Questions tagged [history]

Questions about the history and trends of the English language

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1answer
140 views

History of the correspondence between nouns and verbs

Have English verbs been used always in plural form for plural nouns or is there a history to this correspondence?
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1answer
84 views

When did the word “brass” come to mean “officer”, especially higher-ranked officers? [closed]

The word "brass" became synonymous to "officers", "senior officers" or "command" due to their brass rank badges. I'm curious when was the first recorded usage of "brass" in this meaning.
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1answer
184 views

Etymology is about the history of words, but is there a comparable word for the history of grammar?

Etymology is defined as "the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history", but is there a similar name for the study of the history of grammar?
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1answer
401 views

What does the word 'greeting' mean in a writ?

A writ is a formal written order, originally of the English monarch but later of a common law court. Since 1999, the Civil Procedure Rules have provided for civil cases in England and Wales to be ...
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2answers
5k views

Is “Jack of all trades, master of none” really just a part of a longer proverb?

This post on 9GAG claims that the actual proverbs read: Curiosity killed the cat. > Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. [FAKE, the second part was actually added later] ...
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2answers
2k views

“Shop” vs “Store”: the verb usage

In this answer I see explained the fact that Americans (and other English speakers who have accepted some American usage) use the noun "store" in many situations where other English speakers would use ...
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1answer
105 views

English Legal Case Shorthand: e.g. 13 & 14 Charles II c. 33 [closed]

I've been reading scholarship that details English court cases, and the cases in those reports are often referred to in quick shorthand, e.g.: 13 & 14 Charles II c. 33 4 William & Mary c. 4 ...
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1answer
156 views

Using single nouns to refer to plural entities?

A friend shared a 1935 communication from an American airman trying to get out of equine training. The airman explains: It is requested that I be relieved from attending the course in ...
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4answers
3k views

Why does “right” mean “clockwise”?

We commonly say right and left in lieu of clockwise and counterclockwise. Is this somehow a consequence of the fact that most people are right-handed? Or is this an accidental feature of English, ...
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1answer
947 views

What does “ride on” mean in the following context?

I came across this phrase reading John Adams by David McCullough As always, he (Jefferson) avoided open dispute, debate, controversy, or any kind of confrontation, but behind the scenes he was ...
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2answers
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Word that sounds like “metal” but means “grit”, “tenacity”, and “perseverance” [closed]

Somehow I am compelled to use the word "metal" to describe strong "intestinal fortitude", and perseverance however I can't find the spelling or any synonym like this. Does a word that sounds like "...
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1answer
754 views

Did the phrase “to make money” originate in the English language?

I am currently reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and I came across an interesting paragraph related to the English language and its history. If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of ...
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1answer
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Usage of whileas instead of whereas

I have a friend who in the two-three years I've known her will say "whileas" wherever I or other English speakers I know would say "whereas". She is a native English speaker and has read extensively (...
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2answers
662 views

Origin and Literal Breakdown of “Court-Martial”

The term "court-martial" refers to military institutions whereby those accused of breaking the law are brought to trial. This word is used in both the way we would use "trial" to refer to the ...
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2answers
3k views

Why did the meaning of “garble” change so much?

Originally the word meant to sift, for example to remove refuse from spices. With time its meaning became distorted to what it is now. From Old Italian garbellare (to sift), from Arabic gharbala (...
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3answers
2k views

Why “king & queen” but not “roi & reine”?

If I am not mistaken, modern English language has a large influence from Old French through the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066 and subsequent Norman monarchs. However, the modern ...
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1answer
524 views

When did the word bully pivot?

As we learned in Meaning of "bully" in the 1800s it meant first rate in the 1800s, Merriam-Webster claims it meant "sweetheart" originally while today it's "is usually one whose claims to ...
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3answers
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Person of the female persuasion

Following on from Meaning of "bully" in the 1800's, and Mr Lister's comment, this article mentions: I want to buy bread-and-butter, hoop-skirts and waterfalls for some person of the ...
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2answers
935 views

What is the historical origin for the naming of the word 'function' in its mathematical context?

