Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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What is the origin of the use by Texans of “them” to mean one person?

I have always wondered about a use of the pronoun "them" that is characteristic of many Texans, and would like to know if it has been documented by linguists and, perhaps, had its origins explained. ...
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209 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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Origin of word “tropic” from Tropic of Capricorn, Tropic of Cancer

Why do we say Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn? They are respectively the northernmost and southernmost lines of latitude where, at some points in the year, it's possible to see the sun directly ...
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1answer
127 views

Origin of describing emotions with adjectives associated with taste

You might have seen that most of the adjectives that are related to taste are used to describe emotions. It is very common. It exists in many other languages. Salty, sour, sweet, bitter etc. We use ...
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What’s the original sense of the term “alveary”?

Lexicographer John Baret published, in about 1574, a dictionary of the English, Latin, and French languages, with occasional illustrations from the Greek. The dictionary was called An Alvearie, or ...
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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 ...
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1answer
907 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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50 views

When did the word “entitled” gain its second sense of “spoiled”?

It's my informal sense that although its original meaning was simply value-neutral having a right a privilege, overwhelming modern use comes with the implication that someone believes they have some ...
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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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Postillion as the ‘cut card’?

A postillion is the 'cut card' that protects the bottom card in the pack in games such as poker. The standard definition of that word is: a person who rides the leading nearside (left-hand side) ...
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360 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
524 views

Etymology of chandelier as relating to fortifications

Wiktionary gives a third sense for chandelier: (obsolete, military) A portable frame used to support temporary wooden fences. I can find quite a lot of uses like this from 1800s and earlier, but I ...
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1answer
72 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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1answer
79 views

What is the origin of the term 'pixie cut'?

Specifically, how did the connection between short hair and pixies form? All old pictures of pixies depict them with long, flowing hair or hats. The oldest reference I could find was this ad in Cue: ...
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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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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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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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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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56 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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79 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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'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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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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162 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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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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61 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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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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60 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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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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2answers
1k 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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404 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
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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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297 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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237 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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180 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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463 views

single-letter translation from Greek letters to English letters?

Is there a well accepted way to represent each Greek letter using only one English letter? I'm asking because I often needed to use English to represent Greek letters, e.g., when Greek font is absent....
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135 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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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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237 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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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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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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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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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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Origin of “sitting there like Lord Fermoy”

What is the origin of sitting there like Lord Fermoy? This had been a stock phrase in our family.
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614 views

How did 'legacy' evolve from 'contract, law'?

I was researching legacy {noun} which rechannels to legate {noun}: legacy (n.)   late 14c., "body of persons sent on a mission," from Old French legatie "legate's office," from Medieval ...
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'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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How did 'to purport' evolve to connote negativity?

I already understand and so ask NOT about the definition, below which I want to burrow. I heed the Etymological Fallacy. Please beware that I replicate the noun(al) etymology from Etymonline, and not ...
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439 views

How did pro + curare semantically shift to mean 'cause, effect'?

Lexico's definition of 'procure' Etymonline on 'procure (v.)': c.1300, "bring about, cause, effect," from Old French procurer "care for, be occupied with; bring about, cause; acquire, ...
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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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What is the origin of “over index”?

I often encounter (and use) this phrase in a context meaning to weight more heavily during decision making than is sensible, or to focus more heavily during a discussion than is warranted. For ...
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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 &...