Questions tagged [etymology]

Questions about tracing out and describing the elements of an individual word, as well as the historical changes in form and sense which that word has experienced over its history. Please use the 'phrase-origin' tag for phrase/expression origins.

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2 votes
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How did the meaning 'produce', used as a noun, emerge from the meaning of 'produce', used as a verb?

Produce, used as a noun, stands for fresh, unprocessed fruit and vegetables. In a produce aisle of a supermarket, we thus expect to find tomatoes, cucumbers, and apples, but not ketchup, tinned beans, ...
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Why "monatomic" and not "monoatomic"?

"Mono" means singular, and "atomic" stands for the atom. So combining them will give a single atom - "monatomic". But why is this so? Why can't it be "monoatomic&...
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1 answer
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Does the usage of "ho" or "hoe" for "whore" predate the 20th century?

In Medieval Pleasures: What Was Sex Really Like In The Middle Ages?, Leeds Trinity professor Dr. Kate Lister shows how the records of medieval British street names reveal secrets regarding illicit ...
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3 votes
3 answers
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Why is the word "oven" used to refer to a cremator in a concentration camp?

If I read "the bodies were incinerated in ovens" I can be fairly sure that a concentration camp (run by Nazi Germany) is being referred to, because normally, when a death camp is not being ...
3 votes
1 answer
332 views

Where does the "dysfunctional or broken" meaning of the word "demic" come from?

As a rail enthusiast I often hear the word "demic", which Wiktionary tells me has a dialectical meaning of "dysfunctional or broken". However it does not list any reason why it ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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Origin of “Peace Through Superior Firepower”

(I’m not sure if this is a valid question here†, as the phrase is arguably not common enough to be classed as a fixed expression.) Is there an ascertainable origin of Peace Through Superior Firepower? ...
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3 votes
2 answers
183 views

Why is "hammock" spelled the way it is?

The word hammock comes from Spanish hamaca. type of hanging bed, 1650s, alteration of hamack, hamaca (1550s), from Spanish hamaca, from Arawakan (Haiti) word apparently meaning "fish nets" (...
1 vote
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Etymology of phrase, "to get the better/best of" [closed]

What is the origin of the term, "to get the better/best" of? While I've looked at some sources, they say the meaning without giving the etymology of the phrase. Since the meaning has to do ...
4 votes
2 answers
261 views

What is the origin of the idiom "get/be shot of"?

Definition Get/be shot of someone/something slang To get rid of. — Collins Examples He didn't want to be seen near me and couldn't wait to get shot of me. City experts still reckon the company ...
5 votes
1 answer
107 views

Meaning of 'the consonant s, which no more belongs to the word, than any other letter in the alphabet'

The following is a passage from Noah Webster's Preface to his Compendious Dictionary published in 1806. Could anyone help me understand the part of 'the consonant s, which no more belongs to the word, ...
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1 answer
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What is the origin of the phrase "la ti dah"?

What is the origin of the phrase "la ti dah"? Two famous usages of the phrase: it is exclaimed often by the title character in the movie 'Annie Hall', and it is used the lyrics of singer Van ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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The origin of and the difference between primogenitor, primogeniture and progenitor

In Etymonline, the etymology of primogenitor (and primogeniture) is very similar to progenitor. The word's meaning: Ancestor or forefather. However, nowhere do I find the reason of the split from the ...
4 votes
1 answer
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Etymology of angle shooting in poker?

angle shooting. Intentionally using an angle to exploit an opponent such as obscuring the size of their chip stack or acting out of turn. […]. — Wikipedia Another definition… [Angle shooting is] ...
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17 votes
2 answers
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Origin of the phrase "to have no truck with"

This phrase "to have no truck with" has bothered me ever since I stumbled upon it, the reason being it makes no logical sense whatsoever even remotely if you go by the lexical meaning of the ...
7 votes
2 answers
474 views

What is a How (placename)?

In a 1907 translation of Icelandic mythology I came across a reference to a place called "Svarin's How". This reminded me of Aslan's How in the Narnia books, a specific place name for a sort ...
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Where do the Jubilee names including "Platinum" come from? [closed]

When was the name "Platinum jubilee" invented? What about the rest of the nicknames? If it's named after wedding anniversary titles, how did those titles come about? Cake Toppers.com: The ...
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1 answer
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Where did the "picking flowers" euphemism for "answering the call of nature" come from?

