Questions tagged [etymology]

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

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25
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6answers
6k views

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use?

19th century English texts occasionally use Germanic-style number words, such as "four-and-twenty", but the same text would also have the modern "twenty-four" in places (see e.g. Conan-Doyle for ...
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1answer
176 views

Are there any good books or articles on the etymology of dermatology-related terminology and/or cutaneous condition names?

Are there any good books or articles on the etymology of dermatology-related terminology and/or cutaneous condition names? This list is an example of some of the conditions/terminology I am referring ...
5
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1answer
1k views

Diaconate vs. Deacon

A plurality of deacons is called a diaconate. What is the reason for this vowel change ("e" to "i") for these words? Are there any other words that illustrate this?
11
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1answer
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What does the suffix “‑erior” mean?

The suffix ‑erior is used in many words that seem to indicate position: superior inferior anterior posterior However, with my Google-fu, I can’t find a real definition or etymology. What does ‑...
13
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5answers
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Etymology of “goon”

The etymologies of "goon" that I've looked up seem to center on Alice the Goon, a "slow-witted and muscular (but gentle-natured) character" created by E.C. Segar (Popeye's daddy). But it seems like ...
8
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2answers
432 views

The all-powerful “to have”

"To have" seems to fill a lot of different needs in the English language, apart from its literal meaning of possessing something. It's an integral part of perfect and perfect progressive verb tenses: ...
11
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4answers
14k views

Origin of the word “yummy”

What is the origin of the word yummy, as in This food is yummy? All I can find are dates of known first uses.
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3answers
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When did “y’all” become improper?

It is my understanding that the contraction y’all was considered correct American English in times past. At what point was this word removed from valid American English?
12
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4answers
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Origin of the “-y” or “-ie” diminutive suffix to denote intimacy/tenderness? (E.g. Bob→Bobby, dad→daddy, Doug→Dougie)

Many names seem to get a "-y" or "-ie" at the end when the speaker wishes to denote a hint of familiarity, intimacy, or tenderness. Examples can be seen not just in names, but in terms like puppy, ...
5
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3answers
36k views

What is the origin of the phrase “another string to your bow”

Specifically - what kind of bow? I assume it refers to an archer's bow, but I guess it could relate to a bow used to play a stringed instrument (like a violin). Also, I've heard it used in the sense ...
9
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4answers
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What is the origin of “Couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo”?

This picturesque expression, meaning 'not a very good shot with a rifle' or (of a footballer) unable to score any goals, has cropped up a few times recently in my reading. Does anyone know where it ...
12
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3answers
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What are some good sites for researching etymology?

I'm wondering about the origins of a particular word and, while my first thought was to ask the ELU community, I decided I should do the work myself. Where should I start looking? I'd love to see ...
3
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1answer
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Examples of different roots (and different meanings) coming to be spelled the same

Apparently the two opposite meanings of to cleave have different roots: the to adhere meaning comes from one old English root (clifian) and the to cut meaning comes from a different old English word (...
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4answers
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Etymology of “Spaghetti and gravy”

In Nero Wolfe "Before I die", the gangster's sidekick asks for spaghetti and gravy. After Wolfe's chef Fritz prepares him spaghetti with the type of gravy used for roast beef, it turns out that the ...
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4answers
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What is the origin of the phrase “Eastern Seaboard”?

Today upon hearing reports about how Hurricane Earl was going to hug the Eastern Seaboard I couldn't help but think how strange this phrase is. Is "seaboard" used in any other contexts? What is the ...
13
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3answers
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Why are spies called “spooks”?

In many books, I've seen the word 'spook' used to mean some kind of spy. Definition 5 on dictionary.reference.com confirms this usage, but is not very helpful about the origin. Does anyone know how ...
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2answers
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What is the origin of the phrase “not to mention …”

Of course whatever follows would seem to be precisely the thing that isn't to be mentioned. EDIT: I'm assuming that the phrase must have evolved from something more complete/cumbersome, like "and of ...
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3answers
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Do adjectives ending in “-ed” derive from words that were once used as verbs?

Talented derives from talent, which is not a verb in Modern English. Has talent ever been used as verb? Are there any words ending in -ed that derive from words once used as verb that is not used ...
9
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2answers
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Whatever happened to “what ever” and whenever did it happen?

I am curious to know when whatever, whenever, wherever and whoever first started being used as interrogative words. Merriam-Webster, etymonline and dictionary.com offer no hints. Wikipedia doesn't ...
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3answers
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What is the story behind the word “hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia”?

Was someone just trying to be funny by being ironic?
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4answers
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If I invent a word, what language is it?

I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English ...
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2answers
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“Pardon me French”

Even though the phrase pardon my French is used much more often, I do constantly run across pardon me French as well. What's the deal with that? Wikipedia does have an entry on Pardon my French, but ...
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5answers
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What is the origin of the colloquial term “bum” meaning a homeless person?

