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Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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83
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5answers
11k views

Why is it “geometric” but “theoretical”?

I just came across a course name: Geometric and Theoretical Optics. The mismatched endings bug me. Why do we have both -ical and -ic endings? Is there any difference in meaning between, say, ...
38
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8answers
5k views

Paucity of words for relationships

Please refer the following questions asked elsewhere on this site: Is there a word that means "the wife of one's brother"? What is the relationship name of my wife's brother to me? ...
411
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6answers
125k views

Did English ever have a formal version of “you”?

From the top of my head, Danish "De" (practically never used), German "Sie", Chinese "您", French "vous", Spanish "usted" are a formal way of addressing someone, especially if one isn't familiar with ...
24
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4answers
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Conundrum: “cleverer” or “more clever”, “simpler” or “more simple” etc

I know the rule for making the comparative and superlative form for two-syllable words ending in y, replace the -y with i and use -er and -est: hap.py → happier → (the) happiest ti.dy → tidier → (...
23
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4answers
71k views

Why does English spelling use silent letters?

Why have a letter in a word when it’s silent in pronunciation, like the b in debt? Can anyone please clarify my uncertainty here?
16
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4answers
17k views

“The thing is, is that…”

This is a phrase I've heard many people use, and it sounds wrong to me; e.g.: The thing about that is, is that she might take it the wrong way. It seems to treat "The thing [...] is"—the entire ...
57
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8answers
14k views

Was “book” to “beek” as “foot” is to “feet”?

"Foot" is a curious word in English because it is pluralized in an unusual way; the "oo" in the word is changed to "ee". Did this once use to be a standard way of pluralizing things in English (or a ...
3
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2answers
2k views

How does 'be' + 'of' combine to mean 'possess; give rise to'?

I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. 1. Which ODO definition corresponds? What does of mean here? to be of = ...
19
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4answers
23k views

Origin/reason for the expression “on the bus” instead of “in the bus”

This is sort of a follow up to my question here. I was told a while ago that the reason why we use "on the bus" instead of "in the bus" is because back in the day buses were open, that is, they didn'...
53
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6answers
241k views

“Oriented” vs. “orientated”

What are the origins of the word orientated? As far as I know, the correct spelling is oriented and orientated is not an alternative spelling but an error that is in common use. Is it for example ...
41
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4answers
10k views

“Whereäs” as an alternative spelling of “whereas”

Wiktionary shows whereäs as a valid alternative spelling of the word whereas (see here). It gives the following quotations to illustrate the usage: 1 Permanent International Association of ...
36
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3answers
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Why are not “infamous” and “inflammable” the opposite of “famous” and “flammable”?

Why are not infamous and inflammable the opposite of famous and flammable, like incomplete, inactivity, inappropriate and so on?
33
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5answers
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Terms for collections of animals

As I watched the murder of crows sitting on the line above my house this evening, I got wondering where all of the collective nouns for animals (pod of whales, gaggle of geese, pride of lions) came ...
19
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5answers
11k views

How does a word come to have two completely opposite meanings?

Words like cleave and egregious have meanings that are completely opposite to other meanings of the same word. How did such a bizarre, confusing state of affairs ever develop? I mean, I just can't ...
17
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3answers
7k views

How and why have some words changed to a complete opposite?

One example that comes to mind is terrific which originally denoted something quite terrorising while now it has positive connotations... How and why did these changes occur?
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4answers
17k views

What are the meaning and possible origin of “word!” and “word up”?

Several times, I have had conversations, all over instant messenger, finish with "word" or "Word up G". As it ends a conversation, I am guessing it is like "goodbye". My question is what is the ...
16
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4answers
2k views

If I invent a word, what language is it?

I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English ...
40
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1answer
5k views

Origin of “-ing”

What is the origin of the suffix -ing used to form gerunds and present participles? Why is the suffix the same in both cases?
37
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5answers
162k views

What is the origin of the word “goodbye”?

I've heard that goodbye comes from God be with you. Is that true? If so how did it become good? Did goodbye always have the same meaning it has now?
25
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6answers
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19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use?

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as "four-and-twenty", but the same text would also have the modern "twenty-four" in places (see e.g. Conan-Doyle for ...
5
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3answers
3k views

Character vs Charm - Pronunciation

Is there a rule to understand how the group "Cha" has to be pronounced? "Character" sounds with a hard first syllable, while "Charm" sound softer, but I don't find how to tell which sound to use ...
71
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4answers
46k views

Why do eleven and twelve get unique words and not end in “-teen”?

In short, why is it not oneteen and twoteen, and we start at thirteen in English? In another thread, I supposed that despite that fact that people have ten fingers, amounts of items leading up to and ...
29
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3answers
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Why “ain't I” and “aren't I” instead of “amn't I”?

Why do we say "ain't I" or "aren't I" instead of "amn't I"? What's the history of this usage? Are there any other similar patterns in English? I'm guessing it has something to do with the ...
72
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5answers
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Why “the powers that be”?

In the phrase "the powers that be," as in the sentence: It would never have occurred to the powers that be to run and supervise the National Lottery from anywhere but London. (Oxford ...
22
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3answers
8k views

Where does the use of “why” as an interjection come from?

Examples: Why, I'd love to. Why, of course! I get the concept of starting a sentence with a word not completely related to the overall response, but this one seems to be a particularly odd ...
40
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8answers
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How did “sinister”, the Latin word for “left-handed”, get its current meaning?

Sinister is the Latin word for left-handed. What evolution of meaning turned left-handed into evil and threatening?
35
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3answers
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“Awesome” vs. “Awful”

How did the English language come to this? The play was awful. Is the complete opposite of The play was awesome. But if you break it down to awe followed by ful or some, it doesn't make ...
20
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5answers
27k views

Origin of “Fits [x] to a T”?

