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The metaphor is historically accurate: actual caged canaries were historically brought into coal mines. The breeding of canaries in captivity in Europe started in the 17th century, and thus predates underground coal mining. By the time underground coal mining started, caged canaries were already available. Their smallness, and the smallness of the cages, [...


14

In early Middle English, people used an before all words, whether they started with a consonant or vowel. They started dropping the /n/ before consonants, but the /n/ was retained before /h/ longer than it was retained before other consonants. Shakespeare seems to use "a" before almost all one-syllable words starting with "h" except ones where the "h" wasn'...


11

Male canaries will sing all the time when they're alone in the hope of their song attracting a female. In fact, the main reason for them being held in captivity is their incessant song. This makes them ideal for coal mines; you don't have to concentrate on them or watch them. You do your work, register the canary's song as a background noise, and as soon as ...


6

Canaries were not only used in coal mines. The old Normanby Park steelworks in Scunthorpe had an aviary as late as the mid twentieth century where they bred canaries for gas detection purposes. They were so good at breeding that they showed the best looking birds (and probably the best singers) in competition with other breeders. A caged canary would be ...


6

This is not unique to the pronunciation of autophagy There is no principle saying that the pronunciation of a word must always divide it into parts that correspond to its etymological components. That's just the way compounds formed in English from English words (like paperhanger) tend to be pronounced. But not all compounds are formed in English from ...


5

Sports In sports, officials such as referees or umpires make calls, that is, they declare by speech and/or understood gestures a decision concerning play. Initially, the whole affair is quite literal: At one o’clock the horses were at the starting post, and the Umpire called “off!” — Sydney Monitor, 14 Apr.1832. Starting pistols, apparently, were not ...


4

The earliest match I could find for this call and response (in its short form) is from Albert Smith, The Fortunes of the Scattergood Family, serialized in in Bentley's Miscellany, volume 15 (1844): They [four larger schoolboys at Merchant Tailors] lifted the box on to the table, and then made Frederick who was beginning to cry very piteously, open the ...


3

To answer the specific questions asked in the post body. When did calling someone “Fredo” become an insult? Is it considered racist in the US? The origin of the insult is apparently Fredo Corleone, the weaker and less-intelligent of two sons in the Italian mob family from The Godfather. It's not a very commonly known insult, but seems to be more-commonly ...


2

It's not related to etymology: the short vowel is because of the presence of the suffix -ic, as you say in the comments. Even when O is in a stressed syllable and followed by a single consonant letter and a vowel letter, it isn't certain that it will be pronounced as /oʊ/ instead of as /ɑ/. Various words have a "short vowel" even when only a single ...


2

χ Marks the Spot When Latin borrowed Greek words containing the letters χ, φ, and θ, they were rendered as ch, ph, and th, indicating their original aspiration. Thus σχολή (schole) becomes Latin schola, though scola also appears. Old English scōl ignored this particular nicety, as did, for the most part, Middle English: Nu hauede þe king Aruiragus enne ...


2

Middle English and Now In Middle English, as the examples in the online Middle English Compendium attest, however is concessive, not contrastive: For sikerly my dette shal be quyt Towardes yow, howevere that I fare To goon a-begged in my kirtle bare. For surely my debt shall be repaid To you, even if I have To go abegging in my bare tunic. — ...


1

In the sense of 'twirling waxed mustahces': Dastardly Whiplash An oddly specific kind of character, the Dastardly Whiplash is a cartoonish villain taken from the silent film tradition [1891-1920]. Usually a Man of Wealth and Taste, in Great Britain (cough Evil Brit cough), he was generally a Bad Baronet; in the U.S., he was often an Evil Banker who ...


1

I went to a (very British type of) private Anglican school in South Africa in the 70's, and recall the 'quis? ego' quite vividly. It generally had to do when someone had too much of something (eg. Fruit that was soon to get over ripe) and was willing to give it away. The first to say 'ego' generally got it, but there were often squabbles about who was really ...


1

The evidence I found is consistent with the proverb being originally Gaelic, with it entering English in Scotland, and with it always having meant what it means today. As for the purported “original meaning”, I cannot trace it back any further than 1994. Early occurrences All the early occurrences of the proverb that I can find appear in Scottish or Irish ...


1

It’s an old Scottish pair of words meaning clockwise and counter clockwise. The first time I heard them used was in the context of Wicca or modern paganism in which widdershins (counter clockwise) is extremely chaotic and destructive or unlucky when used in a spell and clockwise has a more invoking or constructive aspect. When witches use hand motions or ...


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