Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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20
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4answers
76k 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?
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“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 ...
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2answers
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How (and when) was it that the verb 'go' began to mean 'say' in common usage?

i.e. "So then she goes, 'Hey!' and I go, 'What?' because I was on my way out..." I was musing about this the other day, so I decided to try to find out. Unfortunately, my skills lie in different ...
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3answers
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Reflexive love: where does “love me some …” come from?

It seems trendy to use a reflexive-like construction with love or hate plus some, like this: You know I love me some cheese! I hate me some cold and the temperature is dropping. Where did this come ...
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9answers
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Is it 'Close to the chest' or 'Close to the vest'?

Apologies if this is a duplicate, I am just curious. Are they both valid? Which originated first?
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Why do we use “gubernatorial” as an adjective?

Both "govenor" and its adjective form, "gubernatorial", originally derive from the same Latin word "gubernare" (to govern) yet we use root "govern" in all contexts ("govern", "government", "governor", ...
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3answers
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Origin of “son of a gun”

Growing up there was a friend of my family who would often use son of a gun as a slang term. For example, And that son of a gun has a 300hp motor in it. Like any father, my Dad wanted to raise me ...
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1answer
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Where does the idiom “whole cloth” come from? [closed]

I have heard it used several times recently, but I had no idea what it meant until I looked the term up on the Internet, because I had never heard it before. Where does whole cloth come from? How ...
8
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1answer
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Logical/Etymological reason for unique conjugation of third person singular present tense

In most English verbs, there is a consistent pattern in the conjugation of present and past tense. For past tense, the same inflection is used for each grammatical person, but in present tense, third ...
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2answers
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Why is a rhyming word beginning with “h” put before another word to create a new term?

I recently learned a new phrase: "herby-kerby," which is regionalism from the Kalamazoo, MI area for a wheeled trash bin placed at the curb for trash collection. I've found several uses of the phrase: ...
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Why is “conquer” pronounced /'kɔŋkɚ/ and not /'kɔŋkwɚ/?

In English "qu" is always used as a digraph. The letters "que" represent the sound [k] at the ending of many words: unique, technique, antique, physique, clique, grotesque. However, the combination ...
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2answers
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Is there any relation between the suffix “-ship” and actual ships?

I am curious if there is actual relation between all nouns ending in -ship, such as relationship, citizenship, sportsmanship, etc. with the vessel for transporting people or goods over the sea?
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How old is the word “prolly”?

Prolly is given this definition at Wiktionary: Clipped pronunciation of probably. I was reading an interesting article today that claimed prolly dates from 1947 and that surprised me. ...
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7answers
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Why doesn't English have a separate word for “head hair”? (head hair vs. body hair)

The answer can be "Because it doesn't!" or "It wasn't needed!" in short but there might be a historical or linguistic explanation behind this. (Of course, every language might be lacking a word that ...
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Etymology of “dude” and progression in language

On this one, etymonline really let me down. It says: dude 1883, "fastidious man," New York City slang of unknown origin. The vogue word of 1883, originally used in reference to the devotees of ...
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Where does the saying “made from scratch” originate?

I've heard the saying "made from scratch" many times in my life from living in the southern part of the United States. What is scratch in this context and how did this saying come about?
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What is the origin of the phrase “cut the mustard”?

What is the origin of the phrase "cut the mustard"?
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Why did jazz musicians start referring to an engagement as a “gig”?

Why did jazz musicians start referring to an engagement as a "gig"? If any, could anyone provide a couple of quotations from eminent authors to show where a word was first used in this sense? gig ...
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Is “Dutch wife” one of those “Dutch words”?

The term "Dutch wife" is listed as having several somewhat related meanings. Wiktionary describes it as meaning 1) a body-length pillow, 2) a wicker or bamboo tube that someone sleeps in (also called ...
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3answers
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Origin of the phrase “for the win”?

Just curious as to where "for the win" (commonly abbreviated FTW) originated?
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Origin of “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

Google will not tell me where this phrase originates. Does Stack Exchange have the answer?
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3answers
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Where did the expression “have at it” come from?

Couldn't find its etymology... anyone knows? What does its meaning break down to? Also, when should it be used best? Thanks.
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Why is the /t/ silent in “christen”?

The audio clips at ODO do not vocalise any sound resembling a 't', and the IPA contains no 't': BrE /ˈkrɪsn/ ;   NAmE /ˈkrɪsn/ The 't' in 'christen' and 'hasten' (mooted by this comment in a ...
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What is the origin of the phrase “forty winks,” meaning a short nap?

Inspired by the question How long is a 'wink'?, I did some work on the origin of the phrase forty winks. Though the OP at the wink question mentions the phrase, it does not ask about its origin. So I ...
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1answer
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Is the pronunciation of “oa” in “broad” unique?

The "oa" in the word "broad" is pronounced like the words "or" or "awe". In phonetic symbols that is ɔː . However in all other examples I can think of it is pronounced like the "oe" in "toe". Or in ...
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Why is “renege” pronounced with a hard “g” sound?