The above phrase is something I've known for as long as I can remember, though I don't know from where. What is its origin and usage?
19
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1answer
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Why “unequal” but “inequality”?

The opposite of "equal" is "unequal", yet there is no word "unequality". Why do we use "inequality" instead?
10
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4answers
54k views

Origin and correctness of “ain’t no”?

In contemporary American English usage, I come across sentences like: I ain’t got no money. Ain’t no man like him. Saying ain’t no sounds incorrect to me because it is a double negative. ...
20
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6answers
9k views

Etymology of “let us” and “let's”

The verb let means “allow”, “permit”, “not prevent or forbid”, “pass, go or come” and it's used with an object and the bare infinitive. Are you going to let me drive or not? Don't let him ...
28
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9answers
6k views

When did “while” and “whilst” become interchangeable?

I think most folk happily use either "while" or "whilst". I've a vague recollection that at one time "while" indicated the passing of time and "whilst" was essentially the same as "whereas" or "...
49
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6answers
104k views

What is “won't” a contraction of?

"Don't", "wouldn't", "couldn't" and "isn't" are all contractions of "do not", "would not", "could not" and "is not"... So what's "won't" a contraction of? It appears to be "will not", but if so, why ...
25
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2answers
40k views

Why is the word 'number' abbreviated to 'No.' in UK English and '#' in American English?

Why the disparity? And why use 'No.'? Is it from the French? And the hash or pound sign seems a weird choice too, is there a history or any reason involved?
12
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11answers
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Origin of “hating on”

What is the origin of the slang phrase hating on? Google Trends suggests that the phrase did not enter the lexicon until early 2009. I'm curious where the phrase originated. As Stefano Palazzo noted,...
11
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2answers
19k views

What's the origin of “I'm down with it”?

I understand it's an expression of agreement. What exactly does it mean and where did it originate from?
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3answers
6k views

When does a word become a 'word'? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Creating a new word The rule of thumb used to be that when a word hit the Oxford Dictionary, it was considered to be an accepted word - this, however, seems to have ...
11
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4answers
13k views

Why does “ow” have two different sounds

Why is it that the "ow" in now makes the /aʊ/ sound while "ow" in snow makes the /oʊ/ sound? Has this always been, was it spelled differently and then changed, or was it spelled this way but the sound ...
56
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5answers
43k views

“Screwed” vs. “nailed”: why is the slang so different?

While the two names nail and screw have similar shapes and functions, why do the verbs differ so much? Someone has screwed something sounds like they have ruined something to me, while someone has ...
36
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3answers
141k views

Etymology for “Mc‑” and “O’‑” prefix in surnames

There is clearly a prefix in names like McDonald, McChrystal, O’Brian, O’Neal. What does this Mc- and O- prefix signify? It looks like Donald, Chrystal, Brian, Neal are perfectly fine names on their ...
20
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3answers
66k views

Past tense of wake: is there a difference between “waked”, and “woke”?

I just stumbled over the verb "to wake", which according to various sources has two valid forms for the past tense: "woke" and "waked". Some further research stated, that there seem to be two (Old / ...
23
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4answers
87k views

“It's all downhill from here”—meaning and etymology

The phrase "it was all downhill from there" seems to have two, contradictory meanings. The first indicates that things have since gotten a lot worse. For example (from http://bleacherreport.com/...
14
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4answers
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Not to Mention ≈ [Let Alone ≈ Much Less ≈ Still Less]

For brevity, I symbolise synonymity with ≈.  So  X ≈ Y  means  X and Y are synonyms. From http://www.thefreedictionary.com/let+alone: let alone ≈ not to mention From Merriam Webster: let alone ≈ ...
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1answer
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Are -èd adjectives still usèd words?

The distinction between the words blessèd (/ˈblɛsəd/) and blessed (/blɛst/) (see Grammarbook) appears to be wearing thin in modern language, possibly due to reduced accent usage and its resultant lack ...
12
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4answers
17k views

Origin of the “-y” or “-ie” diminutive suffix to denote intimacy/tenderness? (E.g. Bob→Bobby, dad→daddy, Doug→Dougie)

Many names seem to get a "-y" or "-ie" at the end when the speaker wishes to denote a hint of familiarity, intimacy, or tenderness. Examples can be seen not just in names, but in terms like puppy, ...
11
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2answers
10k views

Why is “great” pronounced as “grate”, but spelled with “ea”?

Great is one of the few common English words in which "ea" is pronounced /eɪ/ (ay). Why is this pronunciation associated with this spelling? As an aside, I remember from researching for my answer to ...
25
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6answers
98k views

Etymology of 'teaching grandma to suck eggs'?

This is such a strange idiom, all I could find with a Google search was the meaning of it, but not where it came from. When you're telling somebody something they already know well, it's sometimes ...
3
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3answers
2k views

Is there an 'official' way to suggest a new word become part of the English language? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Regulatory bodies and authoritative dictionaries for English Creating a new word What are the criteria to adopt new words into English? I've always been told, at least in ...
21
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5answers
5k views

How did “lobster” mean two different species?

This live crustacean is called astice in Italian. The one on the right is aragosta. They look very different from one another. The Italian dictionary describes the astice as having a deep (intense) ...
16
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4answers
3k views

Why do we say “[expletive] ALL” for “nothing”?

Damn all, Bugger all, Sod all etc., etc. What does all mean here? How did the expression originate? Was there a single original term (expletive or not) preceding all in this usage? At the risk of ...