Just out of curiosity, I was wondering about the history of the term "bum" meaning a homeless person, not the UK version referring to someone's posterior. Bonus: If you know the background on "Hobo" ...
20
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3answers
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What does “packing heat” mean?

I believe it means “to carry a weapon”, but I would also like the phrase origins, if possible. So the full question is: What is the meaning of the phrase “packing heat” and what are its origins?
7
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5answers
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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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2answers
933 views

Why is New York City also called “the Big Apple”?

I have heard many times people say the Big Apple to mean New York City. What is the origin of this nickname?
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1answer
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What is the origin of “xox”?

What is the origin of xox used to mean kisses and hugs?
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3answers
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Why are not “infamous” and “inflammable” the opposite of “famous” and “flammable”?

Why are not infamous and inflammable the opposite of famous and flammable, like incomplete, inactivity, inappropriate and so on?
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5answers
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What is the origin of “holy smoke”?

What is the origin of holy smoke? To what is holy smoke referring?
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1answer
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Did eBay take the name from a Pig Latin word? [closed]

Did eBay take the name from the Pig Latin word for be?
11
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1answer
339 views

Bourbon whiskey, Bourbon monarchy: is there a connection?

Is there any connection between bourbon, the name of the American whiskey, and Bourbon, the French monarchy, or is it just a coincidence?
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5answers
163k views

What is the origin of the word “goodbye”?

I've heard that goodbye comes from God be with you. Is that true? If so how did it become good? Did goodbye always have the same meaning it has now?
13
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3answers
853 views

What is the first recorded appearance of the mistranslation “Red Square”?

Does anybody know when the mistranslation "Red Square" made its first recorded appearance? Have there been any noteworthy attempts at establishing the correct translation "Beautiful Square" at some ...
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7answers
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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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3answers
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Origin of “idiocracy”

Did the word "idiocracy" exist prior to the release of the movie of the same title, or is it a neologism coined by its screenwriters?
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3answers
910 views

What is the origin of “bouillon cubes”?

What is the etymology of bouillon cubes? What other word can I use?
16
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5answers
735 views

“The whole nine yards”

What is the origin of the phrase "the whole nine yards"? Is it a reference to some game of sports I am not familiar with (as a continental European)?
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3answers
6k views

What is the etymology of the expression “so far, so good”?

What is the etymology of the expression "so far, so good"? Why is the meaning of "so far" in that phrase different from the meaning it has in "it's so far"?
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3answers
31k views

Origin of the name Manhattan [closed]

What is the origin of the name Manhattan?
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6answers
4k views

When did presidents start using their middle initial (e.g., John F Kennedy)? Was that common of the general population?

For example John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson (and hence JFK, FDR, LBJ). There was an uninterrupted stretch: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson but the trend ...
13
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2answers
13k views

Where did the word 'Greece' come from?

The Greeks I've met say something that to my ears sounds like 'Elatha'.
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5answers
4k views

Terms for collections of animals

As I watched the murder of crows sitting on the line above my house this evening, I got wondering where all of the collective nouns for animals (pod of whales, gaggle of geese, pride of lions) came ...
11
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7answers
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What do the American nicknames 'Dutch' and 'T-Bone' mean?

Does the nickname Dutch have any significance? I know it was Reagan's, and I'm sure I've come across it in other books/films. Also T-Bone, as in T-Bone Walker, T-Bone Burnett: what does that mean? (I ...
13
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2answers
3k views

What is the origin of British/Irish cinema names?

British and Irish cinema names from a certain period seem to come from a pool that includes The Odeon, The Curzon, The Savoy, The Adelphi (maybe you can think of more). Where did these names come from?...
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2answers
5k views

Why are clothes “hung” but men “hanged”?

It is said that clothes can be hung but men are hanged. Is this correct, and if so, why?
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4answers
111k views

Why are there two pronunciations for “either”?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an individual who told me that pronouncing the word "either" is wrong when pronounced like \ˈī-thər\ instead of \ˈē-thər\ , but I didn't argue the point ...
14
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10answers
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Why do words like “expectorate” sound more posh than words like “spit”?

I think English is unique in having a set of "bad words" each which has its "more refined" equivalent, e.g.: spit -> expectorate piss -> urinate shit -> defecate f*ck -> fornicate/...
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6answers
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Where does the phrase “dry run” come from?

I've heard the phrase "dry run" being used with the meaning of rehearsal, experiment or test exercise in various contexts. For example: They did a dry run of the demonstration before showing it to ...
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3answers
4k views

Why “mind” means “pay attention to”

Why the word "mind" can be used as a verb, synonym of "pay attention to"? It has the same etymology of the "mind" (centre of thought, feelings, brain) noun? When it is better to use "mind" in place of ...
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5answers
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What is the etymology of “replenish”?

Where does the word "replenish" come from, and what does it mean? I know it is used as a form of "refill", but is that how it was originally?