The word renege comes from Medieval Latin renegare (source). It is the only English word of Latin origin I'm aware of that doesn't follow the soft g pronunciation rule. The g is hard even though there'...
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What was the idiom for multitasking before chewing gum was invented?

A colorful idiom for someone who can only do one thing at a time is he can't walk and chew gum at the same time Obviously, this only makes sense if you know what the heck chewing gum is. Was there ...
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What is the origin of the term “back to back”, meaning to follow one after the other?

Presumably items would follow each other back to front? There is such a thing as 'back to back' agreements; for example when you have an agreement with a bank to fund a purchase but contingent on (or ...
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Does “This blows!” (it's bad) derive from “This sucks!”?

The origin of blow = suck, be bad/unpleasant recently came up in comments to this ELL question. I'd always assumed it was a standard slang "meaning reversal" from suck. But a few minutes on Google ...
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Origins of the word “terrible” [closed]

What are the origins of the word "terrible". Do the words "terror" or "terrific" come from the same roots? I am curious since I believe the word "terrible" can be used to mean "great" in French.
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Origin of the meaning of joe

I knew that Joe was used to mean the average man, and I discovered that joe is used to mean also coffee. What is the origin of such meanings? When it is used to mean the average man, should I ...
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Why do we say “to fall in love”? Is it something unwished for?

I was exploring the phrases for "to fall in love" in some other languages. And I came out with the result, only English describes the state of starting to feel love for someone as "falling". I wonder ...
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In the U.S., why is octothorp used to signal an apartment at a particular address?

In the book "Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers" it says: The octothorp ("8 fields" ) has been used in cartography as a symbol for "village "... . But ...
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1answer
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Why are some “-ist” suffixed words used as the adjective form over the more common “-istic”?

Generally speaking, for any kind of "-ism", the suffix "-ist" produces the noun form and "-istic" produces the adjective form. But there are some "-ist" suffixes that are acceptable or even more ...
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Why did Old Testament scholars choose to employ “to know” in a sexual sense?

For those of us not familiar, the verb to know once had an archaic sexual sense, often found in the Old Testament, and as illustrated in the following story found in Genesis 19: 4 But before they ...
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Why does gasoline have the word “gas” in it, if it's never gaseous?

The etymology according to Dictionary.com: gasoline coined 1865 as gasolene, from gas (q.v.) + chemical suffix -ine/-ene. current spelling is 1871; shortened form gas first recorded Amer.Eng. ...
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When did things like ‑fu start to spread?

I have looked at the answers to the question Can anyone tell me what the suffix “‑fu” stands for?, and I understand what it means. When, though, did it come into use? Does its spread coincide with ...
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“Insofar” or “in so far”

A quick search suggests that insofar is the American variant of the British in so far. I always assumed it belonged to the set of expressions like hitherto, heretofore, therefore and albeit. Is there ...
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Where does the term “cold calling” originate from?

Did it exist before The Telephone - has it always been associated with 'sales'? Here is an example.
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Why is it called an “Indian file”?

I recently came across a US phrase, Indian file. This is utterly unheard of in the UK, and probably outside North America; at least I’ve certainly never heard of it. The phrase would be expressed in ...
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1answer
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Where did the phrase “diddly-squat” come from?

It sounds like something Ned Flanders would say. I believe it just means "nothing at all". But what are the origins of the phrase? Is it common in the US as well as the UK?
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Origin of current slang usage of the word 'sick' to mean 'great'? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: How and why have some words changed to a complete opposite? How did 'sick' come to mean 'awesome' or 'really good / cool' in modern U.S. slang? I'm interested in origins and ...
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Where does the phrase “balls to the wall” come from?

I know the phrase means "going all out" but I can't figure out what it literally means or where it originates from.
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What is the origin of “dibs”?

Etymonline has this entry for dibs: Children's word to express a claim on something, 1932, originally U.S., apparently a contraction of dibstone "a knucklebone or jack in a children's game" (1690s),...
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Why can 'kick back' mean 'get relaxed'?

I came across the following sentence in today's NPR news: In 2011, boomers start turning 65, the age when Americans traditionally stop working and kick back. A dictionary at hand gives the ...
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3answers
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Where did the “art” in “Our Father who art in Heaven” go?

What happened to the art in "Our Father who art in Heaven"? And why is it art, and not is?
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Why do we use the phrase 'Across the pond'?

Why do we use the phrase Across the pond to refer to the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean? Considering the size of the Atlantic Ocean is vast, is it suggesting the ocean is only a small hindrance? ...
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Origin of Doobie (joint, marijuana cigarette)

OED says: doobie: a marijuana cigarette Origin unknown. A relationship with dobby has been suggested. dobby/dobbie: A silly old man, a dotard, a booby. Dialectal. First citations: ...
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Take this question with a grain of salt

Where did this ubiquitous phrase come from? Usually it is used in conjunction with either disputable of downright dubious information but I can't think of how salt helps the situation. The only thing ...
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2answers
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How does 'notwithstanding' mean 'in spite of'?

notwithstanding = {preposition} In spite of {adverb} = Nevertheless; in spite of this: Etymonline: late 14c., notwiþstondynge, from not + present participle of the verb withstand. A loan-...

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