Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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10answers
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What is the etymology of “bugger-lugs”?

I have recently heard the phrase bugger-lugs used to refer to a person present, as in "How much do I owe you, bugger-lugs?". I have also heard it used to refer to a moderately mischievous child ("what ...
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Why “tickety-boo”?

I heard myself saying something was "tickety-boo", meaning good, successful, or satisfactory. Does anyone know where this strange-sounding phrase originated?
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Origin of “not for quids” phrase

At various times I've supposed the informal Australian phrase “not for quids” (which apparently is analogous to “not at any price”) derives from quid, which refers to sovereigns, or guineas. At ...
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1answer
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Is there a word for “invented words that are a natural extrapolation of etymology”

In "(India)" english, there is a word "prepone", which is the opposite of "postpone". It's interesting that this word appears in a non-native dialect of English (although that's debatable given the ...
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Is “gadget” always an electronic device?

The Online Etymology Dictionary explains the origin of the word gadget as follows: 1886, gadjet (but said to date back to 1850s), sailors' slang word for any small mechanical thing or part of a ...
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Why is there a “one” before “hundred”, “thousand”, etc. but not “ten”?

As the title says, why is there a "one" before "hundred", before "thousand", and so on, but not before "ten"? This seems shared between some languages, including Chinese (10 = 十 = ten, 100 = 一百 = one ...
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5answers
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Why is “bloody hell” offensive or shocking?

It seems to me that if one describes hell as 'bloody', that is simply describing one of the properties you'd expect of it. So, why is 'bloody hell' used as an offensive or shocking phrase?
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1answer
350 views

Etymology of “Djibouti”

The country name Djibouti has no etymology listed on both Etymonline and Wiktionary. I do know that's it named after the city for sure, but where did that come from? I tried to research it, but all I ...
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Where did the phrase “shut up” as an expression of disbelief or amazement originate?

I recently heard shut up used according to this definition in Urban dictionary. shut·up (shuht-up) --interjection 1. An expression of disbelief. 2. Amazement; astonishment. I've only ...
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What is the meaning, and origin, of the phrase “breaking windows with guineas”?

Regarding the phrase: Breaking windows with guineas What is its meaning, and origin? The 'guineas' part of it might mean more to the British audience on this site than the others.
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What are some products that are now words? [closed]

All of the ones I can think of are specific products that have come to represent their kind. This is usually either because it is the first of its kind, as in a Xerox machine (the first office ...
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Origin of the phrase “filthy rich”?

What is the origin of the phrase "filthy rich"?
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Meaning and etymology of “down with”

I've searched a lot and found out that down with as a slang phrase means "being in an agreement with something". On the other hand, I know that it also means "death upon something". So in a sentence ...
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Etymology/history of “dib-dob” as military slang for foreign currency

Dib-dob is used as a generic term for foreign currency (I've come across it for Euros and Dollars). I've recently heard this used by some RAF types, and had heard it before, from someone presumably ...
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1answer
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“must”: obligation x certainty. Which meaning developed first in the English language?

ORIGIN OF MUST - Middle English moste, from Old English mōste, past indicative & subjunctive of mōtan to be allowed to, have to; akin to Old High German muozan to be allowed to, have to First ...
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Brainstorm: a pun on rainstorm?

The Online Etymology Dictionary unsurprisingly says brainstorm is from the combination of brain and storm. What I want to know is whether or not this neologism was an intentional pun on the word ...
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Do people mean “*flea market*” is like the dirty market which has a lot of fleas?

A flea market (or swap meet) is a type of bazaar that rents space to people who want to sell or barter merchandise. Used goods, low quality items, and high quality items such as collectibles and ...
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Where did the word Yankee originate?

Where did the word Yankee originate? I was told it had Dutch origins. There is a lot of information on its usage today referring to northern, New England, American etc. but where did it come from and ...
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Why do people use “bone” in the phrase “bone stock” to emphasize that a car is unmodified?

"Bone stock" or "stock" means that a car is unmodified. Where did "bone" come from? Why does it emphasize the condition of being stock?
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What is the origin of “wake up and smell the roses”

Where did this saying come from, and what is its true meaning?
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1answer
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Where does the word “spliff” come from?

Neither the OED and Etymonline has any answer to the etymology of the word. The latter does suggest it may have an origin in the Caribbean, but offers nothing better. The first citation is from 1936 ...
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1answer
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Where does the word “trivial” come from?

I have read many dictionary definitions and there seems to be two possible sources of the word trivial. Online dictionaries say it's from latin tri and via, "three ways" or "crossroad", basically ...
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Is the “blue” in “blue moon” a reference to betrayal?

There are some previous questions on this site about the etymology of the phrase "blue moon" (What is the origin of the phrase "blue moon"? Any alternate phrase for it?, Why do we call some ...
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“Sober as a judge” vs. “Drunk as a lord”. Why judge? Why lord?

Sober as a judge is a simile that is used for someone completely sober. Drunk as a lord is a simile that is used for someone completely drunk. Why is judge equated with sobriety and lord with ...
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Does “Yeah, No” make any sense?

