Questions tagged [history]

Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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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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1 vote
1 answer
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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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9 votes
5 answers
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What's the grammatical logic of emphatic phrases like "I do eat sushi"?

Let's consider, for example, this excerpt from a poem by Grenfell: Those ancient Jew boys went like stinks, They knew not reck nor fear, Old Noah knocked the first two jinks, And Nimrod got the spear....
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19 votes
3 answers
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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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1 vote
0 answers
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How was the è in past-tense verbs pronounced?

How would Shakespeare have pronounced damnèd for example? How about the end of Nurse's Song by Blake: The little ones leapèd, and shoutèd, and laugh'd And all the hills echoèd How would he have ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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Earliest recorded use of legit as a short form for legitimate [closed]

What is the earliest known record of legit being used as a short form for legitimate? Example: Too legit to quit.
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2 votes
1 answer
101 views

Why are write/wrote, ride/rode but strike/struck?

Why do write and ride change to o in the simple past (wrote/rode) but strike changes to u (struck)?
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-4 votes
1 answer
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History of "literally": Who changed the definition of "literally" to no longer mean "figuratively" in the first place? [duplicate]

According to my research, "literally" used to mean "figuratively", or at least it was used by many people to mean "figuratively" several centuries ago. Yet, although ...
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19 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 ...
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0 answers
31 views

Origin of phrase "hold harmless"?

Why not use "immune", "exempt", or "unaccountable" rather than the awkward phrase "hold harmless" in legal documents? Is there historical context for the use of ...
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1 answer
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Reader, when did non-fiction writers start breaking the fourth wall? [closed]

Breaking the fourth wall is usually considered a theatrical concept, but Wikipedia notes that it can also occur in literature (ie. fiction). Use of the fourth wall in literature can be traced back as ...
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1 answer
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Why do they refer to the main character of this 1951 Disney short as literally "Fat"?

In the 1951 animated short titled Tomorrow We Diet*, the main guy (Goofy) is repeatedly referred to as "Fat". Not "being fat", but literally "Fat": Hello, Fat! Where to,...
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19 votes
1 answer
4k views

What sport is being referenced in the phrase "take one for the team"?

"Take one for the team" is a ubiquitous expression that can quickly be understood as putting yourself in an unfavorable position for the benefit of the larger group. But the expression ...
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2 votes
0 answers
35 views

What is the etymology or history of "Your" for addressing a noble?

There are several ways of noble addressing, such as: Third person - female (Her) Third person - male (His) Second person (Your) e.g : Your Highness But, what are the meanings behind that? Why it ...
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2 votes
7 answers
1k views

What is the name of the people that yell "repent!"?

I'm thinking of men and women etc. that visit towns or town squares and yell about end of days, repent, Jesus will return and all that. Often they bear a cross or signage. It's definitely been a ...
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0 votes
1 answer
170 views

First appearance of "ran over a cockerel" Joke

With the death of the UK Comedy Legend that was Barry Cryer, many of the obituaries are mentioning his favorite joke (which is proliferating across the internet yet again) ... was once asked by the ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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Jury: oath-takers or judges? [closed]

Familiar as we may be with the modern jury, the right to judgment by peers is set forth in the Magna Carta: NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or ...
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2 votes
2 answers
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History of "tough as nails"

I would like to know the history of this idiom because I have heard it so many times throughout the year, especially in movies. I understand the meaning of it as "very tough". However, I am ...
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0 votes
0 answers
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Why is "Who's From Out Of Town?" the "classic" standup bit?

I've heard numerous references to this line in various places but have not been able to pin down the origin. Presumably, the joke is that a performer will ask this question to the audience, and when ...
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2 votes
2 answers
222 views

Was the word "inoculation" regularly used for introducing a disease for purposes other than inducing immunity?

While researching the history/historiography of the British potentially spreading smallpox via blankets at the siege of Fort Pitt during Pontiac's War, I came across General Amherst's letters. These ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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Why 'd' in 'Aeneid'?

The Latin poem Aeneis is Aeneid in English. How did the last d come about? A few suspects by quick search: /ð/ → /d/ shift in English, but there must be a shift /s/ → /ð/. It seems romance languages ...
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Origin of the Expression: "Yes, Harriet"

When I was a child (in the 1970s) when my mother asked my father to do something that he had already planned to do, he would say "Yes, Harriet". Can anyone tell me where this expression &...
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-1 votes
1 answer
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About the words "Speed" and "Velocity"

Physics guys closed these questions so I am here From our daily experiences we know that whenever a body is moving with certain speed, it is always associated with a certain direction. How can you ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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Why ships and countries are 'her' in the old texts but not 'it'?

I have read both of these two good questions and answers and I got the answer of my question, that in the modern English "it" is used more than "her" while referring to a ship or ...
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6 votes
1 answer
218 views

When did the change occur in meaning of Afghan from an ethnic group to "person from Afghanistan?"

A related question can be found here, dealing with the usage of "Afghan" to mean "inhabitant of Afghanistan." Which term is correct — "Afghan" or "Afghani"? I'm ...
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6 votes
1 answer
239 views

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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4 votes
3 answers
181 views

What did Adam Smith mean by "wretched natives of singular colour"?

In Book IV, Chapter 7 of The Wealth of Nations, when Adam Smith discusses the return of Columbus, he makes this statement: ... all of which [some objects] were preceded by six or seven of the ...
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1 vote
1 answer
106 views

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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1 vote
0 answers
74 views

Why does the demonym "Canadian" appear irregular?

