Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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Is bludgeon connected with blood or block?

Bludgeon is a short, heavy club which is thicker or loaded at one end. Both OED and Etymonline say "origin unknown". There are possible Cornish, Celtic, Dutch, cant, Middle French, Irish and Gaelic ...
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296 views

Origins of the word “understand”?

I'm curious about the word understand and based on brief research its origins seem not very clear, https://www.etymonline.com/word/understand Breaking up the word in two, under-stand, I could make a ...
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103 views

Earlier sources or identity of person who coined the term “neutrois”?

A lot of work I've been doing recently has been around the emergence of various gender identities. "Neutrois" recently came to my attention, with more information about it here: https://nonbinary....
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329 views

How did the meaning of “eventually” diverge from the French/German meanings

According to the online etymology sources, the terms "eventual" and "eventually" were in use in the early 1600s and held its current meaning by the mid 1800s. The etymologies point to French éventuel, ...
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63 views

How did a Greek 'table' become an English 'trapeze'?

I had cause to investigate the word trapeza in Greek and I was intrigued as to how it had evolved into the meaning of 'trapeze' as we use it in modern English. How did this happen ?
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118 views

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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153 views

Burning the candle at the other end

I came across this while reading "Along came a spider" by James Patterson. Chapter 48 begins with the sentence: The rest of that day, I burned the candle at the other end. Followed by: It ...
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1answer
721 views

How did epilogue and epigraph come to take on meanings opposite spatially when used in books?

I was thinking today about the apparent similarities in spelling at the start of the two words: Epigraph Epilogue And the fact they have seemingly opposed semantics. The first appearing at the start ...
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3answers
269 views

Origin of the negative connotation of “boy”

Recently I stumbled on a discussion where the word "chico" in Spanish is translated to "boy". To my knowledge, using "chico" to refer to someone younger is considered normal. But in English, calling ...
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59 views

Where does the word “scrub” come from as another word for “scroll”?

It seems like only within the last year I've noticed this usage, as a verb to view various parts of a digital resource. Dictionary.com does not have any definition for scrub that is similar to the ...
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49 views

'up' meaning each/apiece in sports?

I often hear sport scores being mentioned as '5 up' meaning the score is tied at 5 each/apiece. AHD gives: up adv. ... Each; apiece: The score was tied at 11 up. Can anyone ...
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63 views

English comparative words (than, so, as, and maybe like): why are they so weird?

I promise this is an actual, answerable question. But I want to explain myself when I call these specific words "weird"; English is so often "exceptional" that referring to any particular part of it ...
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What does the phrase 'Throw your Cap on It' mean and where did it originate?

In watching a recent soccer match, the commentator stated that the goalkeeper should 'throw his cap on that'. This was immediately preceded by a relatively comfortable save by the goalkeeper from a ...
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47 views

What is the origin of the phrase “(play) out of [their] skin”?

The phrase "play out of their skin" is frequently used in sports commentary, and to a lesser extent in describing exceptional performance in other areas, especially where physical exertion and/or some ...
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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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49 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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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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63 views

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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809 views

The expression,“You lie like a dog in straw”

My father was originally a country boy, born in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century. He had a number of typically Australian expressions (e.g., "stone the crows"), but the one I remember ...
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80 views

How did 'even' shift from signifying 'exactly' to 'so much as, scarcely'?

Etymonline purports that the adverb 'even' originates from Old English efne [1.] "exactly, just, likewise." Modern adverbial sense (introducing an extreme case of something more generally implied) ...
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289 views

equivocal vs. unequivocal vs. unambiguous vs. ambiguous

The word "equivocal" sounds like "talking with the same (one) voice". But in the English language it seems to mean explicitly "ambiguous" (= "talking with two voices/tongues/meanings"). How can ...
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1answer
746 views

Why are Centennials called that?

People of Generation Y have the nickname millennials, because many of them graduated around the year 2000, the millenium. People of Generation Z are sometimes called centennials. "Centennial" means "...
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242 views

Etymology and distinction between pottage and potage

At dictionary.com, there is a bit of an inconsistency in the origins and meaning of two historical variants of the same (probably French) word: Potage noun, French Cookery. 1. soup, especially ...
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220 views

wrought/wring for cloth vs iron

Wrought iron is characterised by how it has been squashed/beaten into shape. Also, one could wring water from a cloth by strong physical manipulations. I assume these words have a common origin, but ...
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205 views

On the right track -> to distract

It sounds that distracting and being on the right track are related not only by meaning but also by common roots. Is the track that we see in distracting related etymologically to the track in the ...
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For 'also', how is ' the demonstrative sense of “similarly” weakened to “in addition to” '?

also (adv.) Old English eallswa "just as, even as, as if, so as, likewise," compound of all + so. The demonstrative sense of "similarly" weakened to "in addition to" in 12c., replacing eke. [...]...
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542 views

What is the etymology of the idiom “To stink/smell to high heaven?”

