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Questions tagged [historical-change]

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

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Has the meaning of the English colour name “pink” changed since the early 1900s?

This question was inspired by this one from skeptics.se, about the use of pink and blue clothing to denote the sex of babies. In noting cultures which have the reverse arrangement (i.e. some sort of ...
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Did English ever have a subjunctive mood?

Coming from this answer and comments under, I realized that all Germanic languages have only the present tense and the past tense. Many also have a full set of subjunctive moods. To reduce ambiguity, ...
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106 views

Is there a reason for the prefix change of in-/un- in about the 60s period for these words?

I was looking up words beginning with prefix in-, the prefix meaning "opposite" or "negative". There is a pattern I've noticed, namely the one mentioned on Online Etymology Dictionary: The rule of ...
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758 views

How old is the use of “steal” for non-rival goods?

In the debate on copyright, there is a long-time discussion on the appropriateness of the word steal to refer to "make a copy of a non-rival good"; see for instance this article, or this essay. How ...
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1answer
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How come we write drought and draught but pronounce [draut] and [dra:ft] or write enough and though but pronounce [i’naf] and [đou]? [duplicate]

How come we write drought and draught but pronounce [draut] and [dra: ft] or write enough and though but pronounce [i’naf] and [đou]?
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1answer
70 views

If you had a list of common words from Middle and Modern English, how many words would have been replaced?

If you compiled a list of common Middle English words and their corresponding Modern English translations, how many entries would have been replaced by an etymologically distinct word in Modern ...
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2answers
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What did 'rap' mean in 1970?

I found these folders (think pee chees) among a pile of school supplies. They reference "rap" in sort of a hippie look (and... is that John Wayne??), dated 1970. Presumably wrap is referring to folder,...
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Have any English words been turned foreign only to be then used again in English in an altered state? [duplicate]

What are some examples of English words that got taken into use in a foreign language in a changed state, and then subsequently re-entered the English language in state B or even state C.
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Origins of '[politician's last name] derangement syndrome' and of 'derangement' in the sense of 'insanity'

In recent months, Donald Trump has characterized critics of his administration as suffering from "Trump Derangement Syndrome"—presumably, an irrational hostility to anything Trump says or does. The ...
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The use of “male”/“female” (instead of e.g. “man”/“woman”) in everyday speech

In contemporary English, the terms "male" and "female" seem to be almost as commonly applied to people as "man" and "woman". For example, I see people posting questions on certain StackExchange sites ...
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When did “our” stop being used as an adjective (as in “other our dominions”, “any our Subjects”)?

While reading a letter written by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1588, I came across a certain construction that doesn't seem to be grammatical in English: RIGHT trustie, and righte welbelovid ...
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1answer
131 views

Historical connections between “carnival” and “cannibalism”?

This may be a somewhat disturbing question, but as a non-native speaker, the word carnival seems very similar to a totally different word called cannibalism. I’m well aware of the difference between ...
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2answers
165 views

Why is the phrase “cake walk” informally used to describe an easy to achieve task, while its origin says a different story?

From Oxford Dictionaries Online: cakewalk ˈkeɪkwɔːk/ noun 1. (informal) an absurdly or surprisingly easy task. "winning the league won't be a cakewalk for them" 2. historical a ...
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Is the term Indian Giver politically correct?

My son is Cherokee & uses this term & I was concerned if that is a proper term. I thought it originated because the US government historically gave land & such to tribes, then took it back ...
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1answer
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When did 'some one' turn to 'someone'?