Where did the "picking flowers" euphemism for "answering the call of nature" come from? Although, saying it like that makes it sound a bit obvious. I first saw it in SCP-6385: ...
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3 answers
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How does the expression "to blot out" something apply literally?

In the Bible there is a references to having one's sins "blotted out" [Acts 3:19 KJV]. This expression made me think about how a writer might "blot out" an error on a manuscript, ...
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3 votes
2 answers
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Etymology of the word "erre" in English

I'm currently working on Bible translations and have stumbled accross the word "erre" in James (1: 2-18) of the King James Bible. To be more specific in verse 16: Doe not erre, my beloued ...
5 votes
2 answers
265 views

How did the meaning of "hectic" become precisely the opposite of its meaning 100 years ago?

I found, a while ago, a small pocket dictionary published in 1921. There were several interesting words I found, but the word "hectic" caught my attention. I cannot remember the precise ...
17 votes
6 answers
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What sparked the figurative usage of “short fuse” in the 1960s?

According to the “Grammarist” the idiomatic expression “short fuse” is just a few decades old: The idiom “have a short fuse” meaning to anger quickly, comes from the fuse used to set off explosives ...
2 votes
1 answer
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what does the expression "I was feathered" mean?

I'm reading "A Day No Pigs Would Die." I’d just wound up running away from Edward Thatcher and running away from the schoolhouse. I was feathered if I was going to run away from one darn ...
1 vote
1 answer
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How old is the expression "walking distance"?

I'm curious about how long we've described distances as "walking" and if it's been used over a long period, what distance did it refer to over time? The Online Etymological Dictionary, while ...
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8 votes
3 answers
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Meaning and origin of the word "muist"

Recently, I've noticed that the NY-Times Wordle game accepts the word "muist" as a five-letter word attempt. But what does it mean and where does it come from? I've searched online and I ...
0 votes
1 answer
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Use of “fat” and “fatty”

Hoping to understand why “fat” is used as an adjective and noun rather than “fatty” (at least in everyday English). For example: “cat fat” (noun) and “fat cat” (adjective). “That is a fat cat”. Not “...
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In which dialects is "knowed" the past tense of know?

In some folk songs, such as Woody Guthrie's "Hard Traveling" and Townes Van Zandt's "Poncho and Lefty," the word "knowed" is used as the past tense of "know." ...
1 vote
1 answer
100 views

When was the word co-ord first used?

The word co-ord means one of two or more pieces of clothing that are made in matching colours or styles so that they can be worn together When was this word first used in this sense?
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2 votes
3 answers
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Origin of 'go (off) on a jag'

We used to use this expression in upstate New York during the 1970s..as in jag (noun) a bout of drinking or drug taking Vocabulary.com To "be on a jag" or "go on a jag" means to ...
6 votes
2 answers
224 views

Origin of the phrase "head shop"

As more U.S. states legalize marijuana, "head shops" (places that sell drug paraphernalia and related items) are experiencing a bit of a comeback. Where did this term come from? Few online ...
8 votes
3 answers
2k views

Is the phrase “nitty-gritty” racist?

A BBC article, dated 15 May 2002, asserts the expression nitty-gritty is banned from British politics (and also by police services) due to its supposedly disagreeable origin. The emphasis in bold is ...
16 votes
2 answers
5k views

Why and when did "fowls" start being called "chickens"?

(Note: I've seen the question What's the difference between 'fowl' and 'poultry'? but I am not asking about the definition, rather the historical usage pattern.) In modern English ...
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1 answer
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What are the origins of "tech" as an abbreviation for "technology?

I'm trying to trace the origins and rise in popularity of the abbreviation "tech" from "technology." From what I can tell, the term began taking off in popular culture around the ...
0 votes
1 answer
83 views

Why do we use the word "unborn" instead of "nonborn"?

