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Questions tagged [historical-change]

For questions about how the English language has changed over time.

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Has "shut" ever meant "open"? (Bear with me, please)

I'm an English language/literature student in a non-English speaking country. As a final project for a literary translation course, my class is taking turns to translate some of the fairy tales ...
mrs-gump's user avatar
7 votes
1 answer
142 views

How did "dream" become a verb without the same thing happening to "nightmare"?

You can say I had a dream and you can say I had a nightmare. But then you can say He is dreaming, yet you cannot say He is nightmaring....you have to say He is having a nightmare. Why is that? How did ...
temporary_user_name's user avatar
2 votes
0 answers
81 views

Use of the word "tongue" to refer to a specific language

One of the meanings of the word "tongue" is "language". The word is still in use in certain expressions ("mother tongue" being one of them), and I know that in the past, ...
Al-cameleer's user avatar
2 votes
1 answer
61 views

How did we come to use at, on, in for time as we do now?

Contact me at 5 o'clock on a Monday in the new year There are many resources which explain the rules about which preposition to use for time phrases to English learners, e.g. We use at with: with ...
minseong's user avatar
  • 3,526
4 votes
1 answer
128 views

Etymology of Mecca

Most dictionaries just list it as "from Arabic", with the better ones providing the script مكة or a transcription showing that it's actually pronounced Makkah in classical and modern ...
lly's user avatar
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1 vote
2 answers
106 views

Grammatical Coherence in Hanna Arendt's Writing [closed]

I've recently come across a quote by Hanna Arendt in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil that looked quite interesting: "It is in the very nature of things ...
Andrei Suslov's user avatar
3 votes
1 answer
222 views

History of "Featherstonehaugh"

How did the surname "Featherstonehaugh" acquire its modern pronunciation /ˈfænʃɔː/, in spite of regular English sound changes?
Zeego's user avatar
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0 votes
1 answer
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Up until when did pronouncing the "wh" digraph as just "w" was considered substandard speech?

Just read this on Quora: Yes, it is true that historically, pronouncing the "wh" digraph as just "w" was considered substandard speech in English. The question is: when, exactly, ...
Ricky's user avatar
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3 votes
1 answer
126 views

When and where did 'hospice' in the sense of 'palliative care facility or program for the terminally ill' originate in English?

Merriam-Webster's Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, first edition (1898) has this entry for hospice: Hospice, n. {F., fr. L. hospitium hospitality, place where strangers are entertained, fr. hospes ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
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1 vote
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"died at New York" [duplicate]

While doing archival work I bumped into a few instances where the awkward verbiage "died at New York" appeared. Research using Google Books led me to these examples from over a century ago: ...
desmo's user avatar
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5 votes
1 answer
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When did the word 'palatable' start being used for not-related-to-food things?

I'm trying to trace back the etymology of 'palatable', but what I'm really looking for is the process of semantic expression over time. When did the word begin to be used to speak of things unrelated ...
BenzoD's user avatar
  • 59
5 votes
1 answer
235 views

Are 'biggity' and 'briggity' kin?

(Motivated by the question How common is "biggety" in Southern and Midland US?) The DARE entry for briggity has the following (edited): briggity: (also brickaty, brickety, brigaty, ...
Heartspring's user avatar
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3 votes
0 answers
142 views

Is Erich Fromm's claim that the extended use of "have" corresponds to the rise of the market economy and Protestantism accurate?

In the book To Have or to Be Erich Fromm claims using "have" in English increased due to the rise of the market economy and Protestantism. Where one is alone in the market, with their ...
user avatar
1 vote
1 answer
368 views

Why did "pigeon" replace the native word "culver"?

Pigeon is a borrowing from Anglo-Norman where the etymons are French pigon, pigeon. The earliest citation is found in Middle English, from 1375 per OED: 1375 Thomas Blont..hath indowed Dame Isabell.....
ermanen's user avatar
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4 votes
2 answers
184 views

Was the o in "go" and oe in "toe" pronounced differently in early 19th century Gloucestershire English?

No modern dialect makes the <o> and <oe> distinction, but when reading Medhurst's Hokkien dictionary of 1832 i came across (page 34) Furthermore, <o> seems to be a monophthong and &...
iamanigeeit's user avatar
19 votes
5 answers
6k views

Why do people say a dog is 'harmless' but not 'harmful'?

I'm not asking if people consider dogs dangerous or not, I'm asking about how the words 'harmless' or 'harmful' are used. Did the distinction on how the words are used arise at some point? One could ...
user avatar
3 votes
2 answers
123 views

Eighteenth-century pronounciation of "wax"

In "Against Idleness and Mischief"(1715) ("How doth the little busy bee"), Isaac Watts rhymes "wax" and "makes". Were these two words pronounced the same at the ...
Tevildo's user avatar
  • 1,293
27 votes
3 answers
7k views

How did "oxen" (plural of "ox") survive as the only plural form with the Old English plural ending -en?

