Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about tracing out and describing the elements of an individual word, as well as the historical changes in form and sense which that word has experienced over its history.

156 questions with no upvoted or accepted answers
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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: Nonbinary ...
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1answer
124 views

What is the origin of "huge"?

What is the origin of the word huge (adj. and adv.) meaning "very great, large, or big; immense, enormous, vast"? Both OED and Etymonline say that it might be from an Old French word which ...
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528 views

Etymology of "get off your duff"

The phrase "get off your duff" is a call to action. The recipient of this exhortation is (literally or figuratively) sitting, unmoving, and is being asked to get off of his buttocks, as seen ...
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81 views

"Gentle confines"

Where does this phrase come from? It's something I use (usually ironically) and something that's "just there" in my lexicon like "fit as a fiddle". However when I Google it, no origin pops up. It ...
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1answer
1k 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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176 views

How did English final /əl/ come to usually be spelled "le"?

English has suffixes spelled "-le" and pronounced /əl/ with several meanings. However, they variously come from Old English -el, -ol, -ul, and -lian. Of these, only -lian has a vowel after ...
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158 views

Which words have historically had a final n only before a vowel?

In Modern English, the only word that has a final n only before a vowel is a/an: a face an eye In Middle English, there was the pair my/mine: my face mine eye Also, the was then before a vowel. ...
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127 views

Term for/etymology of the opposite of a nosism (using 'we' to mean 'you')

A nosism is the term for using 'we' to refer to oneself. I am looking for a term for/etymology of using 'we' to mean 'you'. EDIT: Another way of putting it is that I'm looking for the proper term ...
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521 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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144 views

Is "over" meaning "again" related to "over"'s other meanings?

In addition to the physical position meaning, "over" has a number of nonphysical and temporal meanings including "again". My own examples: I couldn't read your note. Write it over....
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354 views

How does one determine when a comedian is also a humorist?

Wikipedia's list of humorists are categorised as people who write or perform humorous material, but the article also states: A humorist is usually distinct from a stand-up comedian. Woody Allen ...
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166 views

Why do “would” and “could” make questions polite?

An excerpt of the article from thoughtco.com: Key Words That Make Direct Questions More Polite In informal situations, one could use the word “can” in a direct sentence. In the United States, “can” ...
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124 views

How did "as" amass all its confusing "broad and vague meanings"?

From Bahrych, Merino. Legal Writing and Analysis in a Nutshell 5th edition (2017). 343: as. Do not use the conjunction as when you mean “since,” “because,” “when,” or “while.” Its broad and vague ...
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121 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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When searching for the origin of "bootlegger" has anyone considered foreign origin? Namely the low German/Saxon/Norwegian "utlegger"

As boots are hardly satisfactory to transport alcohol, the explanations based around boots or legs seem doubtful. Immigrants from northern European coastal areas would be familiar with both smuggling ...
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140 views

What is the etymology of the term 'hunch'?

Oxford states the etymology as: late 15th century: of unknown origin. The original meaning was ‘push, shove’ (noun and verb), a sense retained now in Scots as a noun, and in US dialect as a verb. [...
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90 views

What's the Origin of the phrase "build bridges?"

For the past several days, I am coming across with "build bridges" phrase. I am keen to know about the origin of this phrase. I've done a lot of research on the internet but couldn't find it....
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459 views

What's the origin of "-er" vs. "-re" endings?

There's some words that end in "er" or "re" depending on the word, and depending on what country you learned English from. There's words like reader with the "er" ending, ...
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172 views

Inverse of "Decimate" (not really a duplicate)

Historically, the word "decimate" means to "reduce/ destroy by one tenth"... i.e., a decimated army of 100 soldiers would have lost 10 soldiers. Is there a word that means the ...
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63 views

Historically, why is "to" added to the start of every verb? E.g. "to go" "to run"? Why don't we just say "I want run." "I need go."?

