's origin. Surprisingly, at least to me, was the suggestion, from Oxford, that it was a North ...
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3answers
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Where does the “getting weaker” definition of “flagging” come from?

I understand that "flagging" means "to get weaker," or "exhuasted and slowed," but I don't understand why. I presume it comes from a metaphor of some kind, but I cannot identify its origin. Can anyone ...
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3k views

How did “to draw” shift to mean “to depict with lines”?

"To draw" originally meant "to drag, pull", and it's pretty easy to make sense of the many meanings of the verb with that in mind. Draw a sword, draw a card, draw water from a well, draw breath, a ...
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When and how was the verb “to screen” coined as to examine systematically?

In the dictionary of etymology it says that this usage of the verb dates back to 1943. What happened in 1943? Was there a new dictionary published? Or how else was "to screen" officially repurposed?
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Use of 'auto' as vehicle name

The word bus, is derived from the word Omnibus in Latin since it means for everyone. Over the years this probably got shortened down to bus. Similarly, the word car is derived from the word Carrum ...
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2answers
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What does word «zippo» means in American slang?

I have to work in contact with one guy from the US who is known for his extremely laconic way of expressing himself in writing (it is curious there are no problems like the one described below when ...
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1answer
481 views

Why can “dispute” be both verb and noun, but “refute” only a verb?

The word dispute be used as a verb or a noun: Do not dispute me on this. The dispute was settled quickly. However, the word refute can be used only as a verb: I shall refute this claim. The only ...
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2answers
182 views

Origin of 'mellontolatry.'

In the collection of essays, God in the Dock, C. S. Lewis uses the word "mellontolatry," which is defined as "worship of the future." This is the first instance of the word I can find. In other ...