Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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From Soup to Nuts

I know that the phrase means "from one end to the other". Though I know many dinners that start with a soup, I know none that end with nuts. Hence the question - where does this phrase originate?
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Why is “bream” pronounced as “brim”?

Every time I catch an Acanthopagrus australis, commonly known as a yellowfin bream, I wonder why its name is prounced "brim", (as in the same way you would pronounce the brim of a hat). Merriam-...
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1answer
40k views

Origin of “waited on hand and foot”

I've just used the expression "expects to be waited on hand and foot", meaning someone who "expects others to do all the work of looking after his personal needs". A typical example (not necessarily ...
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2answers
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Why does -istic turn some words negative?

The definition of -istic is: Used to form adjectives from nouns, especially nouns in -ist and -ism, with the meaning "of or pertaining to" said nouns. I don't see anything in there that could make ...
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Origin of the phrase “go west” (to die)

I was curious, what is the origin of the phrase "to go west" or "to pass into the west" (as in the sense of to die)?
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Prefixes milli- and cent- used for years

The prefix "milli-" means "thousandth" (e.g. 1000 millimeters in 1 meter) and the prefix "kilo-" means "thousand" (e.g. 1 kilogram is 1000 grams). Why is the period of 1000 years called a "millennium"...
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Origin of “skin” as euphemism for money

What is the origin or history of using "skin" to refer to "money?" For example, a golf competition called a "skins game" or, referring to an investor who, "has some skin in the game."
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1answer
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Etymology of “Threshold” [closed]

I found myself accidentally writing "threshhold" today, thinking semantically on the meaning. Was there a time when "threshold" was spelt "threshhold"? Or is the etymology of this word really an ...
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What was the original pronunciation of 'Zounds'?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the exclamation 'Zounds!' comes from the phrase 'God's wounds'. This seems to suggest that the original pronunciation rhymed with 'wounds' rather than '...
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2answers
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Why is “feminism” good but “racism” and other “-isms” bad? [closed]

Feminism is generally seen as a good thing. It means something or other about achieving equality of the sexes; of treating people of different sexes the same or as well as each other. Racism is ...
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1answer
721 views

Are “bunk” and “bunker” directly related?

When did the term bunk (in the sense of sleeping berth) arise, and what if any connection does it have to the noun bunker? Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) gives a first ...
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What does “wound for sound” mean and where did it come from?

This is a figure of speech that's been in my lexicon virtually forever. I'm not sure where I learned this, but to me it means "keyed up and ready to go". A combination of high energy, tension, and ...
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What is the etymology of “first crack”

The meaning is "first chance", for example, "I gave my oldest son first crack at trying to fix the car"
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What is the origin of the phrase “racing cert”?

I had encountered the phrase, “racing cert”, the other day, and I had to go look it up. The only definition I immediately found was one from UD: English colloquialism. Born from gambling talk and ...
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1answer
236 views

White Noises, Person or People

What is the earliest printed use in English, including relevant context, of 'white person' or 'white people'? As nearly as I have been able to discover, the term is first found in print in these ...
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2answers
6k views

When did “lesbian” become well-known as a noun, not an adjective?

A friend asked me earlier why it was that "gay" is an adjective, but "lesbian" is a noun. I've been doing some searching online, because it's an interesting question. According to etymonline, "lesbian"...
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1answer
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Why does 'dead on' mean 'very accurate'? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Where does the phrase “dead simple” originate? According to Wiktionary, the phrase 'dead on' means 'very accurate' or 'exactly at'. This is also how I have used the phrase. ...
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Where does the word smidgen come from?

As in, a word signifying 'a little' - used in common vernacular in England, and possibly elsewhere.
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5answers
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What is the oldest trick in the book?

Is there one trick that is the oldest? I understand the Oxford definition of the idiom but when was it first used and what did it refer to?
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1answer
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Is “mate” in the word “roommate” a root or a suffix?

I'm doing my term paper about wordbuilding. And I'm interested what is "mate" in the word "roommate"? Is it a second root so the word "roommate" is a compound, or is it a suffix?
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1answer
775 views

What is the origin of the phrase, “up for it”?

I was just reading something that suggested a very, umm, risqué interpretation of the phrase, "up for it". It made me wonder where and when this phrase actually originated. Does anyone know? Collins ...
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1answer
580 views

Why does the suffix of “iodine” sound different in American and British English?

As an American, I noticed Fluorine and Iodine, though clearly sharing the same ending (and this was corroborated by etymonline.com; both contain the same chemical suffix) sounded different. Fluorine ...
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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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3answers
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What is the etymology of the term piracy (in respect to intellectual property)

Wikipedia claims that it dates to 1603, but it doesn't explain how this came to be. Is Wikipedia correct, and how exactly did the word "piracy" become associated with copyright infringement?
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Where does “goodness me” come from?

The expression “my goodness” always seemed clear to me, as it is a simple bowdlerisation of “my God”, as are many expletives. However, I have heard many times the expression “goodness me!”, which ...
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What is the meaning of “greasing the pan”?

In a tutorial, the instructor says: We've greased the pan, now it's time to pour in the batter. The tutorial is technical (IT), and has nothing to do with cooking, so what is the meaning of the ...
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1answer
445 views

What is the “line” in “cash on the line”? Is it a ship mooring line?