I was recently reading a book from sometime in the first half of the 20th century and I noticed that the word ‘someone’ was spelled separately as ‘some one’. Was there an official change at some ...
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What is the character set of the (written) English language? [closed]

More specifically: What dictionaries or lexicons (considering all ever published) of the English language contain exhaustive lists of the characters or symbols used in the formation of the words ...
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History of additional sounds introduced to English

Today I was curious about the rarity of the consonant cluster sr in the English language. I found a WordReference forum from 2006 that asked about the matter. The general response is that because ...
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2answers
258 views

Please explain the definition of Feisty

I thought I knew the correct definition but now I was told I'm using it wrong. I was trying to describe a certain (rescue) dogs personality to someone and I said that he can be a bit feisty when ...
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2answers
319 views

Origins of the 'editorial we' and its counterpart, the 'editorial I'

In researching an unrelated EL&U answer, I came across this commentary in an item titled "Hobart Town" in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (November 10, 1829): These three ...
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3answers
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Did “user” have positive or negative connotation in 1950?

Since the advent of ubiquitous technology, the meaning of "user" is best know as the person sitting in front of the computer or similar device. I am studying the history of computing and want to ...
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2answers
202 views

Has there been any theory on the vowel /o/ that was inserted into words like “arrow”?

Words like tomorrow, sorrow, arrow, follow, borough contain /o/, as in the diphthong /oʊ/, which was /wə(n)/ in Middle English which was weakened from Old English /x/ or /ɣ/ + some sort of vowel. ...
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Words with “bi-” prefix that no longer mean “two”

Are there words in English that include the prefix bi- whose current usage includes meanings other than 'two'? To clarify, I am specifically looking for the prefix of Latin origin meaning "two". If ...
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1answer
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If you aren't “immune”, could you be “mune”? [closed]

In English, "immune", meaning "invulnerable", seems to be the antithesis of a hypothetical word "mune", which would logically mean "vulnerable". Is there, or has there ever been a word "mune", to ...
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1answer
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Has “thanks” always been as common of a courtesy as it now is?

I'm watching the series Boardwalk Empire, a period drama set in the early 1920s, and an odd thing I notice is that people often do not say "thanks" or "thank you" when I'd expect them to–for example, ...
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Before the 20th century, how did people express ideas like “X isn't going to happen anytime soon”?

Something I was writing recently included the phrase "They aren't going to disappear anytime soon." I was a bit unsure about whether to write "any time" or "anytime", so I looked that up and found ...
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1answer
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Could “nailed” mean “bound” here?

... In this case, the child was nailed to the stem of a cocoanut tree and so left to die, the best punishment, as was thought, for a demon, who had the impudence to be born of a human mother... EDIT: ...
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3answers
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The recent invention of the word “heterosexual”

I read an article on the BBC whose title caught my interest. It's called "The invention of heterosexuality". It's quite a lengthy article, and goes through what it claims is the very short history of ...
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1answer
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Does the term “farm-to-table” as a contemporary food movement derive from early 20th century govt. programs?

One of the hot phrases of the day for foodies in the United States is farm to table. This "social movement" is described in good detail on Wikipedia, however, there is no mention of how old the term ...
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1answer
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Is there any evidence for “altercate” ever having been pronounced with stress on the second syllable?

In modern English, polysyllabic verbs ending in -ate are regularly stressed on the third-to-last syllable. (There are some (possible) exceptions, such as incarnate, impregnate, and elongate.) But it ...
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1answer
147 views

'Gwine': How accurate is the African-American dialect in early 20th c writing?

A recent question here about "fo' sho'" produced answers with a number of quotes of Southern US or AAE (African American English) varieties. To my ear, these quotes sounded awful and I question their ...
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1answer
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Renaissance pronunciation of “thither”: θiðr or ðiðr?

I've seen the thread on voiced/unvoiced "thither," but it doesn't quite answer the question. It seems like maybe the word began falling out of regular speech right around the time initial "th" was ...
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1answer
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When did 'profanity' lose its inoffensiveness?

Strictly speaking, "profane" simply means something that is not sacred. Generally speaking though, "profane" and "profanity" are taken to mean vulgarity or offensive language or behaviour. At the ...
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2answers
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Is “occurence” a word?