Oxen is a rare exception in English where it is the only common English word that retains the original Old English plural ending -en. (Note: Children and brethren are formed a bit differently, please ...
ermanen's user avatar
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-1 votes
1 answer
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What would 'ent'/'eont' be in Modern English? [closed]

Based on typical changes, what would the Middle English word 'eont', derived from the Old English 'ent', have become in Modern English, if this word had survived?
Ichthys King's user avatar
4 votes
1 answer
160 views

Is there a documented merger or split responsible for whether or not people treat lair and layer as homophones, and if so, what is it called?

Discovered a weird bit of pronunciation distinction in friends today, between three words: lair (as in home to monster) layer (as in levels of a cake) layer (as in "one who lays things down"...
ShadowRanger's user avatar
3 votes
3 answers
385 views

What is a "pussy" when the word is used to describe a piece of British Army uniform in 1939?

I am currently transcribing and sharing my grandparents WW2 correspondence between 1939 and 1945. My question is in relation to this letter written on November 24th 1939. On page 3 my grandfather ...
Staker Humanoid's user avatar
4 votes
1 answer
1k views

Origin and evolution of the proverb "A closed mouth catches no flies"

"A closed mouth catches no flies" is a proverb, and the origins of proverbs are almost always strange and murky; I'm not really expecting a definitive answer here. Wiktionary attributes the ...
Heartspring's user avatar
  • 8,620
21 votes
4 answers
4k views

In Indian English, did the word 'griffin' ever mean newcomer or novice?

I recently came across a definition in the dictionary Hobson-Jobson. It's basically a big collection of English words and anglicizations used or found in India. The entry that's been stumping me is ...
Florian's user avatar
  • 313
4 votes
1 answer
297 views

Usage of "high school" and "secondary school" in British Columbia

I grew up in British Columbia, Canada. In the area where I grew up (Greater Vancouver), the school system was generally separated into elementary and high school, with elementary starting at ...
Pacific Dogwood's user avatar
3 votes
3 answers
642 views

History of "via"

I was wondering about different ways of writing "via" when a graph of this word's usage showed up. There is a peak in the years 1529-32 and then a sudden decline then again a peak at 1632 ...
GedankenExperimentalist's user avatar
8 votes
2 answers
417 views

Why do some irregular verbs, such as swing/swung and sting/stung, only have two forms instead of three?

Folks, my question has to do with really difficult things to understand, so I've chosen this forum and think only truly wise owls are able to help me. As you, I hope, know, lots of English irregular ...
user473457's user avatar
2 votes
1 answer
210 views

"Tranche" as synonym for "collection"

Recently there have been a tranche (:/) of news articles referring to a "tranche of documents" found in Donald Trump's possession. Most dictionaries, e.g., Merriam-Webster a division or ...
Firstrock's user avatar
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4 votes
1 answer
397 views

Why are long e and o most prone to be diphthongised by English speakers?

As a teacher of languages, it has struck me how English vowels love not just diphthongs, but even triphthongs, and this tendency presents itself in how native English speakers generally tend to ...
Canned Man's user avatar
2 votes
1 answer
552 views

Are "orange" and "ginger" synonymous (cat color)?

I recently watched a movie A street cat named Bob, where the cat was described as ginger cat. I thought the color of the cat is described as orange, too. (confirmed with google image search) The ...
sundowner's user avatar
  • 647
3 votes
3 answers
460 views

How did "ought" lose its original usage as the past tense of "owe"?

Ought is originally the past tense of owe (v.). It appears that this usage is retained in Scottish and in some dialects of English. The current use of ought in standard English is a modal auxiliary (...
ermanen's user avatar
  • 63.4k
1 vote
1 answer
806 views

Emergence of “got it sorted”

I grew up in England (in the Midlands, in the 1960s) and if there was some issue or confusion that I had successfully resolved, I would have said “I sorted it out”, or “I got it sorted out”. I haven’t ...
bubba's user avatar
  • 869
1 vote
0 answers
80 views

Why did English start verbalizing Latin past participles, not keep nativizing infinitive suffixes like it used to do to French verbs? [closed]

The way English adapted French verbs used to be quite straightforward: swap the French infinitive suffixes with Middle English -en: Latin crīdāre > Old French crier > Middle English crien (13th ...
Vun-Hugh Vaw's user avatar
  • 5,401
3 votes
0 answers
151 views

How did -ing become a suffix for both present participles and nouns derived from verbs?