I tried Wikipedia but it doesn't explain why functions are called functions. The reason why I'm asking is because this word just doesn't make any sense for what it does. If we were to reinvent all ...
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4answers
368 views

Why is English not constantly updated to better match written and spoken versions? [closed]

I understand that English has a lot of history and lots of weird corner cases come from French or German origins. However, even native English speakers no longer speak nor write identical to ...
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1answer
191 views

What does “receive a message” mean in the context of drinking and saloons?

I was reading a passage on the saloon history in North America, in a work titled The Saloon by Gerald Carson, and ran into the following passage: A good bartender did not drink while on duty. If ...
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1answer
433 views

Esh (ʃ ) as S in English language? [duplicate]

I was reading a book, "Ancient accounts of India and China" which, I think, was published in the middle of 1856, and I see "S" was replaced by the "ʃ" symbol (in small letter s, it looks more like "f')...
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1answer
240 views

What is the etymology of “duffle”? [closed]

Where did the word "duffle" (as in "duffle bag") come from, and how did it come to be associated with a bag?
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1answer
95 views

Earliest attestation of “does/do/did not + verb”

It seems to me that the negation "[conjugated verb] + not" was used in parallel with "[conjugated "do"] + not + verb" in Early Modern English: When thou tookest upon ...
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10answers
17k views

What do we call a person in a war who holds the army's flag?

I am translating a history context talking about the Cold War and I am stuck with a word for the person in a war who holds the army's flag. This flag is used to show the mates that the army is still ...
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2answers
471 views

Shakespearean way of speaking

Was the language used in Shakespeare's plays commonly used among people at that time in normal speech? I know that iambic pentameter was commonly used in formal, pre-prepared speeches at the time, but ...
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1answer
351 views

When and by whom was the rule for using 'compare to' versus 'compare with' first recorded?

A longstanding question on English Language & Usage asks "Compared with" vs "Compared to"—which is used when? and has drawn several useful answers. But the question doesn’t ...
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1answer
135 views

What's the term that refers to the old belief that kings/leaders are born superior and are bound by nature to lead?

I vaguely recall coming across a term in one of my past world history classes that refers to an ideology which stipulates that monarchs are destined from birth to lead and that they descend from ...
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2answers
3k views

Why don't adjectives agree with nouns in English?

I had never actually thought about this before now, probably because I'm a native speaker of English. But once I gave it some thought, I was actually a little surprised that adjectives in English do ...
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2answers
899 views

Origin of 'filibuster' in U.S. English, and its shift in meaning from 'insurrectionist' to 'obstruction'

According to the Wikipedia article on Filibuster, The term "filibuster" is derived from the Dutch vrijbuiter ("freebooter", a pillaging and plundering adventurer), though the ...
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2answers
1k views

When and how the phrase “beyond the call of duty” used? [closed]

I have seen this phrase used many times But couldn't find its original use or reference.
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1answer
463 views

Why is “an” used for nouns that start with a vowel sound [closed]

When a noun starts with a vowel sound, one uses "an" instead of "a". That is reasonable since otherwise the vowels would get mixed. The question is why did they "pick" "an"? There are 21 consenants ...
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2answers
3k views

Why do some nicknames have no apparent relation with their original counterparts? [duplicate]

I find it unusual and rather contrary to common sense and logic that some nicknames should have no apparent relation to their original names, such as "Jack" for "John(eg. JFK)" or "Jonathan", "Patsy" ...
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0answers
26 views

Is there a link between animal names which are their own plurals and domesticability? [duplicate]

Moose, caribou, bear, ibex, zebra, buffalo, deer. All are their own plurals, although 'bears' is far more common. None are domesticable. Sheep would seem to be an exception. To what degree is this ...
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3answers
4k views

When did the British and the Americans start to pronounce “o” (as in “God”) differently?

