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Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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11
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4answers
8k views

What is the origin of the phrase “you've got another thing/think coming”?

What is the origin of the phrase "you've got another thing coming"? And — perhaps more importantly — is it more correct than the alternative "you've got another think coming"?
9
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2answers
3k views

Origin of different past tenses for verbs with the same endings?

Why do we have a situation where the past of "to blow" is "blew", but of "to glow" is "glowed"? And don't say "flew" if you mean "it flowed". The poem Lovers, by Phoebe Cary has many examples of these....
8
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2answers
3k views

How did “used” get its meaning?

If one is accustomed to doing something, it's often said in English that they are "used" to doing it. However, why do we use "used" in this way? It doesn't seem to bear much relation to the simple ...
5
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1answer
2k views

right (opposite of left) connected to right (legal term)? [closed]

Does anyone know of a connection, or some sort of established historical/etymological explanation why in a few languages, "the opposite of left" and "truthful claim to" are the same or seemingly ...
4
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2answers
2k views

Origin of the term “fun fact”

Where does the term "fun fact" originate?-- namely, not with the compositional meaning but rather with the idiomatic usage to introduce some sort of unusual, esoteric, absurd or otherwise "...
3
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2answers
540 views

Deontic “must”, “have to” and “had to”

In English, to express strong obligation we can use either must or have (got) to. Grammars remind us that must is often used to express internal (personal) obligation, deduction (likelihood), and ...
31
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3answers
13k views

“Fire” a weapon before firearms existed?

Did the verb “fire a weapon” exist before the actual introduction of firearms on battlefields? More specifically, does it make sense for a creative work to have archers (or whatever ranged weaponry) ...
18
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3answers
16k views

How long has the f-word been in use as an abusive term?

When was the f-word 'invented'? Who invented it? Has it always had the derogatory meaning that it does today. Is it a recent invention?
16
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6answers
73k views

How did the phrase “are you nuts” come about?

What is the connection between "nut" and the character? How was the phrase "are you nuts?" used at first?
14
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2answers
8k views

What makes a word offensive?

Whilst I was sat on the bus yesterday, I overheard a group of teenagers discussing various things. As per the usual social requirement at that age, every 5th word was an expletive. Not exactly the ...
14
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15answers
36k views

What is the origin of the slang term “book” meaning “leave” or “hurry”?

This verb is used in expressions such as “I’ll see you later – gotta book now”. Dictionary.com has: Slang. b. to leave; depart: I’m bored with this party, let’s book.¹ Anybody know the ...
13
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2answers
4k views

Why the letter “g” discrepancy between *giant* and *gigantic*?

A little look through an etymology dictionary shows that the root is Latin gigas with adjective form gigant. So in its derivation to English, why did the second "g" get retained in gigantic but was ...
10
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2answers
2k views

Why can't “thanks” ever be singular as a noun?

While looking at the part of speech of the noun "thanks" in an online dictionary I noticed that it was a plural noun and wondered if it could be used in singular form. Glancing at the origin it ...
7
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2answers
1k views

Why did the old pronouns and their respective endings vanish from daily usage?

If I’m not wrong, the verb conjugation in the past used to be: I have we have thou hast ye have he/she/it hath they have This conjugation is closer to its equivalent in the ...
6
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4answers
7k views

Origin of the phrase “social justice warrior”

What is the origin of the phrase "social justice warrior"? RationalWiki says that the phrase "social justice" (without warrior) originated in the 1840s. Searching twitter for top tweets about "...
0
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4answers
2k views

There is (there's) vs.There are

What are the roots of the creeping usage of "there's" for both singular and plural predicates? (This seems to be more common in spoken English.) I have 2 theories. Perhaps it is because spoken ...
16
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2answers
34k views

What is the origin of the phrase “great minds think alike”?