In non-modern and non-Middle-English Germanic languages, present participles and nouns derived from verbs look and sound very different: English: wend - wending - wending Middle English: wenden - ...
Vun-Hugh Vaw's user avatar
  • 5,401
8 votes
1 answer
146 views

Pattern to Old English verbs-of-making-adjective?

The other night (after hearing someone on TV say "smoothen"), I noticed that a fair number of Anglo-Saxon-derived adjectives tend to come in pairs where the more "distinguished" or ...
Quuxplusone's user avatar
  • 2,734
4 votes
0 answers
295 views

'To lie' and 'to lay' / 'to rise' and 'to raise' / 'to fall' and 'to fell' <-- Did English used to have more pairs like this?

My understanding is that there aren't many pairs of intransitive and transitive verbs in modern English. Off-hand, I know of three (though I think there are more): lie vs lay rise vs raise fall vs ...
Sweet Sheep's user avatar
2 votes
1 answer
144 views

Is "different than" ungrammatical? [closed]

THIS IS NOT A DUPLICATE QUESTION. This question does not duplicate that question that is cited that this question is a duplicate of, as was already fully explored and explained in the body of this ...
Benjamin Harman's user avatar
22 votes
3 answers
4k views

When and why did the word "pasta" become commonly used?

I remember sometime around 1980 that people started calling pasta... "pasta". I was in a used book store this past weekend and stumbled across two copies of the Better Homes and Gardens New ...
Bob Kaufman's user avatar
3 votes
1 answer
167 views

"Dementia" today vs 100 years ago -- did it mean the same thing?

I know that words for mental illnesses have changed quite a bit in the past century or so. Informally, I think most people see a difference between "crazy" and "unintelligent" ...
releseabe's user avatar
  • 603
5 votes
2 answers
551 views

Why do some folk songs from 1930s Appalachia pronounce the word 'Jordan' as 'Jerdon'?

In two songs I've listened to recently, "River of Jordan" by The Carter Family (1929-1932) and "Wayfaring Stranger" by Doc Watson (1992, but was almost certainly first played much ...
user438383's user avatar
2 votes
0 answers
233 views

Can obsolete words be reintroduced? [closed]

I personally really like to use the word overmorrow. It is convenient to use, and much shorter compared to the traditionally used the day after tomorrow. However, according to this answer the word has ...
Jop Knoppers's user avatar
1 vote
1 answer
320 views

What is the original semantic difference between "projectile" and "missile"?

Let consider context (e.g. historical recent past) where modern meaning of missile as a self-propelled ordinance with reactive or jet engine doesn't exist. Then its original meaning is "an ...
Swift's user avatar
  • 215
2 votes
3 answers
583 views

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 ...
Cascabel_StandWithUkraine_'s user avatar
19 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why are typewriter keys referred to as “stops”, especially when compared to organ stops?

I have been listing to an audio book of The Hound of the Baskervilles. In it there is a line which says “…with her fingers over the typewriter stops…”. I am assuming this is referring to the keys of ...
Puffafish's user avatar
  • 343
5 votes
2 answers
823 views

When did "sink" start referring to the tap as well?

A current TikTok trend involves someone asking another person to "turn off the sink". In a play with the term "turn off", the second person then goes to the sink and says something ...
Unrelated's user avatar
  • 4,933
0 votes
0 answers
75 views

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 ...
Simd's user avatar
  • 2,501
0 votes
0 answers
22 views

Why is "should" used instead of "would" all over The Fellowship of the Ring? [duplicate]

Over and over again, the author uses "should" where "would" would be right: I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well ...
Cortes K.'s user avatar
5 votes
3 answers
2k views

Origin of "the likes of which X has [or have or had] never seen"

One of Donald Trump's favorite rhetorical flourishes was (and perhaps still is) the wording "the likes of which X has [or have] never seen." While president, he used it on a number of ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
  • 165k
5 votes
2 answers
360 views

What is the origin of "huge"?

What is the origin of the word huge (adj. and adv.) meaning "very great, large, or big; immense, enormous, vast"? Both OED and Etymonline say that it might be from an Old French word which ...
ermanen's user avatar
  • 63.4k
7 votes
5 answers
1k views

Why do we use two different verb forms for sentences like “that person is broke” versus “that person is broken”?

We usually use only a verb’s past participle when we need to make an adjective out of it, not its past tense—but not always. Sometimes we even use both forms but assign these two different meanings! ...
sen's user avatar
  • 81
-2 votes
0 answers
101 views

Has the word individual 'outcompeted' that of person historically?

Would it be correct to say that the word individual have 'outcompeted' that of person since 17th century in everyday English, as well as in social sciences? According to etymonline.com's entry on ...
Giorgi's user avatar
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