When did the British and the Americans start to pronounce "o" (as in "God") differently? Was it due to changes in America or England?
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1answer
1k views

When did 'chirurgy' become 'surgery?'

I've been reading some old encyclopedias (-ae?), and found 'chirurgy'. When did its usage become supplanted by the modern 'surgery'?
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1answer
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Why is “x” used as an abbreviation for some nouns?

This question is related, but is not a duplicate, of Why do some words have "X" as a substitute?. I have noticed that a few nouns can be significantly abbreviated with an "x" at the end. ...
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1answer
143 views

Does the origin of the auxiliary “shall” lie in the medieval blood-money practice of wergeld?

Perusing some 19th-century grammar books for another purpose, I came across an interesting etymology: "According to Grimm 'shall' or 'skal' is the preterite or perfect of a verb meaning 'to kill'. ...
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1answer
459 views

Why does English have so few “obscene” roots, compared to Russian? [closed]

Russian has 4 obscene roots ('-еб-', '-хуй-', '-пизд-', '-бляд-') and a huge variety of options in order to create new words: 'ебать', 'ёбаный', 'уебать', 'заебать', 'подъебать', 'ебантяй', 'уёбок'...
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1answer
589 views

Why does “free” have 2 meanings? (Gratis and Libre)

What is the history behind the word "free" that made it necessary for the clarification "free as in free speech, not free beer"? In the context such as "free press", it means libre from censorship, "...
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0answers
222 views

No bigodd nonsense

I am writing a novel with a narrator who is (supposedly) writing in 1854-5. One of his characters refers to someone who is "a plain Englishman with no bigodd nonsense about him." As is well known, ...
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2answers
216 views

Linguistic connection between the geophysical “bluff” and the deceptive “bluff”?

I know that words can have their etymology independent of words that share the same spelling, but according to Etymology Dictionary, both the geophysical "Bluff" and the deceptive "Bluff" originate in ...
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1answer
3k views

Was gret ever a valid past tense of greet?

The past tense of greet is greeted. This is known. However my instinct suggests it should be something like great/gret (first spelling seeming more right though easy to confuse ). I'm certain I ...
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3answers
141 views

A word for achieving 2 qualities considered contradictory to one another

Is there a word for a method of achieving 2 objectives or having 2 qualities that are typically considered to be in conflict with or contradictory to one another? By qualities I mean strong/ fast, ...
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1answer
590 views

Which English words feature reduction of diphthongs like /eɪ/ to /i/?

Consider the following examples: karaoke as /ˈkæ.ɹiˌəʊ.ki/ Israel as /ˈɪz.ɹi.əl/ al-Qaida as "alky aida" Monday as "mundy" Friday as "fridy" and possibly: Capernaum as /kəˈpɜːɹ.ni.əm/ Sinai as /...
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1answer
313 views

/əˈɡɛn/ or /əˈɡeɪn/?

Since we have already found out the correct pronunciation of either, why not take a stab at how again should be enunciated? Obviously, there are some words where both of two pronunciations are valid. ...
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1answer
6k views

How did “bitching” get associated with talking behind people's backs or complaining?

"Bitching" can refer to complaining or talking behind someone's back. But a bitch is a female dog which has nothing to do with it. How did "bitching" become representative for complaining or talking ...
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2answers
3k views

Did the phrase “final solution” for a form of genocide first appear with the Canadians?

Did the phrase "final solution" for a form of genocide first appear with the Canadians, or with the Nazis / Holocaust? The TVTropes "Final Solution" page explains the origins of the term: While ...
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5answers
6k views

I'm a bit “green around the gills”

Green about the gills is a common British English expression that is used when someone is feeling queasy, or about to vomit or be sick (there's that AmEng and BrEng divide once again). Cambridge ...
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2answers
294 views

How long has the subjunctive existed in English?

I'm pretty sure Shakespeare used the subjunctive. I'm not sure about Chaucer and I haven't a clue whether it is used in Beowulf. Has the subjunctive always existed in English, even as far back as Old ...

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