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Questions tagged [history]

Questions about the history and trends of the English language.

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"Romantic" (likewise "Romanticism") historically always capitalised?

In contrast to e.g. "liberalism" and "modernism" — which have likewise referred to people with common intellectual identities — it is convention to capitalise "Romanticism&...
Dongchen's user avatar
4 votes
2 answers
2k views

Was the phrase "white Christmas" indeed coined in the song?

It's well-known that the song White Christmas - Irving Berlin, 1942 - is one of the world's most popular songs by any of many measures (only McCartney's Yesterday wins in some measures). Apart from ...
Fattie's user avatar
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1 vote
1 answer
100 views

Why are simple numerical proportions usually expressed in percent?

In English, proportions that add up to ten are almost always expressed as percentages, such as “60-40”. We do this even when we don’t know the proportions to a precision of hundredths, and it would be ...
Paul Richter's user avatar
  • 3,108
12 votes
2 answers
2k views

What is the origin of the idiom "say the word"?

I am interested in the origin of the phrase "say the word" in the sense that you will do what is asked when needed. For example, "when you are ready for a second helping of dinner, just ...
dmkerr's user avatar
  • 175
0 votes
1 answer
51 views

What is the Construction of the phrase "Stand and Deliver"? [closed]

Recently, I watched a historical drama set in the 18th century in England, and brigands, most notably the main character, often uses the phrase Stand and Deliver when conducting a highway robbery. ...
uberhaxed's user avatar
  • 171
4 votes
3 answers
120 views

When did the meaning of "to like" flip?

In Old English and Middle English the verb "to like" was more like our modern "to please" in that the pleased thing is the object rather than the subject, as in "Bread likes ...
smocc's user avatar
  • 43
7 votes
1 answer
142 views

How did "dream" become a verb without the same thing happening to "nightmare"?

You can say I had a dream and you can say I had a nightmare. But then you can say He is dreaming, yet you cannot say He is nightmaring....you have to say He is having a nightmare. Why is that? How did ...
temporary_user_name's user avatar
3 votes
1 answer
69 views

How come that "bimonthly" means "twice a month" and "every two months" simultaneously? [duplicate]

What's the story behind this word, and how did it end so ambiguous, while other languages differ? There's already "Bimestral"why does every dictionary still uses "once every two months&...
Yosyp's user avatar
  • 33
2 votes
1 answer
61 views

How did we come to use at, on, in for time as we do now?

Contact me at 5 o'clock on a Monday in the new year There are many resources which explain the rules about which preposition to use for time phrases to English learners, e.g. We use at with: with ...
minseong's user avatar
  • 3,526
4 votes
1 answer
128 views

Etymology of Mecca

Most dictionaries just list it as "from Arabic", with the better ones providing the script مكة or a transcription showing that it's actually pronounced Makkah in classical and modern ...
lly's user avatar
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3 votes
4 answers
620 views

Definition of 'uncle-in-law'

I've been reading an old will and testament (Tudor era) and have encountered the usage of the term 'uncle-in-law'. My suspicion is that it would be rather odd (albeit not completely unreasonable) for ...
Noldorin's user avatar
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8 votes
1 answer
639 views

Why are medical professionals called Doctors?

Searching online for the origin of Doctor being used for medical professionals, the often repeated facts are: The word comes for the Latin to teach At some point medical professionals started to be ...
dubious's user avatar
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0 votes
4 answers
155 views

Is there a word for something that was formerly a social norm but is no longer acceptable?

I've been reading a lot of various classic literature, and at times there is the sort of casual misogyny or racism that was commonplace and (within certain cultures) the social norm at that time. Such ...
oliverseal's user avatar
8 votes
3 answers
3k views

When did “word” become a synonym of “promise” for the first time?

We know that the word word can sometimes be a synonym for promise, as in: You have my word. to mean: You have my promise. And I haven’t seen any other sentence structures that word is used to mean ...
Snack Exchange's user avatar
2 votes
2 answers
224 views

Pronunciation of "Ine", as the name of the Saxon king in modern English

Ine, also rendered Ini or Ina, (Latin: Inus; c. AD 670 – after 726) was King of Wessex from 689 to 726 (Wikipedia). This is a name still used today, apparently, but I do not find it in the Longman ...
LPH's user avatar
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-1 votes
1 answer
624 views

Are the origins of ¡ay, güey! and 'oy vey' related at all? [closed]

Though both of these terms come from other languages, they are both said in English, depending on where one is. One (ay wey as a more English form) can mean holy crap!, and the other can mean ...
user avatar
7 votes
5 answers
756 views

How did grammarians determine that the Present Continuous is an aspect?

The three variants of the present tense are: [X] sits (Simple) [X] does sit (Emphatic) [X] is sitting (Continuous [also called Progressive]) This is something that I was taught in school at such an ...
Quack E. Duck's user avatar
2 votes
1 answer
138 views

How did the verb "take" come to mean "to undertake and make, do, or perform"?

