Questions tagged [historical-change]

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

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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 ...
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19 votes
3 answers
2k 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 ...
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5 votes
1 answer
153 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 ...
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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 no ...
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3 votes
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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 ...
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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 ...
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5 votes
1 answer
254 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 ...
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5 votes
2 answers
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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 ...
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7 votes
5 answers
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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! ...
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-1 votes
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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 ...
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English words ending with -enk/-eng

Why aren’t words ending with -enk/-eng more common in Modern English?
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25 votes
2 answers
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When and why did English stop pronouncing ‘hour’ with an [h] like its spelling still shows?

As a non-native speaker, I had been pronouncing hour in the literal, letter-by-letter way as [ˈhaʊə(ɹ)]. Then I learned that its written h is silent in speech, and that you therefore needed to say an ...
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4 votes
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How did English come to use a writing system which makes spelling it so hard?

Alphabetic writing systems use graphemes to represent phonemes. But in their “Psychology of Reading” chapter of 2003’s Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, researchers Simon Garrod and Meredyth Daneman ...
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Why is the verb "Pilot" capitalized in Robinson Crusoe?

The following is an excerpt from Robinson Crusoe (Oxford World's Classics, p39). my Business was to hold my Breath, and raise my self upon the Water, if I could; and so by swimming to preserve my ...
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What is a 'Jack' (as in Jack, Queen, King') ? When was it so designated?

In Charles Dicken's Great Expectations, published in 1861, when Pip, the hero, plays cards with his friend Estella, the narrative states : “He calls the knaves Jacks, this boy!” said Estella with ...
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6 votes
1 answer
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When did the California Vowel Shift begin?

When did the California Vowel Shift begin: as soon as California was settled by English speakers? Or did it develop later?
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1 vote
1 answer
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How did the name pronunciation of the letter Z as 'zee' become the consensus in American English?

According to Wikipedia as well as my own experiences interacting with people of different nationalities, the pronunciation of 'Z' seems to have maintained some variation of the hard t- sound from the ...
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How do clichés evolve and change?

I'm unsure if this isn't better suited for Literature SE, so bear with me, I'll take it over there if voted to close. A friend shared an image with me where someone was complaining that Pride and ...
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A word for drain plugs in boats?

In row boats, and similar boats, there is a drain plug, which is taken out when it is ashore, to empty for water. In Norwegian the term used is 'nygle', and in Icelandic 'nöldur'. In contemporary ...
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He had his ears bored

I’m reading The Underground Railroad by Coleson Whitehead. Early in the first chapter he writes: “Her last husband had his ears bored for stealing honey. The wounds gave up pus until he wasted away.” ...
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3 votes
2 answers
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Origin of stating indirect object by sentence structure and no pronoun

Background Consider the following from The Punisher season 2, with names replaced to avoid spoilers: ― Where is Donna, Jim? You tell me where she is, maybe I can pull your ass out of the fire with ...
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3 votes
1 answer
538 views

What caused the changes in pronunciation of the hard "G" in "Los Angeles"?

I know there was a long debate about whether "Los Angeles" should be pronounced like the English (soft-G, as in "jelly") or the Spanish (heavy-H as in "Jose"), and given ...
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0 votes
1 answer
141 views

What did post-vocalic r sound like in the UK before it died out?

As far as I understand it most UK dialects became non-rhotic at some point in the 19th century - but was the r sound previously heard in words like park similar to today's American pronunciation, or ...
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"If it were not for" and "if it had not been for": Which is more traditional?

Some use "if it were not for" to mean both the present and the past events, while others use "if it had not been for" for the past. For the former, see Oxford and be (verb) in OALD....
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4 votes
2 answers
728 views

From ‘cupboard’, a chair is taken out?

It seems to me that ‘cupboard’ in the 21st century is usually a closet or cabinet; a piece of furniture usually with shelves for storing food, crockery, and utensils. But early in the 20th century, ‘...
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Etymology of “that” as both pronoun and conjunction

“That” can be used both as a pronoun and as a conjunction. For example, I know that it is raining. Give me that. This is unique to English as far as I know. In French and Spanish, for example, the ...
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2 votes
1 answer
266 views

What's the meaning of "Ma" when a husband addresses his wife?

I know "Ma" is the shortened form of Mother. Yesterday I saw a classic movie named "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Ford in 1940. In the movie the father of the family calls his wife &...
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3 votes
1 answer
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Why did "it" lose its initial 'h' but other pronouns such as "him" and "her" didn't?

The pronouns it, him, her had an initial h in the older forms of English which has been retained in her, him, but lost in it (formerly hit). Etymology of it (Wikitionary): From Middle English it, hit ...
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0 votes
1 answer
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Was "bicycle" ever pronounced "bi-cycle" and if so where and when? [duplicate]

Was "bicycle" ever pronounced "bi-cycle" and if so where and when? What's the source?
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Using the indefinite article or zero article with "20/20 vision" when referring to sight measurements

While looking at the search results for "a 20/20 vision" in a question on ELL asking whether there should be an article before 20/20 vision, I noticed that many of the results that were the ...
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History of the use of "none" for countable nouns

The concept of countable nouns seems to be rapidly disappearing from modern English (e.g. I'm seeing "the amount of people" with increasing frequency, even in reputable publications, which ...
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5 votes
2 answers
494 views

Pronunciation of “master” and “plaster” in Northern England

A pattern I've noticed in Northern England is that people of my age (born in the '90s) pronounce words like “master” and “plaster” with a short A (/a/), whereas anyone of my parents' generation (born ...
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Why does "broad" not rhyme with "boat"?