What is the earliest known source that uses the idiom, "Stink/Smell to high heaven"? From a preliminary search, I came across the Shakespeare Said It Firstwebsite, which states: It smells to ...
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927 views

Term for a word with opposite meaning to its root?

I remember coming across a term for a word which has an opposite (or at least very different) meaning from its etymological root word's meaning. Does anyone know what this term is?
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36 views

How did loophole become associated with law

...and stick almost exclusively to it? According to Collins Dictionary: A loophole in the law is a small mistake which allows people to do something that would otherwise be illegal. The ...
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How can James Joyce's 'word' “egourge” be seen, via Greek, as “worker for the self” or “self-employed”?

In Finnegans Wake, James Joyce uses the 'word' egourge (p.g. 49-50), which syntactically yields ego-urge, which makes sense semantically. Finnwake.com claims that egourge also derives from "egoourgos ...
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How does 'bear off' explain the etymology of 'berth'?

Which meaning of 'bear' befits 'bear off' below? Please see the titled question, and in the screenshot beneath of the OED page for 'berth'. The punchline's the red underline in the screenshot: A ...
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1answer
44 views

Does English “sludge” relate to “slough” (swamp)?

Does English “sludge” relate to “slough” (swamp)? They both of uncertain origin. "sludge" means mud and "slough" means muddy.
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133 views

Connection between the words Apollo, Apollyon, and Apologise

I've tried researching this topic before, in re Apollo, the Greek god son of Leto and Zeus and twin brother of Artemis, and its possible connection with the "angel of the bottomless pit" as referenced ...
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37 views

Mouse Spin alternative

I have researched this for some time and the only answers I can find are with reference to : "Why is a mouse when it spins" and refers to a steam engine. Here's my take: Since I can remember, and I ...
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61 views

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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133 views

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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33 views

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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38 views

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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52 views

Is there a name for this grammatical structure where a verb is followed by a direction?

In English there are lots of phrases where a verb is followed by a direction and it takes on a whole new meaning. Examples: get up, get off, get down, take in, take out, take off, etc. This is ...
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118 views

Is there a prefix to denote neutrality?

English has prefixes to denote opposition as well as absence. For example: 'gnostic' vs 'agnostic' (having knowledge vs absence of knowledge) 'social' vs 'asocial' vs 'anti social' (being social, ...
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A possible Spanish origin for “lunch”

I have recently discovered the words of José María Pemán from 1941 regarding the origin of the English word lunch. My translation (sorry): Wellington's Englishmen arrive in Spain, they fall in love ...
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52 views

Etymological history of “northmost” and “northernmost”

How did it happen that we have both northmost and northernmost? Was there a typo or mistake in a letter once, or was it a conscious decision to change the original word, or add a synonym to that word? ...
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76 views

Origin and usage of “wild” in “my wildest dreams”?

Collins Dictionary defines wildest dreams as: If you say that you could not imagine a particular thing in your wildest dreams, you are emphasizing that you think it is extremely strange or unlikely....
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Usage and origin of the expression “nice and”

According to the following dictionaries the expression nice and is an adverbial locution which is used to give more emphasis to the adjective that follows: According to M-W nice and is synonym of ...
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90 views

Origin of “walk and talk”

What is the origin of the phrase "(lets) walk and talk"? I have heard this being said explicitly in conversation, for example, when you're having a conversation with someone but you also need to be ...
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How did *vegetate* take this meaning despite its etymology?

vegetate intransitive verb 1 : to lead a passive existence without exertion of body or mind 2 a : to grow in the manner of a plant; also : to grow exuberantly or with proliferation of ...
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What's the origins of “stalk” meaning “stride in a proud and stiff manner”?

I know the word "stalk" has many meanings: the meaning of main stem as noun came from "stale" in middle English; and the meaning of moving or pursuing stealthily as verb/noun related to "...
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Phrasal variations for “advance warning” and their origins

I just used the phrase "just giving you a heads-up" for the first time in years, and it got me thinking about the origins of the expression and variations of it. Heads-up (nominal) is essentially the ...
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Origin of the prepositions “on” vs “in” with regard to days and dates in English

The prepositions of time "On, In, and At" are generally described as: At - specific time On - specific days, dates In - period of time However, I am wondering why we use "on" to refer to a specific ...
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179 views

Where does the expression 'Babbies first …' come from?

I assume the expression is derived from "baby's first ...". I have seen the expression used mainly for online discussions of 'geeky' or 'nerdy' stuff. A quick google search gives me: babbies first ...