In particular - Given that people from America are Americans, why are people from Canada not *Canadans? I'm in search of a historical and etymological answer, addressing questions such as the date and ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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What are the origins of title case? [duplicate]

As far as I'm aware, English is the only language that uses title case for capitalizing titles of media, article headlines, buttons in computer interfaces and more. However, I could find little on the ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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What is this naming convention called? [duplicate]

Many historical figures (of antiquity) have names of the form "X the Y". Some real, historical examples are: Wayland the Smith William the Conquerer Attila the Hun This concept has also ...
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1 vote
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Is there a word in a dead or lost language that we lost the definition to? [closed]

Is there a word we lost the definition to? A word whose definition we lost to history? Something that is a part of our history but we forgot the meaning with time
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27 votes
5 answers
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Why the "wedded" in "wedded wife"?

Typical wedding vows, per e.g. this website, often have phrasing like this (emphasis mine): [Groom’s name], do you take [Bride’s name] to be your wedded wife, to live together in marriage? Do you ...
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2 votes
3 answers
160 views

Did quotation marks have other applications or uses, like for emphasis?

I have frequently observed instances of quotation marks being used in interesting ways, often with rather funny implications. Here are some notable examples of unnecessary or suspicious quotation ...
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1 vote
0 answers
53 views

What is an old English cultural word for a person who is sexually liberated or has looser sexual morals? [closed]

I am looking for a word that used to describe sexually liberated or sexually open or promiscious people in a cultural period of United States. I do not remember which period, but anywhere in the 1700-...
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1 vote
1 answer
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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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1 vote
2 answers
95 views

Why do we say latitude and longitude instead of longitude and latitude? [closed]

Latitude measures degree from the equator and longitude measures the degree from the prime meridian, each corresponding to the x-axis and y-axis of the world. However, normally when we are talking ...
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1 vote
1 answer
75 views

Is there a word for the bias of not knowing what came before?

Is there a word or phrase for the bias of not knowing what came before? Of thinking that an idea under consideration is truly new? I'm looking for a word to describe the bias that comes from this ...
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3 votes
1 answer
121 views

What is the origin of "set" (noun) as used in "television set"? Tubes?

The colloquial (and mostly archaic) term "television set" invokes a narrow use of set (noun). Merriam-Webster defines this as: (22) an apparatus of electronic components assembled so as to ...
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17 votes
3 answers
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Etymological origin and earliest recorded occurrence of 'saunter' in English

Someone just sent me a quotation from the explorer/naturalist John Muir, in which he makes the following etymological claim: Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. Away ...
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5 votes
3 answers
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Publick or Public? in the 18th and 19th Century Britain

The spelling of -ck was more popular than -c in many words in Britain. But in America, Noah Webster proposed around 1800 to replace -ck by -c, which caused the widespread of this -c spelling in US. In ...
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1 vote
1 answer
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Did "A F" exist as an intensifier prior to social media?

"A F" is short for "as fuck". It popped into my lexicon a few years ago, when I started hearing it in Youtube videos. (See this video as an example, although this wasn't where I ...
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0 votes
0 answers
59 views

Minimizing the Number of Syllables when Pronouncing Years

Question Do native English speakers minimize the number of syllables when they pronounce years? Furthermore, is there linguistics/psychology literature on this phenomenon? Observations Here is a ...
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4 votes
2 answers
162 views

Are there historical examples of "unchartered territory" used correctly?

People have been mistakenly saying "unchartered" instead of "uncharted" when speaking informally, but now even major news networks are doing it. E.g.: CTV News — 'Unchartered ...
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3 votes
2 answers
149 views

Around 1970 in Britain, was this use of 'shall', in 'You shall go (=I let you go)', already out-of-date in daily conversation?

A striking grammatical difference between BE and AE is the various uses of auxiliary verbs (now, modal verbs) of will and shall. When I was a high school boy studying English without any chance of ...
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46 votes
10 answers
7k views

Around 1960 in Britain "Have you a camera?" or "Do you have a camera?"

Around 1960, when we began learning English in Japan, we were taught British English. To our great surprise, we were forced to change into American English in the next grade. Japanese English teachers ...
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33 votes
2 answers
5k views

Why is the zh (ʒ) sound so infrequent in English?

I've always heard that the "zh" (ʒ) sound (e.g. in "vision", "usually") was an uncommon sound in the English language. A quick Google search returns multiple results (...
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14 votes
4 answers
3k views

Why do translations refer to the original language with a definite article, e.g. "translated from the Spanish"?

In general in English, we don't ever apply the definitive article to languages. We don't say "He speaks the Japanese" or "It was originally written in the French." But for ...
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10 votes
3 answers
3k views

Is the phrase "stone-throwing devil" actually a slur?

Inspired by this question. What is the etymology of the phrase "stone-throwing devil"? Is there any evidence that it has been used as either a racial or religious slur historically or in ...
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0 votes
1 answer
110 views

Are there rules or trends for -ty vs -ness in general? Could "thoroughty" have been a word if thoroughness hadn't been there? [closed]

In a recent SE answer I've written: I think that other answerers can address this with more historical thoroughty than I, so I'll defer to their expertise, but it sounds like the LRO frozen orbit is ...
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