One of the senses of the verb take is: to undertake and make, do, or perform. take a walk take aim take legal action take a test take a look [sense 17a, Merriam-Webster] It is an idiomatic usage. ...
user avatar
7 votes
4 answers
2k views

Is there any historical basis for pronouncing the “Ye Olde …“ with a /j/?

It is my understanding that the article ye as used in archaic spellings such as “Ye Olde Yereminne Shoppe” originates from spelling þe as ye with moveable type when the typeface did not feature the ...
Wrzlprmft's user avatar
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3 votes
1 answer
182 views

Why did English take the "mix pronunciations and spellings" route instead of one rule route like French, or separate languages/dialects like Spanish? [closed]

Like the multiple pronunciations of "ough" or different spellings for the same sounds in English I've read come from mixing different dialects into one language. Whereas with French, they ...
user avatar
0 votes
3 answers
116 views

Name from history meaning charismatic?

Much like McGyver meaning "resourceful," Einstein meaning "intelligent," Savant meaning "gifted..." I remember hearing and using a name to refer to someone as a ...
Nihil's user avatar
  • 1
4 votes
1 answer
16k views

Why was "Spook" a slur used to refer to African Americans?

I understand that the word spook is a racial slur that rose in usage during WWII; I also know Germans called black gunners Spookwaffe. What I don't understand is why. Spook seems to also mean 'ghost' ...
Jon Pringle's user avatar
11 votes
2 answers
2k views

What's it called when a word that starts with a vowel takes the 'n' from 'an' (the indefinite article) and puts it on the word?

I don't exactly know how to describe it, but I've heard of this happening in English before. I'm pretty sure the word 'newt' is an example of this. From what I've heard, the word used to be 'ewt', ...
Adrian Miller-Castaño's user avatar
3 votes
1 answer
2k views

Why did some stigmatized theophoric names survive in English?

The synopsis is: we have the long-standing popularity of the name "Isabelle" and context that much of the English speaking world has been influenced by Christianity for centuries. It appears ...
Arash Howaida's user avatar
5 votes
2 answers
272 views

Was the silent 'e' in "nine" ever pronounced? In Old English, the word for "nine" was "nigon", with no 'e' at the end

Was the silent 'e' in "nine" ever pronounced? In Old English, the word for "nine" was "nigon", with no 'e' at the end. But, in Middle English, the word for "nine&...
FlatAssembler's user avatar
0 votes
1 answer
316 views

What is the history of the word 'wherry,' and why is it virtually unknown today?

The boats crossing the Thames before all the bridges were built in the late 1700s were called wherries. Wiktionary; however, says the term wherry is much older: From Middle English whery (“small boat”...
WendyG's user avatar
  • 2,438
3 votes
2 answers
11k views

Origins of the phrase “the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best time is now”?

Does anyone have good information on the first known usage or attribution of the phrase “the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best time is now”, or similar concepts? According to ...
canary_in_the_data_mine's user avatar
3 votes
3 answers
642 views

History of "via"

I was wondering about different ways of writing "via" when a graph of this word's usage showed up. There is a peak in the years 1529-32 and then a sudden decline then again a peak at 1632 ...
GedankenExperimentalist's user avatar
8 votes
2 answers
417 views

Why do some irregular verbs, such as swing/swung and sting/stung, only have two forms instead of three?

Folks, my question has to do with really difficult things to understand, so I've chosen this forum and think only truly wise owls are able to help me. As you, I hope, know, lots of English irregular ...
user473457's user avatar
3 votes
1 answer
1k views

At what point did most English speakers know the joke, "What time is it? Time for you to get a watch!"? [closed]

When is the first documented usage of the joke, "What time is it? Time for you to get a watch!"? At what point in history would most English-speakers know this joke, meaning, if you stopped ...
Reece365's user avatar
10 votes
5 answers
6k views

What are the origins of and is this use of the term "baby" sexist?

I heard this expression twice now this week on current TV. That 90's Show on Netflix (a preview) and NCIS: Hawaii. I don't remember the exact wording but they went something like this: From That 90'...
Don0's user avatar
  • 119
0 votes
1 answer
130 views

"Lite" used instead of "light" in pinball

In pinball instructions, I always come across the spelling "lite" being used instead of "light", e.g. "drop all targets to lite special". The practice persists to this ...
Ulrich Schreitmüller's user avatar
6 votes
2 answers
313 views

Origin of the word 'unagreed'?

What’s the origin of unagreed? I can find the word in Collin's Dictionary, used in parliamentary publications, as well as in American news articles. However it's lacking from Merriam-Webster and there'...
AncientSwordRage's user avatar
19 votes
2 answers
3k views

Is the use of "an" to mean "if" an invention of fantasy writers?

