Questions tagged [history]

Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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24 views

Where did the snowclone “X-Complete” come from?

I'm familiar with the phrases "Turing-complete" and "NP-complete" from the field of computing science. (Along with less common variations similar to NP-complete such as EXP-...
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1answer
55 views

Are the Africans brought over from the Transatlantic Slave Trade considered “immigrants”? [closed]

Are the Africans brought over from the Transatlantic Slave Trade considered "immigrants"? Although I realize that they are forced to come to the US against their own wills, the definition of ...
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1answer
29 views

What is the historical/etymological connection between nerves and the litany of expressions pertaining to anxiety, agitation, and audacity?

After a nerve-racking day, a nervy man may well get on our nerves. Nervous about offending him, we nevertheless work up the nerve to tell him he has some nerve to so freely enervate us. After arguing ...
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55 views

Why does the name of a ocean and river come first (Pacific Ocean, Mississippi River), but for lakes it comes second (Lake Michigan)? [closed]

In every example but lakes that I can think of — oceans, rivers, etc. — the name comes first. (An exception is counties in Ireland, e.g. County Cork.) This makes sense — in English, we say "red ...
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1answer
55 views

Sodomy, but no “Gomorry”? [closed]

Sodom and Gomorrah are two cities in the Abrahamic religions that were destroyed by brimstone and fire for their sins. Even though English speakers use both cities historically as metaphors for sin ...
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1answer
2k views

Did the word “Crocodile” have a dreadful connotation in London 1600s?

I am writing a period-piece play based in London circa 1660s and wrote a poetic line that alludes to the crocodile as a "fearsome foe" or of much "danger and dread". I examined every mention of the ...
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1answer
52 views

When and how did the word “dimension” take on the popular connotation of “parallel universe”?

Especially in the mid-twentieth century, popular science fiction would often talk about "creatures from another dimension" and use similar language that suggested that a "dimension" refers to some ...
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1answer
63 views

Why do depictions of foreigners in English media compulsively insert foreign words from their mother tongue?

There is something that has been bugging me about depiction of foreigners in various English media (that doesn't occur, say, in Polish media). The "foreigner" characters keep replacing common English ...
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3answers
114 views

Why did 's' in 'wisard' change to 'z'

Wizard: a man in stories who has magic powers someone who is very good at something Origin and usage: The word wizard comes from the Middle English word 'wys' meaning 'wise'. In this sense, it first ...
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2answers
77 views

Is “yes” a contraction of “yeah, it is”? [closed]

When I was in school my teacher used to insist that I use “yes” instead of “yeah” everywhere, even in informal situations, because it is the correct word to use. Hence, I grew ...
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91 views

Why should “theirs” not have an apostrophe? [duplicate]

What is the reasoning by which people decided not to use ’s to indicate the possession of pronouns? For example, one might write It is Jack's dog. The dog is Jack's. But not It is their dog. ...
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When did “eke toward(s)” develop?

I went to use the phrase “eke toward” today, in the sense of “very gradually but increasingly move toward”. I thought this was cromulent, because I’ve heard & used it occasionally in the past. But ...
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1answer
44 views

History of “novelty” to refer to dessert items

The word novelty can be used to refer to hand-held desserts, such as ice cream sandwiches or ice pops. What is the history of this usage? Presumably the etymology is straightforward, but what is the ...
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1answer
94 views

What was “social distancing’ called during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic?

It is being said that a too early relaxation of national and local ‘social distancing’ guidelines for the recent Covid-19 pandemic might result in an uptick of new cases or even re-infections in ...
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1answer
102 views

What syntax facts explain differences in late 1800s vs. 2020 written English?

TL:DR What objective SYNTAX facts make late 1800 writing different from 2020 writing? Why even highly educated, among themselves, in 2020 write much less formally than their counterparts in 19 ...
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1answer
44 views

How many English words are of native origin?

What percentage of current English words are of native Anglo-Saxon origin? I have seen stats about how large percentages of the English words currently in use come from French, Latin, or German ...
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5answers
4k views

Why does “blue blazes” specify the color blue, and what is the origin of this expression as an intensifier/euphemism?

A recent question posted on English Language & Usage (What does "blazes" mean in "Stay the blazes home!") asks where "blazes" originated as an intensifier. In attempting to ...
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1answer
282 views

What is, or was the meaning of “oncommon”?

In Dickens' David Copperfield, there is an exchange between David and Mr Pegotty who arrives with his nephew Ham to visit him at school. It runs as follows: "Do you know how mama is, Mr Peggotty? I ...
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26 views

Late 1800s, arrogant or bombastic to use ten-dollar words?

TL:DR. In 2020, I don't think anyone uses these bombastic words in a town newspaper! If you write or speak them, I think you look arrogant and pretentious! But did newspaper readers in late 1800s ...
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1answer
209 views

What skews our evidence about 19th century English writing?

Edit As jsw29 explained in his way better English, answers below answered a different question, not the one I want. This explanation of what makes our evidence about 19th century English skewed is ...
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54 views

How to change a word?

My English teachers strenuously denied it, but languages are not immutable. Centuries ago, Daniel Webster regularized the American spelling of various words ("center", "draft", etc). More recently, ...
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1answer
186 views

What is the earliest written example of Old English?

What is the earliest written example of Old English?
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1answer
65 views

ON a powerful preposition

I’m interested in understanding what is the unique identity of the preposition ‘on’ (if there is one) behind all its different uses. So, I would be grateful if someone can explain me this or provide ...
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What exactly is a “boogy ride”?