In the phrase "cash on the line" (immediate payment, payment during the transaction), what was "line", originally? I suspect it was a ship mooring line but I'd like to be sure. (I imagine a ship ...
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1answer
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What determines the pronunciation of the prefix 'arch-'? [duplicate]

In the case of an archbishop, or archvillian it is pronounced arch. In the case of archetype, it is prounounced ark-e-type In the case of an archenemy I think you would say ark - enemy Is it simply ...
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3answers
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Etymology of “ripsnorter”?

Etymonline doesn't expound the etymology, and states no more than: "something of exceptional strength," 1840, probably from rip (v.) + snort (q.v.). Does anyone have any more detail on the origins ...
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“Periodically” – How to Use This?

So, I happen to be in the process of creating this research paper about a historic figure; I had used Google to search for a synonym of occasionally, and one of the words I stumbled across was “...
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3answers
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etymology of eavesdropping [closed]

there's this word eavesdropping or eavesdrop, which I looked over in oxford and several other places. the closest I got to understanding it was that it originated from an obsolete noun "eavesdrop", ...
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1answer
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Usage, construction and origin of “make do (with)”

I had always supposed that the expression make do(with) was the short for the idiomatic expression make do and mend. The case appears to be quite the opposite; Ngram shows usages of "make do (with)" ...
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1answer
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Part Two: When was “googleable” or “googlable” first used?

Part One Part one is here, and cites references and dates about the verb ‘to google’, and asks about the syllabification and spelling of googl(e)able. Part Two This was originally my second ...
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1answer
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Origin of the word “elder” [closed]

I was wondering if this word is in anyway related to some ancient diety or religion, if so which ?
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1answer
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The origin of: “It takes two to tango”

According to the American Heritage Dictionary 'it takes two to tango' means: The active cooperation of both parties is needed for some enterprises, as in We'll never pass this bill unless ...
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3answers
648 views

Is there a name for a word or term that is persistently re-coined?

I came across the term "sex film actress" in the Op-Ed column The Disposable Woman. I could guess what the phrase meant, as "sex worker" is a new term for "prostitute", and therefore "sex film actress"...
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3answers
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Where did the expression “it's lonely at the top” come from?

Some variations of this are it's lonely at the top but you eat better and it's lonely at the top but the view is nice a look at google ngrams seems to suggest it started to pick up in the 1920'...
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Are the words “phoenix” (denoting the bird) and “Phoenicia” cognate?

Are the words "phoenix" and "Phoenicia" cognate? The phoenix had a purple-red colour, similar to or the same as the colour produced by the purple-red dye that Phoenicia was famous in both Greece and ...
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1answer
440 views

Is there a connection between “pork barrel” and “gravy train”?

Have these two phrases evolved independently, and how much do their meanings overlap? Pork barrelling (as in "pork barrel politics") is pretty clear in its meaning, but how about gravy train? Where ...
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3answers
425 views

What is the cultural origin of “Thrice Honored”

"Thrice-Honored Father", "Thrice-Honored Rulers" or the like. The term appears in the mid-nineteenth century books. For example: here and here and here and here. It has a classical feel to it -...
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6answers
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Why is it “how come” and not “why come”? [duplicate]

When someone asks "How come?", the person answering actually answers the question "why?". "Why?" and "How?" are very different questions. I was wondering how "how come?" came to be an alternative way ...
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1answer
230 views

apodictic vs. apodeictic

Looking through the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (part of the Oxford Style Manual, I was suprised to read in its dictionary part the following entry on page 619a: apodictic clearly ...
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1answer
175 views

White Noises, Woman or Women

What is the earliest printed use in English, including relevant context, of 'white woman' or 'white women'? As nearly as I have been able to discover, the term is first found in print in these ...
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4answers
1k views

“thanks to (command)”

A friend who works in business says that she has been hearing a lot of polite commands worded as e.g. "thanks to ask any questions at the end of the presentation" (she has also seen this written a few ...
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1answer
568 views

What is the origin and meaning of “Save some for Jehoshaphat”?

Back in the late 1950's, during Sunday dinner (here in Tennessee), my mom would often exclaim "save some for Jehoshaphat". What is the origin and meaning of that phrase?
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1answer
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Was “precious snowflake” originally used in a derogatory manner?

Nowadays, most uses of the term "precious snowflake" are derogatory, such as the following tweet from a pro-Trump Twitter user: Here's a clue. Get some backbone and stand up for America, by ...
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0answers
265 views

What is the origin of using the letters 'ZZZ' to symbolize a person sleeping? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: How did the letter Z become to be associated with sleeping/snoring? In old cartoons and even now in other such media, often the letters 'zzz' are used to indicate that a ...
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2answers
208 views

History of ‘smile one's thanks’

I'm interested to know when the actual phrase smile one's thanks was first registered in the English language, as well as smile agreement and nod agreement.
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1answer
237 views

How to guess/divine definitions from etymology?

I've been using the word 'intuition' to characterise such questions, of which I've asked many, so I'd like to learn or be enlightened about the general methodology. Is there a formal term? ...
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1answer
792 views

To cut capers in the street [closed]

I understand that the phrase in the title means "to behave frivolously". E.g.: A bereaved person does not cut capers in the street, and neither does a failed pupil. Google gives around 3 links ...