I've just read Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, and the author has her characters speak in a vaguely Shakespearean manner, presumably to add atmosphere. In particular, her characters use ...
John Rennie's user avatar
0 votes
1 answer
103 views

year of first use of a vulgar expression? [closed]

Could someone please tell me the origin of the phrase working my ass off or derivations or variations thereof? I've seen 1930s and 1946 as answers, but no elaboration or explanation.
Diane's user avatar
  • 13
1 vote
1 answer
176 views

Were "Fell" and "Fel" both correct spellings?

I'm trying to describe evil magic and creatures to my players and to set the tone, I'm trying to use Middle and Old English words and phrases. After googling a while I couldn't find a definitive ...
Loki's user avatar
  • 11
4 votes
0 answers
296 views

'To lie' and 'to lay' / 'to rise' and 'to raise' / 'to fall' and 'to fell' <-- Did English used to have more pairs like this?

My understanding is that there aren't many pairs of intransitive and transitive verbs in modern English. Off-hand, I know of three (though I think there are more): lie vs lay rise vs raise fall vs ...
Sweet Sheep's user avatar
19 votes
5 answers
4k views

Did the words "come" and "home" historically rhyme?

The third stanza of the hymn Amazing Grace is Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,     I have already come; 'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,     And grace will lead me home. In this hymn ...
yannis's user avatar
  • 433
34 votes
3 answers
4k views

When did double superlatives go out of fashion in English?

Today I learned that the correct/recommended form of English, only a few centuries ago, required using "more" and "most" together with adjectives that were already in (respectively)...
Rand al'Thor's user avatar
  • 4,903
0 votes
0 answers
53 views

Teutonic for the thing, Romance for the reflection

In the first chapter of Capital on page 126 (1990 Penguin Edition), a footnote is attached to the sentence, "The usefulness of a thing makes it a use-value." In English writers of the ...
explicitEllipticGroupAction's user avatar
3 votes
1 answer
167 views

"Dementia" today vs 100 years ago -- did it mean the same thing?

I know that words for mental illnesses have changed quite a bit in the past century or so. Informally, I think most people see a difference between "crazy" and "unintelligent" ...
releseabe's user avatar
  • 603
0 votes
0 answers
58 views

Quotation mark use (one word) in software engineering paper

I'm currently researching the origins of a well known software engineering model - the waterfall model. The paper most cited for the model didn't invent the model, but rather said that it doesnt work ...
Son Tung Duong's user avatar
0 votes
1 answer
546 views

What was the reversed Pilcrow used for?

I am doing some research about pilcrows. I am intrigued by the reversed pilcrow and have been trying to uncover its origin. Any google search however only yields results for the normal pilcrow. I ...
Gregg's user avatar
  • 1
5 votes
2 answers
545 views

Does "rickety" come from "rickets" or vice versa?

If you have rickets your skeleton could be said to be rickety, perhaps. I wonder whether "rickets" comes from "rickety" or vice versa. The Merriam Webster entry for rickety says ...
Matthew Christopher Bartsh's user avatar
0 votes
1 answer
64 views

Old typographical symbol for Scots pound

I came across this typographical symbol in a book from the late 1800s that I am digitizing, where it is used as a symbol for the old (pre 1700) Scottish pound. My question - does it have a name? An ...
Carfilhiot's user avatar
2 votes
0 answers
235 views

Can obsolete words be reintroduced? [closed]

I personally really like to use the word overmorrow. It is convenient to use, and much shorter compared to the traditionally used the day after tomorrow. However, according to this answer the word has ...
Jop Knoppers's user avatar
3 votes
0 answers
154 views

Why did the English people switch from the Celtic language to Old English? [closed]

There is a widely held theory that when the Romans left England in the 5th century AD the island was defenceless against Anglo-Saxon invading armies. In the south and east the Britons were defeated in ...
M. Wind's user avatar
  • 269
1 vote
1 answer
322 views

What is the original semantic difference between "projectile" and "missile"?

Let consider context (e.g. historical recent past) where modern meaning of missile as a self-propelled ordinance with reactive or jet engine doesn't exist. Then its original meaning is "an ...
Swift's user avatar
  • 215
1 vote
0 answers
53 views

Antonym for Nightmare [duplicate]

Recently I was discussing nightmares vs. "good dreams" and realized there isn't a decent antonym (at least that I'm aware). My question is two-fold: What is a good antonym for Nightmare? Is ...
Asleepace's user avatar
  • 203
1 vote
2 answers
91 views

The word "country" seems to often mean "sovereign state", including the UK. The UK identifies its component units as countries. Which sense is older?

I speak American English. My guess is that calling the UK a "country" would be seen as incorrect in British English. However, just about every map I see online showing "X by country&...
K. Henk's user avatar
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