The word "broad" is pronounced /brɔːd/ (some US accents: /brɑːd/) instead of */brəʊd/. The spelling -OA- somehow suggests that these words are closely related and/or were pronounced the same ...
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3 votes
2 answers
342 views

Was there a /t͡ʃ/ to /k/ sound change from Old English?

I stumbled upon a strange thing while looking up the etymology of words ending in "le". I looked up "kettle" and saw that it was pronounced with /t͡ʃ/ in Old English and also in ...
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0 votes
1 answer
155 views

Why did the vowel in "Christ" become long in moving from Old English to Middle English?

I have read the following question and all the answers, and they do not answer my question, so it is not a duplicate: Why are the vowels in Christ and Christmas different? (and other strange diphthong ...
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6 votes
2 answers
295 views

Why did some English verbs lose nasal endings?

I saw this ending in many words of Old English origin where a word has -an in Old English but then lost in Modern English. Examples: habban, climban, sceþþan, singan, offrian etc. I noticed another ...
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-5 votes
4 answers
223 views

tale otherwise so utterly improbable

In Chapter Seven of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I saw the following sentence: I remembered also the nervous fever with which I had been seized just at the time that I dated my creation, and which ...
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4 votes
1 answer
421 views

Was there a D to TH sound change in English?

I looked up the etymology of "father" and see what Etymology Dictionary says: Old English fæder "he who begets a child, nearest male ancestor;" It clearly says "fæder" ...
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1 vote
1 answer
154 views

Chanterelle and Chantrelle, which is the correct name of the mushroom?

I always spell it as chanterelle until I bought a box of CHANTRELLE in Whole Foods Market. I looked up my dictionary, and yes, the word should be chanterelle. However, I also noticed that, the word ...
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2 votes
1 answer
291 views

Would an American girl aged 12-14 really use the "F-word" casually like this in 1947?

In the 1997 movie "Lolita", in the beginning set in 1947, there is a scene where Dolores Haze (12 or 14, White, girl) has this conversation with a friend: Mary Rose: "See you later, ...
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0 votes
1 answer
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Why did "which" lose its L (it was "hwilch")?

It appears that the word which originally had an L in its spelling as well as pronunciation. But its modern pronunciation doesn't have an L. Wikitionary has: From Middle English which, hwic, wilche, ...
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1 vote
1 answer
73 views

palatization of y- from *ga-

Premises The common Proto-Germanic prefix *ga‑ affixed to past participles was reduced in Modern English, obscuring its historical participial morphology now beyond modern recognition, as seen for ...
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23 votes
4 answers
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Why did the F of "sneeze" and "snore" change to an S in English history?

The etymologies of "sneeze" and "snore" suggest that they were once pronounced with /f/. Here is what Wiktionary (from which all the following information also comes) says: From ...
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0 votes
0 answers
82 views

Was there any change from /u:/ to /ə/ (US: /ɚ/) in the history of English?

The /tʃ/ in the word "nature" is the result of palatalization (see this question). If I understand it correctly, the /t/ (nat) and and /j/ (ure) fused and produced /tʃ/. The letter U had the ...
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10 votes
3 answers
911 views

When and where did 'bulldozer' originate, what did it originally apply to, and how did it come to refer to earth-moving machinery?

In “How to Steal an Election,” an editorial in this Sunday’s New York Times, historian Jon Grinspan writes, In the [U.S.] South at the end of Reconstruction, white Democratic rifle clubs “policed” ...
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3 votes
2 answers
395 views

Best word to describe “historically used formally but no longer acceptable”?

What is a good word to use to describe a word that was used in history but now is becoming obsolete in literature because of its racial, cultural, or ethical bias implications? For example, what is a ...
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0 votes
0 answers
72 views

Merger of Early Modern English 'ir' with 'ur' and 'er'+'ear'

Before /r/, /ɪ/ merged with either /ʊ/ or /ɛ/, depending on context. After labials (plus clusters of labials and /l/) and alveolar stops (like in bird and dirt), the result was /ʊ/ (shown, among other ...
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1 vote
4 answers
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Extremism: what’s the cultural history of this word?

“Extremism” sounds like an ideology, by analogy with Marxism for example. Or it could be akin to a behavioural state like mutism or autism. With respect to these different directions, I’m wondering ...
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2 votes
2 answers
90 views

"Fork(s) of the road" to "fork in the road". Why the switch? [closed]

I was reading a recent New Yorker article: "How the Promise of Normalcy Won the 1920 Election" (Sept. 14, 2020) Where the Democratic nominee for President of the US, James M. Cox of Ohio, ...
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21 votes
2 answers
2k views

Countries ending with -Y vs. -IA: What is the pattern?

I wonder why some country names in English are suffixed with -y (Lombardy, Italy, Hungary, Saxony, Sicily) and some with -ia (Bulgaria, Austria, Bavaria, Sardinia). I understand the etymology: "-...
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