Wouldn't "un-" imply something that occurred and then was reversed? Like undo, untie, unravel? If a child is in utero, shouldn't we call it "nonborn"? When did "unborn" ...
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4 votes
2 answers
406 views

Why is "deterrence” spelt with two r's?

Looking at a medium-sized word list, all words are written "erence" with the exception of "deterrence" and the name "Terrence". I can find 50 words ending in "erence&...
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0 votes
0 answers
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What is the history of the incomplete "can"/"could" verb?

The verb can/could is incomplete in the following sense. There is a present tense: I can You can He/she/it can […] There is also a past tense: I could You could He/she/it could […] But there is ...
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15 votes
4 answers
6k views

Is “I'm working totes” new slang?

I was reading a New York Times article about a Dollar General employee who was fired from her job in Tampa, Florida, when her TikTok videos went viral. In these videos, the retail store manager ...
4 votes
0 answers
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Is there more to “A hell of a …” than mere interjection or expletive?

Previous examination of “A hell of a …” on this site focussed on emphasis, interjection or expletive usage. As examples we have: (What is the meaning of "a hell of a lot"?) a great deal or ...
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3 votes
0 answers
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Etymology of fruit names (the unusual formation of berry fruit names and the indigenous fruits of England)

I am from Italy. Italy has a warmer climate than England, some fruits that naturally grow in Italy (and maybe they do not naturally grow in England) have an English name that sounds a lot like the ...
9 votes
1 answer
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What is the origin of the word "latte" referring to a caffè latte?

Latte, as in the usage I'd like a latte (example from Cambridge English Empower, 2015) is ubiquitous among English speakers who have visited coffee bars or seen them in film or TV. It means a caffè ...
9 votes
2 answers
1k views

What is the origin of "deadly" as "excellent" in Irish and Australian English?

I wonder what the origin of "deadly" as "very good" and "excellent" is in Irish and Australian English. For example, a satisfied hotel guest might say, "The staff ...
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12 votes
2 answers
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Does anyone know the expression "Aye Gannies" (or perhaps the spelling is "I gonees")

Growing up in the Missouri Ozarks we had a neighbor named Hicks who used this expression. One of Mr. Hick's frequent and unique expressions was, “I Gannies” (the “a” was short). The only other times ...
1 vote
1 answer
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Where does the "1-10" attractiveness scale come from?

When did the "1-10" attractiveness or beauty scale become part of our vocabulary? I've seen quite a few papers and books using a 1-10 attractiveness scale around the 1970s for several ...
3 votes
2 answers
119 views

What Greek preposition is in “exorcism”, “ek” or “ex”?

I realize this may not be typical for this forum, but I have seen the term translated to English in another post. I find exorcism explained with "ek" with the verb "horkizo” The word “...
23 votes
2 answers
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What is the origin of "playing into someone's hands"?

Quote: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” the US president said, as he urged democracies around the world to unite against the Russian president in a speech in Poland’s capital ...
0 votes
1 answer
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On the American usage of the words Congressman, Representative and Senator [closed]

From Merriam-Webster: congressman a member of a congress especially : a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Examples of congressman in a Sentence: a former congressman who is now a senator ...
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3 votes
2 answers
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Origin of phrase "put one over on"?

Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "put one over" or "put one over on [someone]" in the sense of to trick or deceive? The meaning is listed in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (...
0 votes
1 answer
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Is the origin of the use of the word "how" as an intensifier the bible?

Taken literally, the phrase "how lovely!" is sort of odd, as "how" is just serving as a substitute for "so" or "very". Wondering if this came about from a ...
-1 votes
1 answer
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Why does "know" start with k but "gnostic" start with g?

It appears that know and gnostic share the same etymology (PIE gnō, apparently through Greek gnōstikós). So how did they come to start with different letters?
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5 votes
1 answer
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Why do we pronounce the numerals from 13 to 19 backwards (as in thir[3]-teen[10])?

In counting, languages typically go one direction or the other. e.g., 1,234 is said "one thousand two hundred thirty four," not "four thirty two hundred one thousand." However, in ...
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Can the word "abstract" mean "to apply payment"?

I use a proprietary piece of software at work for entering AR payments and the user interface calls this process of applying payments to invoices "abstracting." This term is commonly used in ...