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&filter=dictionary&query=occurence It seems that occurence is not a word, but a friend said it is because he says he found it in the OED....
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1answer
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“Out of respect” versus other “out of”

Why do English people employ the expression "out of respect" (for dead people, for example) to denote respectful attention, whereas other expressions based on "out of" are more denoting: something ...
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1answer
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For how long has “plead” been used as a verb counterpart to “plea” (noun) even though both words historically have both verb and noun forms?

In modern writing about legal affairs, it is common to say something along the lines of: The judge heard his guilty plea. and He decided to plead guilty. It seems to me like in this legal ...
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1answer
527 views

Silent consonants in words like lawn, dawn [closed]

Is it w or wn?I have no idea,kindly help me out? What about in words like rogue,does ue or u count as silent consonants although they are clearly vowels?
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3answers
352 views

Why isn't “examine” pronounced like “exhamyne”? [closed]

Since "mine" sounds like: https://translate.google.com/#en/en/mine Then "examine" should sound like: https://translate.google.com/#en/en/exhamyne But it does not, why? To hear the pronunciations ...
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1answer
214 views

At what point did “what a shame” come to mean “what a disappointment” or “what a missed opportunity”?

This is the common usage of "what a shame". used for expressing sympathy or disappointment (MacMillan Dictionary) another common usage spoken used when you wish a situation was different (...
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1answer
248 views

Origin and evolution of 'on the bubble' in senses related to 'having an uncertain outcome'

Yesterday's print New York Times had this headline for a story about activists trying to persuade Senator Susan Collins of Maine to vote against the tax bill now before Congress (the online headline ...
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Why has the “plague” on our houses become a “pox?”

There is a famous phrase in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Mercutio: A plague o' both your houses! This phrase is often alluded to in contemporary writing. But in the 20th century, ...
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711 views

History of the phrase “strange fruit”

Appearances in the early 19th century, and before, tie some figurative uses of the phrase 'strange fruit' to religion and politics, and then later to US racism, particularly southern racism. For ...
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3answers
293 views

Connotative history and recent usage of “Person / People of color”

In its remarks on of color, the OED online includes a link reading "compare earlier coloured, adj. 3b." It marks "colored / coloured" as a way to refer to people with non-white skin as "now usually ...
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6answers
754 views

Did a “spliff” originally refer to a mixture of tobacco and cannabis or just cannabis?

This question occurred to me as I was attempting to form an answer to this question: Where does the word “spliff” come from? In answering his own question, tchrist points to multiple sources arguing ...
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3answers
3k views

'Forward' pronounced more often as 'foward'?

'Forward', in General American English (GenAmE), is typically pronounced ˈfȯr-wərd with strong first r and a little weaker second r (GenAmE is very rhotic). But anecdotally, I'm hearing more and ...
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3answers
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How did a “ton” come to mean “one hundred” of something?

The etymology of "ton" is described by the OED as derived from French meaning "cask." In origin the same word as tun n.1 (Old English tunne, Old French tonne) a cask. In Middle English this was ...
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3answers
312 views

Change in meaning of word “faithful”

When and why was the definition of the word "faithful" changed from being "full of faith (TO something or someone else) or faith-filled" to being "worthy of faith (FROM someone else), trustworthy, or ...
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1answer
54 views

expression “that would have been a monumental moment!”, correct? [closed]

A famous person in the field said to me "I met this popular guy xx in a conference" I wanted to respond by saying "you two gurus met? that would have been a monumental moment" does this grammatically ...
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3answers
922 views

What is a better word for 'condescending' (whose meaning has changed)?

In the course of my work I have to report on the way I have conducted myself with regard to people who may be of limited capacity or who have learning disabilities. I am required to indicate in my ...
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4answers
983 views

Can we call it a dry spell?

Based on the OED, it looks like the term "dry spell" originally meant an extended period of time without rain, and has since been figuratively extended to mean a period of time without something ...
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2answers
128 views

English can be a right dastard sometimes. Why not?

Bastard, meaning one begotten and born out of wedlock, is a very old word from Old French (earliest OED citation 1297). Dastard, meaning one who meanly or basely shrinks from danger; a mean, base, or ...