Upon using the phrase "great minds think alike" in chat today, I was informed that it is really a shortened version of "Great minds think alike, small minds rarely differ" or "Great minds think alike, ...
12
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3answers
4k views

Where does the word “*ag” come from?

Once upon a time in America, particularly during the 1970s, if you asked an American whether they ‘fancied a shag’, they might well have thought of this: And therefore declined the offer for fear of ...
9
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2answers
10k views

How did the use of “could of” and “should of” originate, and is it considered correct? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Is “of” instead of “have” correct? It bothers me that so many people use could of, would of, should of instead of could've or could have, etc. For instance, I have seen ...
6
votes
4answers
14k views

What is the origin of the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”?

I tried to find the etymology of the cliche "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" on the Internet, but so far I haven't had any luck. It won't even tell me if it's a maxim or not.
6
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5answers
4k views

Why and when did “crack” come to mean “tell”?

Cracking jokes is to me the most familiar contextual usage of this term. Why would anyone say they were cracking jokes, not just telling jokes?
6
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1answer
3k views

Why can a bird be pulled but never caught?

In the UK there is a popular idiomatic saying: To pull a bird. "Bird" is a well known Brit expression for a young woman. In the USA, I think "chick" is more popular. The above expression means ...
4
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2answers
2k views

Where did prefix exceptions originate?

Consider the following words: inflammable invaluable Each of these has the unusual property that its meaning is identical to its counterpart lacking the prefix. In almost all other cases, the prefix ...
106
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9answers
11k views

Is there a word for a person with only one head?

Reading this article by the fantastic Douglas Adams I came across this interesting quote: ‘[I]nteractivity’ is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal ...
60
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5answers
148k views

How did the letter Z come to be associated with sleeping/snoring?

In cartoons and comics it's not uncommon to see a series of Z's to indicate that a person is in deep slumber, such as in the following political cartoon. How and when did the letter Z come to be ...
83
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10answers
23k views

Is “denigrate” a racist word? [duplicate]

A few years ago I was told not to use that word because, in addition to its negative meaning, it comes from Latin denigratus, past participle of denigrare, which means to blacken. Therefore, "to ...
45
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7answers
13k views

Why the phrase “thunder and lightning”, and not “lightning and thunder”?

So there was just a thunderstorm, and my sister came with a question I couldn't answer: Why is it "thunder and lightning", because the lightning comes before the thunder? Shouldn't it be "lightning ...
35
votes
1answer
11k views

Is the plural of 'prefix' really 'prefixes' rather than 'prefices'?

It looks like the plural of 'prefix' is 'prefixes' - while I would expect it to be 'prefix' => 'prefices' like 'matrix' => 'matrices' or 'index' => 'indices'. Is 'prefix' an exception to the rule? ...
27
votes
3answers
2k views

What purpose does an '-o' serve?

I have been singing a lot of children’s songs lately, and this afternoon in the car I noticed three songs that add an ‑o to the end of words: “He had many a mile to go that night before he ...
24
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5answers
14k views

Why are so many important verbs irregular?

In many languages, including English, the most important verbs are irregular. Examples include: to be to do to get to go to have to make The same applies (roughly) to many other languages I ...
23
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3answers
2k views

Hump, Rump, Lump, Bump

I’m referring to the similar definitions of these four nouns – something raised and rounded. Why do these four rhyming words have similar meanings? I have not found very specific sources for these ...
10
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2answers
5k views

“Thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns"

“Thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns" What does this metaphor mean and what is the origin? I know it is an ancient one, but couldn't find anything else! Is it obsolete now?
37
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4answers
5k views

Did the English call a fruit “openærs” for 700 years?

There is a small apple-tasting fruit called medlar in English. It looks like a cross between an apple and a rosehip. It has two main curious features: first the fruit must be bletted before it can ...
34
votes
3answers
54k views

Origin of “ballpark estimate” to mean a very rough estimate?

