Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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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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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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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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“Call” as a noun that is not for naming or ringing up

Although I now know the meaning of "call" in these examples: You need to make a judgement call Not this time sorry, though it was a close call What do we do now? Your call — they were quite ...
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Origin of “too” (“also”)

Since the South Park joke My name is Kyle, too. Nice to meet you, Kyle-two. I am wondering and trying to avoid too. Wiktionary explains it as "deriving from the original meaning of "apart, ...
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How did 'recoup' semantically shift to mean 'recompense'?

The OED doesn't expound. Etymonline: 1620s, from French recouper "to cut back" (12c.), from Old French re- "back" (see re-) + couper "to cut," from coup "a blow" (see coup). Originally a legal term ...
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Difference between the -genous and -ginous word suffixes

I was wondering whether anyone knows the exact difference between the English suffixes -agenous and -aginous. I believe the difference is that the first suffix has to do with describing the rough ...
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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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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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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 ...
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How did ‘show’ become its own causative?

The following Etymonline entry states: the original meaning of 'show' is ‘see’ or ‘look at’. Essentially a causative equivalent of ‘see’ (to show someone something, is to cause them to see it), the ...
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Is there a term for noises which CAN'T be written as normal text?

Hard to give examples, as if I'm able to do it, I won't be asking this, but consider some sounds made by the tongue. I'm giving examples of sounds which CAN be written to give you an idea: Dog ...
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Idiomatic significance of “for one”

for one is an idiomatic expression, used mainly in the form of " I, for one" meaning: that you think your opinion or action is right, even if others do not: The rest of you may disagree, ...
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Origin of the word: “dock”

While watching this video about which is the correct plural of the word 'Prometheus', I realized that some of the cutting edge technologies like: Prometheus (from: Προμηθεύς) Kubernetes (from: ...
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Is it acceptable that the verb “absorb” is used intransitively, especially in the medical and advertising communities?

All references that I've come across list "absorb" only as a transitive verb, yet I find it used commonly in the medical and advertising community intransitively. For example, "Our vitamin C absorbs ...
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Ding ding I'm on the tram

My dad would say this if I helped myself to something with out offering him any. Such as a cup of coffee. Is this an English phrase?
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Steam Engine Question

I'm in a play "Around the World in 80 Days" and need help with some steam engine lingo. I need to know the difference between 'short steam' and 'all steam.' Here's the line from my script to give ...
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Verbs formed from noun or adjective roots by adding -ja-

I know that there exist some verbs which were formed in Proto-Germanic by adding the causative marker -ja- to nouns or adjectives, such as these pairs: doom (noun) > deem (verb) food (noun) > feed (...
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What's the etymological connection between substance and understand?

Does the word SUBSTANCE come from the word UNDERSTAND? Or vice versa Sub (under) stand (stance) If so, what is the etymological relationship/history? If not, is it a coincidence?
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US horsemen use the terms “green broke,” “cold back(ed),” and “proud cut.” Where are these terms used and where did they come from?

Here in Southwest Virginia I have heard cold back for what others call green broke. The only time I have heard proud cut is in a Western version of the Child Ballad, Black Jack Davie: "Way out in ...
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Relation between 'As a matter of fact' and 'Matter-of-fact

I'm aware of the meanings of these expression. I'm just wondering if there is any relation between the two. I've looked into many dictionaries but haven't understood much about their similarities,if ...