Cartoon video source: https://archive.org/details/merriemelodiescoalblackanddesebbendwarfs1943 Title: "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" (1943) At 03:32, So White goes: Well, thanks for the boogy ...
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1answer
338 views

Early use of “there's always a bigger fish”

The old fisherman's proverb popularized by Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace has a history of uses in literal contexts (fishing), however after the release of Phantom Menace the metaphorical use of the ...
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1answer
33 views

Is there a specific expression to denote territories which were once occupied?

I have to write a long History essay about territories which were once occupied by one people, but no longer are. Is there a term for that, something like once-[insertpeoplehere]-occupied?
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1answer
101 views

How does “bluebird weather” get its name?

In Maryland and Virginia, bluebird weather is a brief period of warm weather in autumn. https://www.waywordradio.org/bluebird-weather/ How does “bluebird weather” get its name? This article explains ...
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1answer
85 views

When did the UK stop using full stops in abbreviations and acronyms?

I have noticed that in older (usually over 30 or 40 years old) British books and newspapers, abbreviations are without exception typeset with in full stops, as is still the practice in the United ...
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2answers
4k views

Meaning of “I have often seen Essex cheese quick enough”

John Heywood (c. 1497–1580) once wrote: I never saw Banbury cheese thick enough But I have often seen Essex cheese quick enough. 1 2 The first line alludes to how a Banbury cheese was very ...
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4answers
105 views

Are there any new words in common usage for things that existed 200 years ago?

Are there any newer-ish words for things/ideas that existed 100-200 years ago. In English I don't know of good examples. To be clear I'm not talking about new words like "email" or "blog". Those didn'...
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2answers
113 views

What is the origin of the idiom “to be sure”?

I want to know the origin of the idiomatic phrase "to be sure". None of the definitions I found on online dictionaries mentioned an origin, and I also didn't find it asked anywhere on the net (though ...
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1answer
149 views

How does “ghost pot” get its name

What is the history behind the name "ghost pot"? Why is it called "ghost pot"? First, what is a ghost pot? Also known as a derelict crab trap, a ghost pot is a crab pot that has lost its float ...
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1answer
152 views

“To live and die against all manner of folks?”

I came across this oath taken by Prince of Wales in the ceremony of investiture, I, Charles, Prince of Wales, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship, and faith and truth ...
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1answer
84 views

Has there ever been slang-dense phrasing?

In today's culture, mainly with the rise in Gen Z kids getting online, slang in English seems to have become more fluid. In a YouTube video from JackSepticEye, while he was reading sentences that ...
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1answer
92 views

Etymology of the name Wales/Welsh in modern English: which one is the basic term?

I am interested in the way the name of Wales (and of the Welsh) has been transliterated/translated in other languages. (I have become interested in that because, as a native Romanian speaker I have ...
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88 views

Why is the adjective “below” rare compared to adjective “above”?

Above and below can be used as both an adverb and an adjective to indicate an earlier or a later part of a piece of writing respectively. However, adjective below is rare compared to adjective above (...
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1answer
97 views

Which came first in English, capitalization of first word in sentence, or period?

Does Old English have the idea of capitalized first letter of words? And does it have the idea of periods? I know periods sort of came about in Latin perhaps, but don't know what came first. Did we ...
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1answer
69 views

Do we use “early” or “late” to refer to the end of a decade in BCE?

So I'm writing an essay in which I want to refer to the years 483-480 BCE. Are these the late 480s or the early 480s? 83-80 are less than 89-84 in magnitude, but in BCE they are more recent than the ...
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49 views

What did daughters (roughly 19 and 11) affectionately call their mothers in the 19th century (1883ish)?

I'm writing a short historical fiction essay on Mercy Brown and family, and was wondering what Mary Brown (19) and Mercy (11) would have called her while she was on her death bed with consumption. ...
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2answers
134 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 ...
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2answers
188 views

Why isn't the preposition “from” used to form self-sufficient phrasal verbs?

Let's define a self-sufficient phrasal verb as a phrasal verb that does not require a complement. For example, "come in" is a self-sufficient phrasal verb because you can say, "Come in!" Analogously, "...
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0answers
33 views

How can there be any indicative if-clauses?

As far as I know, if-clauses always describe theoretical situations. Sometimes the theory is very obvious and self-evident, but it remains a theory. So how can we use the indicative in if-clauses all ...
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2answers
248 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 ...
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1answer
100 views

what does 'double oughts' mean?

i've watched some documentary about 21st century history in which the narrator said 'when 21st century began it even didnt have a name' and thensomeone replied by saying 'the double oughts.' i think ...
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1answer
27 views

When was “untactful” first used?

I came across "untactful" in a story and wondered when it was first used and how it came to be commonly used in speech. I've always used "tactless". I checked a lot of dictionaries with no results. I ...
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2answers
165 views

Why the structure “was born”, and not “is born” like in many other languages?

My question is why English uses the past "was" in "I was born", and many other languages (the majority of the European languages for instance), use the present "is" with this past participle? (Je ...
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2answers
58 views

What is the meaning of “annihilated in detail”?

I ran across the phrase "annihilated in detail" while listening to Professor Garrett G. Fagan's instruction regarding the History of Ancient Rome. This comes from a lecture on Marius and Sulla with ...
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5answers
9k views

Where does the expression “triple-A” come from?

The term "AAA" or "triple-A" is a term mainly used nowadays in the video game industry, according to Wikipedia, ... for video games produced and distributed by a mid-sized or major publisher, ...
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0answers
96 views

How and why have French words arrived in the English language? [closed]

I've just finished watching Stranger Things, and in one episode, Nancy mentions a cul-de-sac, which is essentially a French word (I'm French and we recognize when English uses French words, with this ...
2
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1answer
222 views

Where was the term “A1” first used?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that "A1" means "of the finest quality" and it says that the term was first used in the year 1801 (with no reference): https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/...

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