I'm wondering where the term "ballpark estimate" comes from? Sometimes "ballpark" is said stand-alone to mean a rough estimate, as in "these numbers are a ballpark". I understand it must come from ...
34
votes
6answers
89k views

Is there a difference between “arse” and “ass”?

From a comment here, in frequent usage, arse and ass are often interchangeable when used to refer to buttocks or to a person of dubious charms. However, although “to arse about” has a vague connection ...
34
votes
7answers
102k views

Why is the “ph” pronounced like a “v” in “Stephen”? Is this the only word like that?

While I know how my name is pronounced, I've run into many non-native english speakers who have stumbled over this unique exception to English. Even in the female name, "Stephanie", the ph is ...
29
votes
5answers
54k views

“Bob's your uncle” … no he's not!

What is the origin of the phrase "Bob's your uncle"? Is it used internationally or is this just a term used in the UK? I have often heard an extension of this phrase: "Bob's your uncle and Fanny's ...
51
votes
9answers
262k views

What is the origin of the term “ginger” for red-headed people?

I'd like to know the etymology of the word "ginger" in reference to red-headed people. In particular, if "ginger" in this context is related to the plant root used in cooking, I'd like to know how ...
34
votes
9answers
24k views

Why is “toast” uncountable?

This is ‘English’ toast And this is some posh toast Pain Quotidien offers rye, walnut and sourdough toast at £2.95 for two slices, while Gail’s bakery chain, which opened its first café in 2005 ...
27
votes
4answers
38k views

What does “Google-fu” mean? [duplicate]

Exact Duplicate: Can anyone tell me what the suffix “-fu” stands for in the following sentence? I was reading an article on MSDN where I found a mention to google-fu. It says, “To ...
20
votes
4answers
41k views

What is the origin of the phrase ‘By the by…’?

What is the origin of the phrase 'By the by...'?
13
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2answers
18k views

Normans vs. Saxons: cow = beef, sheep = mutton, chicken =?

The story goes that after the Norman invasion of England, the words in English for prepared foods took on their French equivalents. The Saxon serfs bred the cows, sheep, and swine, which when served ...
27
votes
3answers
38k views

Why does “for good” mean “forever”?

A very recent and similar question was closed asks what "for good" means. While general reference can answer the question, I became curious as to the etymology of the idiom. Googling around got me ...
12
votes
1answer
4k views

Etymology and pronunciation of arch-, archi-

The prefix arch-, archi- “chief, principal; extreme, ultra; early, primitive,” derives from Latinized Greek arkh-, arkhi-, the combining form of arkhos “chief.” Usually, arch- is pronounced like “arch”...
12
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4answers
23k views

What is the origin of idiom “Keep your hair on”?

I had a conversation with a coworker and he told me to keep my hair on. My first understanding of the idiom was that he will do something so fast that, if I was wearing a wig or something it will fly ...
11
votes
4answers
7k views

What is the etymology of 'physician'?

I find myself confusing 'physician' and 'physicist' occasionally. While I know what they both mean, I am a little confused as to the use of 'physics' in 'physician'. How did the term 'physician' come ...
7
votes
3answers
9k views

Where does the phrase “possession is ( nine points | nine-tenths ) of the law” come from?

I've seen dozens of arguments for the correctness and/or precedence of one version over the other, but have not come across compelling sources or well-documented explanations for either. Does anyone ...
24
votes
4answers
53k views

What's the etymology of “props”?

Props can mean compliment / respect / credit, for example: Erika gets props for the great work she did on the music. Wiktionary states that props is: (slang) proper respect or proper ...
19
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4answers
74k views

What is the origin of “Color me confused”?

I drowned in the search results of articles using "Color me confused" phrase. What is its meaning and origin?
18
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3answers
15k views

“Cannon” as plural

I'm reading a novel based in ye olde pirate-times, and I have come across the author's usage of "cannon" (without the "s") to refer to multiple cannons. The ship boasted 32 cannon onboard. Is this ...