Questions tagged [historical-change]

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

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27 views

“Often” as a number in _Robinson Crusoe_ [closed]

In Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, the title character uses the word "often" as a number. For example, in Chapter 9 this appears. It was five feet often inches diameter at the lower part next ...
1
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0answers
47 views

What did “beep” mean in the 1800s? [closed]

According to Google Ngram Viewer the word "beep" was nearly as common in literature in the 1800s as it is today: Similar onomatopoeias such as "zap" and "honk" show almost zero usage back then. ...
65
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6answers
13k views

Was “man” a gender-neutral word in common usage at some point?

I've seen some times the claim that in the past "man" was a non-gendered word, with "wifman" referring to female individuals and "wereman" referring to male individuals. I've found some indications ...
1
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1answer
75 views

When did spelling “-ic” words “-ick” start/stop being popular?

I've been reading Gulliver's Travels(1726) and noticed almost all words that we commonly spell ending "-ic" are instead spelt "-ck" such as publick or politick. Researching online I can't find any ...
3
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0answers
88 views

Which words have historically had a final n only before a vowel?

In Modern English, the only word that has a final n only before a vowel is a/an: a face an eye In Middle English, there was the pair my/mine: my face mine eye Also, the was then ...
2
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2answers
113 views

What is the history behind how date is read?

I was trying to find out if there were reading guidelines for dates, e.g., for broadcasting or competitive recitation. There seem to be a few different accepted ways of reading out dates, e.g., 1, or ...
4
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2answers
179 views

Why do Americans pronounce “Noo York” the way they do? [duplicate]

I'm wondering if there is a historical explanation as to why the New in "New York" is pronounced /nu/ (as in "Noodles") rather than /nju/ (as in RP "New Year"). Has this always been the case? Or did ...
2
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1answer
40 views

When was “Guru” - sanskrit term meaning teacher - popularized?

I was interested to know about term Guru, when it was popularized really in Western countries ? At first I was trying to do a google books search of a word which showed that popularity of phrase ...
42
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3answers
4k views

How many birds in the bush?

There is a well known proverb, A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush However, I have discovered that the earliest English version of this proverb according to phrases.org.uk is found in John ...
3
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1answer
422 views

Why does the word “school” contain an 'h'?

Considering the low prevalence of words in English written with the letter combination "sch", why is the word "school" written the way it is, rather than simply "scool"? As far as I could tell, the ...
0
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1answer
61 views

Does one ‘have’ an academic degree, or is one ‘in’ an academic degree?

I have always referred to an academic degree as something I possess—e.g. ‘I have a degree in $subject’. However, I recently had to get my degree certificate out for a job interview and noticed that ...
5
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1answer
111 views

When did English-speakers start and stop using foreign language honorifics? [closed]

Around the middle of the twentieth century, it was usual for English speakers to refer to people from certain non-English speaking countries with honorifics in their native language, rather than ...
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1answer
74 views

Rase: another spelling of raze (literary) [closed]

Is the spelling using s as opposed to z really literary as the Microsoft® Encarta® 2009 purportedly explains? Raze 1. completely destroy place: to destroy or level a building or settlement ...
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3answers
2k views

Did the meaning of “significant” change in the 20th century?

In Do We Really Need the S-word? in 'American Scientist', the author Megan D. Higgs writes Did the people who introduced the word’s use in statistics intend for it to be interpreted according to ...
16
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7answers
736 views

How did “to wish that” come to hate the present tense in the subordinate clauses it governs, and why is it alone in this?

Inspired by this earlier question, I've realized that we have no canonical question addressing the stranglely one-of-a-kind special grammatical rules demanded by the verb wish of its subordinate ...
5
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1answer
441 views

The spelling “ui” and the pronunciation /uː/ in juice, fruit, bruise, cruise, sluice, suit, nuisance, recruit, bruit

The words juice, fruit, bruise, cruise, sluice, suit, pursuit, suitcase, lawsuit, nuisance, recruit, bruit are spelled with ui and pronounced with the IPA phoneme /uː/. Full pronunciations from OED: ...
7
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1answer
461 views

When did '&' stop being taught alongside the alphabet? [duplicate]

I've just discovered that "&" was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet, being part of alphabet songs. It was easy to discover its history (the information on the website Fast Company is ...
7
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2answers
204 views

Why did the use of “if you shall” and “if you should” dramatically decline?

Google Books statistics indicate that the use of the expression "if you should" and especially of the expression "if you shall" per unit of text length dramatically and steadily declined since the ...
2
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2answers
270 views

Are US detention centers on the US-Mexico border “concentration camps”?

There is a hot "debate" on Twitter regarding whether the detention centers used by the US border patrol to detain/hold immigrants can be called "concentration camps" or not. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ...
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0answers
63 views

The history of number in percent locutions

It seems that Ten percent of the pie is eaten is now universally? considered correct. Was there a time in the history of modern English when this was not so? That is, when are would have been ...
0
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1answer
148 views

What did “Aryan” mean in the 1930s?

Anthony Burgess once said, (through the narrator of one of his books…) “The term Aryan has a purely philological significance. It can be applied only to languages.” -Earthly Powers pg 371 The ...
4
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1answer
110 views

Was it ever standard to pronounce “malinger” to rhyme with “ginger”?

In The Pronunciation of Standard English in America, by George Philip Krapp (1919), I found the following surprising statement: For malinger the standard pronunciation is [mə´lɪndʒə̉ɹ], though ...
29
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4answers
5k views

Why are two-digit numbers in Jonathan Swift's “Gulliver's Travels” (1726) written in “German style”?

I have been reading "Gulliver's Travels" (Otherwise known more verbosely as "Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of ...
5
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2answers
82 views

Different etymologies for spoken and written forms

I know a word in another language which appears at first to have a highly irregular spelling that does not match the pronunciation. However, further examination suggests that the spoken and written ...
10
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4answers
943 views

“Indian” comes from Italian/Spanish “gente in dios” (God-like people)? False etymology?

A while ago in January The Black Hebrew Israelites were speaking/shouting/proselytizing to surrounding people at Lincoln Memorial. The speaker claimed that the word "Indian" means "savage". A member ...
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1answer
333 views

Why is “make do” considered correct

Why is "make do" considered correct? I am specifically not asking why "make due" grinds people's gears, how distressing they find it, or what they feel "make do" would mean. Lacking an etymology, ...
2
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2answers
134 views

When did “serie” become obsolete in English?

Why is series both singular and plural in English? In the other languages I am familiar with, serie is the singular. This includes Spanish, French, German, and Italian. However, it is series (in a ...
13
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2answers
345 views

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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0answers
83 views

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, ...
8
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1answer
249 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 ...
7
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3answers
800 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 ...
2
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1answer
58 views

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]?
2
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1answer
83 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
126 views

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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0answers
40 views

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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3answers
331 views

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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2answers
217 views

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 ...
7
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1answer
195 views

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 ...
2
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1answer
378 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 ...
4
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2answers
476 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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4answers
2k views

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 ...
0
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1answer
44 views

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 ...
2
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0answers
174 views

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 ...
8
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2answers
259 views

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
777 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
550 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 ...
9
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3answers
1k views

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 ...
0
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2answers
222 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. ...
81
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20answers
27k views

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 ...
1
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1answer
422 views

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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