Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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4
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2answers
748 views

First use of “learnings”?

When was the word learnings first used as a noun, as a synonym for lessons?
3
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1answer
350 views

“Come over” and etymology of other idioms

Can someone explain the etymology of using over in expressions like come over to and go over to as in "pay a casual visit"? Is there a source for the etymology of idiomatic expressions somewhere?
2
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1answer
2k views

Where did the phrase “hack job” come from?

I've been doing quite a bit of reading and research on the etymology of the word "hack" and its off-shoots, but I can't seem to find any evidence of the first instance of the phrase "hack job." I've ...
2
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3answers
901 views

Knick-knack and bric-a-brac?

There are several interesting words to describe the same idea: Knick-Knack and Bric-a-Brac, both defined as: Small, decorative object(s) of little value. Bric-a-Brac derives from French and is ...
2
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2answers
2k views

Why “What's up”?

Why's "what's up" used as greeting among young people? It sounds like asking "what is up there"? A: What's up? B: The sky.
2
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2answers
4k views

Why is it “description” but “describe” (b and p)?

I've just wondered by it is "description", but "to describe". It looks as if "to descripe" would be a more consistant choice. Is there any other explanation besides "this is how it is written for ...
2
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5answers
2k views

The origin of the word “Pink” [closed]

I do not know how else to put the question. On my third attempt, what is the origin of the word "pink" in the English language?
1
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1answer
739 views

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 ...
0
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3answers
7k views

Rationale behind pronunciation of “subtle”

I've read pronunciation, yet I'm still irresolute about the exposition/logic behind the pronunciation of subtle. Why is the b not pronounced? subtle = subtil(e) in French, in which the b is ...
285
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41answers
121k views

Is there a phrase that means sleeping with someone without sex?

The phrase "sleeping with someone" often means "having sex." What is the origin of this sexual connotation? Is there a non-sexual equivalent of this phrase to express sleeping with someone without ...
48
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1answer
731k views

“Dieing” vs “dying”

Which is the formally correct spelling, dieing or dying? Is there any history of the alternative spelling? I type dieing naturally, but my spellchecker marks it wrong. This is largely an etymology ...
44
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1answer
27k views

“Maths” for “Mathematics”; where does the S come from?

So in US English we shorten mathematics to math, and in the UK they say maths. Where does the 'S' come from in the UK version? For some reason I had it in my head that this was just because it's ...
56
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4answers
33k views

Why is “pound” (of weight) abbreviated “lb”?

Answers to Correct usage of lbs. as in "pounds" of weight suggest that "lb" is for "libra" (Latin), but how has this apparent inconsistency between the specific unit of weight "pound" and ...
63
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8answers
54k views

If cow = beef, pig = pork, and deer = venison, then where is the word for human = [flesh as food source]?

Maybe it's the season of Halloween, because it's kind of a grim question, but I have seriously wondered from a language point of view - is there a word for human as 'food-meat', or has there ever been,...
56
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7answers
6k views

Etymology of the use of “Drive” to refer to a digital storage medium

When did the word "drive" begin to be used to refer to a digital storage medium (e.g. disc drive, hard drive, USB drive), and why was this term selected? Cross-link to related earlier question: "...
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6answers
74k views

Why is it “on *the* one hand”?

According to all dictionaries I can see and everyday use by native speakers, this is the correct way: On the one hand, it's larger; on the other hand, it's more expensive. What makes no sense to ...
36
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2answers
8k views

Why do you drive on a “parkway”, and park on a “driveway”?

I've always been fascinated by these two words, as they seem to have the exact opposite meaning as expected. Is it because of the etymology? Or perhaps the meanings were switched at some point in time?...
35
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9answers
14k views

What is the original connection between “nurse” and “sister”?

In Hebrew, the difference between the words "Sister" and "Brother" is that "Sister" has an additional suffix, as might be expected given the structure of the language. Also, the Hebrew word for a ...
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3answers
14k views

Why has the word “thrice” fallen out of common usage?

I'm an American living in America, but my workplace has a lot of immigrants from India here. They all use "thrice" very commonly, which is wonderful to my ears! Thrice is such a delightful word. ...
30
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6answers
48k views

Why is the term “depressed” often used to describe a button which is pressed?

In several books that mention GUI, keyboard, or mouse buttons (e.g. the book Programming Windows by Charles Petzold), the authors refer to the state of a pressed button as depressed. Why is this term ...
23
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4answers
10k views

Origin of “bug” in reference to software

What is the origin of the expression bug when used to refer to software? Wikipedia says it's from 1843 in Ada Byron's notes on the analytical engine. Another source I found was on dictionary.com: ...
8
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6answers
33k views

The meaning of the English idiom “pot calling the kettle black”

I would like to know something more about this idiom and how North American or English speaking people use it. Is the idiom considered outdated or offensive by young people? When is "pot calling the ...
55
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4answers
11k views

Why are there so few English words that begin with the letter X?

If one reads a lot of children's books, it is obvious that X is a real thorn in the side for those authors looking to have each letter of the alphabet represented in their books. Most of them either ...
46
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4answers
9k views

When did men start to lose their “virginity”?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word virgin came from 2 languages: Anglo-French and Old French virgine "virgin; Virgin Mary" From Latin virginem (nominative virgo) "maiden, ...
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8answers
56k views

Origin of “Too Clever by Half”

The phrase "Too Clever by Half" is used to criticize someone for being overconfident in their thinking. What is the origin of this phrase? I read somewhere that it started as a backhanded compliment ...
22
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5answers
58k views

Why are female wizards called “witches”?

I was looking up these two words in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: Wizard: Witch: It's mentioned in the Word Origin section that Wizard comes from "Wise", while for "Witch" it totally ...
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7answers
74k views

Origin of the expression “Dead to rights”?