Maybe it's been around longer, but I first heard somebody say, "No, yeah" only several years back. I thought it was peculiar to that individual, but no: I have heard it many times since, including by ...
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Is 'hypothecate' anything to do (in origin or meaning) with 'hypothetical'?

I had never come across the word before but apparently a hypothecated tax is one in which ring-fenced funds are collected by taxation to pay for a specific government expenditure. This kind of tax is ...
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1000 Day “Anniversary”

"Anniversary" comes from Latin: "anni" [genitive of annus = year] + "vers(us)" [past participle of vertere = to turn]. I am interested in constructing a similar word which means "reoccurring every ...
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What is the origin of the word 'dashboard' - as in 'car's dashboard'?

The word certainly predates the motor car, and horse-drawn carts and carriages had dashboards which were: A board or leathern apron in the front of a vehicle, to prevent mud from being splashed ...
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Does the term “garbledy gook” have racist origins?

For me, the term garbledy gook simply means garbage; unintelligible text or speech. An example usage would be: If you open that binary file in notepad, you'll just see a load of garbledy gook ...
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What is the source of the phrase “phony baloney”?

The term baloney means Foolish or deceptive talk; nonsense: typical salesman’s baloney [corruption of bologna] [Oxford Dictionaries Online] Etymonline provides the following derivation ...
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Does the phrase “locker room talk” have precedent?

A video from 2005 (transcript) was recently released wherein Donald Trump made vulgar comments about women. In his effort to downplay/apologize for his remarks, he has repeatedly labeled his comments ...
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How long has “looney” (meaning “lunatic”) been in use?

How long has looney been used as an abbreviation of lunatic? Is it a recent addition or something substantially older?
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What is the etymology of “You don't look too clever”

In BrEng, at least in the North, there is an idiom: "You don't look too clever." which means "You're looking quite ill." Does anybody know the etymology of this idiom please?
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Were there any other synonyms to “sustainability” before the 80s?

The German word for sustainability, Nachhaltigkeit, arose (according to Wiktionary) in the 18th century. Ngrams shows this. I was wondering if the concept of sustainability did not exist before the ...
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Origin of “hike” in American football

Both Wikipedia and TheFreeDictionary list the term hike as an alternative term for snapping the football at the beginning of play. Where does it come from?
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What is the difference between these two “scip”s?

In a question about ships, I added an answer with the etymologies that underpin both ship and -ship. "Ship" stems from scip: "O.E. scip "ship, boat," from P.Gmc. *skipan (cf. O.N., O.S., Goth. skip ,...
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When was “fo' sho'” first used in print, television, or music? Or, better yet, when was it standard southern slang?

I can only seem to find Urban Dictionary, et al. references, so I'm turning here for an answer. I know that "fo" ("for") and "sho" ("sure") are common southern dialect replacements, but a debate ...
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What's the origin of saying “yoo hoo!” to get someone's attention?

A character in D.H. Lawrence's novel Women in Love (published 1920) calls out, "Shu-hu!" to hail her sister in a crowded place. This must be the same as "yoo hoo". What is the source of this ...
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Is it more formal to use words of Latin origin? [closed]

For example, cemetery instead of graveyard. In which context would a word of Latin origin be more proper? Or is there no difference at all?
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Is “groak” a new verb?

In the urban dictionary, I read Groak : Verb. To stare silently at someone while they are eating, in the hopes that they will give you some of their food. Always careful not to establish eye ...
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Origin of phrase “open-and-shut” as in “it's not an open-and-shut case”

I used the phrase "open-and-shut" today, as in, "It's not an open-and-shut case", meaning that the item under discussion has not been decided and the outcome is not obvious. I don't think I've ever ...
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What's the etymology of English letter casing terminology?

The popular consensus around the web (i.e., Wikipedia) seems to be that "upper case" and "lower case" originate from typesetting convention of upper and lower drawers for letters, possibly preceded by ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “wind your neck in!”?

I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on the origin of the phrase in title.
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Where does the word “minge” come from?

The slang term minge in the sense of quim dates from the beginning of the 20th century. However, neither the OED nor Etymonline has any idea where it came from. Here are two of the OED’s citations: ...
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Etymology of phrase “Let's Go <favorite sports team>!”

Here in Pittsburgh, we have lots of "Let's go Steelers!" (and some diehards who also say "Let's go Bucs!", but they're dying out). What does that phrase even imply? I assume it's similar to "Go ...
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Where does “I could eat a horse” come from?

The popular expression I could eat a horse meaning that you are very hungry appears to be from the early 19 th century according to Google Books. One early usage example I could find is from 1824: ...
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origin of phrase 'stone the crows'

Just as the title says — where, and how, did the phrase 'stone the crows' originate?
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Origin of “clip” in “clip around the ears”

"Clip" commonly refers to a device for holding things together. One dictionary says it's "of unknown origin, first occurring in the 15th century." In such phrases as "giving him a clip around the ear",...
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Are the noun and verb forms of “badger” related etymologically?

Are the noun "badger", naming an animal, and the verb "to badger", describing the behavior of a person, related etymologically? Does the meaning of one come directly from the other? What about the ...
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Where did the name “English” come from?

How is the name for one's own language created?