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. Please use the 'phrase-origin' tag for phrase/expression origins.

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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 an auxiliary verb. It can be found frequently in Shakespeare and before and it is claimed to derive from the ...
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6 votes
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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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5 votes
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What is the path of the expression "fall out" to mean have a quarrel?

I wonder what would be the logical or historical path that led the phrasal verb "fall out" to mean to have a quarrel? I mean phrasal verbs are not baptized to an action out of the blue, ...
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4 votes
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Is there more to “A hell of a …” than mere interjection or expletive?

Previous examination of “A hell of a …” on this site focussed on emphasis, interjection or expletive usage. As examples we have: (What is the meaning of "a hell of a lot"?) a great deal or ...
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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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Etymology of fruit names (the unusual formation of berry fruit names and the indigenous fruits of England)

I am from Italy. Italy has a warmer climate than England, some fruits that naturally grow in Italy (and maybe they do not naturally grow in England) have an English name that sounds a lot like the ...
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3 votes
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269 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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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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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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3 votes
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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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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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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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3 votes
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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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1 answer
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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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2 votes
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What is the etymology or history of "Your" for addressing a noble?

There are several ways of noble addressing, such as: Third person - female (Her) Third person - male (His) Second person (Your) e.g : Your Highness But, what are the meanings behind that? Why it ...
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2 votes
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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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2 votes
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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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2 votes
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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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2 votes
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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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2 votes
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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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2 votes
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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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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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2 votes
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65 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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2 votes
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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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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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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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2 votes
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458 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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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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2 votes
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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 ...
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2 votes
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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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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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2 votes
0 answers
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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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2 votes
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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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2 votes
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886 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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2 votes
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101 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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2 votes
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248 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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2 votes
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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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230 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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2 votes
1 answer
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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1 vote
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What's the etymology for the term "resilvering" as used in computer file systems like hardware RAID, btrfs, ZFS, etc?

Hardware systems like traditional RAID, or modern software systems like ZFS, btrfs, etc. Are used for redundancy (and performance) of the storage of data. E.g. if you have 6 drives with ZFS, you can ...
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Does "reclaiming" only apply to group-identity derogatory words (turned into terms of empowerment)?

I have a follow up to this question, Is there a term or word for the process of a group of people taking (or attempting to) an insulting word/phrase and making it their own? which received the ...
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  • 111
1 vote
0 answers
578 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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1 vote
0 answers
71 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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1 vote
0 answers
121 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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1 vote
0 answers
98 views

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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1 vote
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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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1 vote
0 answers
104 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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1 vote
0 answers
80 views

I wish to know meaning of phrase / expression wacky duck

I am writing a story at the moment about one villain from a horror movie and I often need rhymes. English is not my mother tongue. I read on Urban Dictionary that "wacky duck" means a hit to ...
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