I was watching a TV show and this term was used. I am familiar with the definition, but I was wondering the origin of the phrase. It does not make sense to me if taken literally. Reference
17
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4answers
60k views

What is the origin of the counting prefixes: uni-, bi-/di-, tri-, quad-, etc.?

Many English words use the prefixes uni-, bi-/di-, tri-, quad- and so on to mean one, two, three, and four. For example: A unicycle has one wheel, a bicycle two, and a tricycle three. I presume ...
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7answers
4k views

What does “akin to” mean in etymologies in dictionary entries?

Many etymologies in dictionaries say that some word is “akin to” a word in some other language. For example, here is part of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary entry for salt: Main Entry: 1salt ...
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4answers
6k views

What is the etymology of “golden boy”?

I used to watch an anime titled Golden Boy. A few years after I saw it, I heard the lyrics of a Shins song say "you're finally golden boy". In both cases it seems to refer to a young man coming of ...
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2answers
24k views

Etymology of “save” in the meaning of “except”, “but”, “unless”

Why does save also mean other than : but or except "We had no hope save one." except for the fact that : only —used with that but, except —used before a word often taken to be the ...
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4answers
5k views

Silent letters in English [closed]

With the help of dictionaries, I’ve assembled a list of letters that can be silent in English: For most letters, I found more than one example, what are the other examples of a silent z (rendezvous)...
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6answers
19k views

How did phobia ever come to mean hatred?

I understand the word 'phobia' to mean an irrational fear of something, tracing its roots to the Greek word ῾φοβια᾽ associated with flight, dread, or terror. How then did this word ever come to ...
46
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9answers
50k views

Why is “primer” pronounced with a short “i” sound?

This word—used to mean an elementary textbook, not a painting material—annoys me to no end. Does anyone know why, exactly, "primer" is pronounced with a short "i" sound? I don't know why, call it ...
26
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8answers
15k views

Where did the expression “my two cents” come from?

I've seen "$.02", "2¢", "just my two cents", etc, similar in meaning to IMHO, except usually appended to the main text. As the Ngram shows, it is only "two cents" that is popular in this usage: How ...
22
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10answers
23k views

“Out of pocket”?

I'm increasingly hearing the phrase "out of pocket" used in America as a colloquialism to mean "away from the office", "unavailable", or "incommunicado". I apologize for not replying sooner; I have ...
21
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5answers
2k views

How did the adjective “just” come to take on so many adverbial meanings?

Just is a pretty useful adverb. It can carry several different meanings: very recently: I just finished the novel. exactly: That’s just what he meant. by a narrow margin: He just missed me ...
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4answers
7k views

Silent “e” at the end of words

Back in 2009, a job interviewer sent me a link to a web service that would help me make a free telephone call via the internet... Skype. As a native speaker, I knew "instinctively" to pronounce this "...
12
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5answers
11k views

The etymology of “redhead” vs. “ginger haired”

All my life I have known people with reddish, orangey hair, to be termed ginger haired. Just as you don't call a blonde a 'yellow head' red head just wasn't a word that was said (wouldn't orange head ...
11
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1answer
57k views

Meaning of '-onomy', '-ology' and '-ography'

I have always wondered about the similarity of the two words Astronomy and Astrology that describe two very different things but have their beginning in common and are sometimes confused in ...
11
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2answers
2k views

Words with roots from different languages

CP Snow (author of "The Two Cultures") was said to have disliked the word "television" because it was a mixture of Greek and Latin roots. Is there any particular reason to dislike words like this? I'...
11
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2answers
788 views

Name for when an adjective modifying a noun leaves the class of objects the noun describes

When adjectives modify nouns, usually they restrict the class of objects that the noun refers to. For example: Red car A red car is, in particular, an instance of a car. However, in specialty ...
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5answers
36k views

Where do the words for daughter, son, aunt, uncle, mother, father, cousin, nephew, niece come from?

Please see Title. I'm not specifically referring to which language they came from... but if they come from something else. In other words, do they come from words with other meanings. For example, do ...
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8answers
3k views

What's up with the use of the word “black” in reference to skin color? [closed]

I've never liked the word black to describe people with dark skin. Those of us with pigment-enriched skin are certainly not black in color. Why was the term black used to describe people with dark ...
85
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16answers
19k views

“Soccer mom”: why soccer?

...why not football mom, baseball mom, or basketball mom? Soccer mom, as far as I can tell, is an American term made popular during the 1996 presidential elections, used to describe a key demographic ...
31
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2answers
4k views

Of Yuppies and Yippies and Hippies

While innocently passing by on my way to Big Rep City, I happened to overhear (alright! I was dropping eaves) a dialogue in some podunk Commentary Cafe wherein two fellow ELU consumers were debating ...
18
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2answers
7k views

When and why did the N-word and “negro” go apart?

Both the terms nigger and negro come from the Spanish and Portuguese Negro which denotes "black". But today they have widely different connotations, the former is considered a horrible racial slur, ...
16
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1answer
4k views

Where did the names of English letters come from, and why are they all monosyllabic (except for “w”)? [duplicate]

I don't know too many languages, but the ones I know have more elaborate names for their letters than the monosyllabicity of names for English letters. (E.g. - I'll pick on Greek here - ay instead of ...
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2answers
3k views

Etymology of certain words ending in “-en”

Tchrist's comment here on my answer to an etymology question brought the following to mind: Ox (from Old English oxa) maintains the same vowel in the plural oxen that it has in the singular. But ...
14
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3answers
17k views

Who, what, where, when, why, how. Why so many “Wh”s?

Journalists are taught to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how. If you answer all of these chances are you have the bones of a story. Why do all these words, with the exception of "how" start with ...