Historically, why is "to" added to the start of every verb? E.g. "to go" "to run"? Why don't we just say "I want run." "I need go." ? I'm not sure how to make a Google search about this so I came to ...
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512 views

Down-to-earth origin/ Etymology

I wonder why we say "down to earth" when referring to someone who is not deceitful. What's the logic behind it? I searched its origin but I didn't get much information. The origin only gives this: ...
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120 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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180 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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89 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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420 views

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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63 views

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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53 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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332 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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382 views

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 very ...
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168 views

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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595 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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413 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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269 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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296 views

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 ...
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279 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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102 views

Is staubert a slang term for stylish? And what is its origin?

A listener to Words to the Wise [audio at wtcmradio.com] shared that his family used the word staubert to describe something stylish, such as a new suit. I speculate that it is derived from the ...
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97 views

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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858 views

How did 'intimate' semantically shift to mean 'suggest indirectly'?

intimate (v.) [...] "suggest indirectly," 1530s, back-formation from intimation, or else from Late Latin intimatus, past participle of intimare. [...] intimate (adj.) [...] 1630s, "...
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96 views

After verbs, how does 'from' compare with 'of'?

(TL;DR) 1. I've been plagued by the postverbal use of the preposition 'of'. After verbs, when describing attributes like origin or source, what are the differences between 'from' and 'of'? The verbs ...
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240 views

'mawkish' : What semantic notions underlie 'maggots' with 'sentimental in an exaggerated or false way'?

mawkish {adjective} = expressing or sharing emotion in a way that is exaggerated or embarrassing SYNONYM[:] sentimental mawkish (adj.) on Etymonline: 1660s, "sickly, nauseated" (a sense now ...
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Why is “all . . . not” apparently more common than “not all ”?

For example, All that glitters is not gold is sort of a fixed term, and people often use the same “all . . . not” form when talking about things. See also the question “Is it wrong to use ‘not’ in ...
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222 views

How did 'circumscribe' evolve to mean 'Restrict (something) within limits'?

What's an intuitive derivation behind ODO's definition 1 that helps to remember its meaning: 1. circumscribe = Restrict (something) within limits: Etymonline: late 14c., from Latin circumscribere &...
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1answer
1k 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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118 views

What is the origin of the British phrase "Rough as houses"?

I'm preempting the usual comments by saying: If you're not British, you probably won't have heard it before. But it is a fairly well known phrase in BrE. For instance, in this book: Unfortunately, it ...
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56 views

What's the meaning of the phrase "Sunday afternoon name"?

In one of computerphile videos professor Ross Anderson says that EMV is the Sunday afternoon name for chip & PIN, it's Europay / Mastercard / Visa protocol. As I understand this phrase means ...
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79 views

Why does ou change to o when adding the suffix -ous in words such as ‘humorous’?

Background I realised today that humour when made an adjective by adding the suffix -ous, loses its -ou- spelling to -o-. There are some other words which have a change in spelling, such as miracle → ...
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Is "ick" related to "ichor"?

I believe that the word "ick," and by extension "icky," is related to the word "ichor," or to a mispronounciation of "ichor" (the pronunciation of "ichor&...
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Usage of 'fit' as tight

In Indian languages I have seen the usage of the word 'fit' as being used to imply something is too-tight. In a Gujarati the sentence would use the word 'fit' to describe a garment that is too tight ...
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76 views

Connection between "wiseguy" and the Cantonese slang 古惑仔

"Wiseguy" can mean a made man in the mafia or a smart ass who acts like they are smarter than others. What I find interesting is that the Cantonese/Chinese slang term 古惑仔(Gu Wac Zai) has ...
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92 views

Where does the term 'circuit breaker' come from?

Per the BBC, the United Kingdom discussed implementing a 'circuit breaker' in October. Israel, New Zealand, and Singapore have used 'circuit breakers', and it seems that Singapore was the first to use ...