55 votes
Accepted

Is “I'm working totes” new slang?

It’s from a standard English word, tote: carry around, or a bag (tote bag) in which to carry things. In its use in a retail store, it seems that “doing totes” is restocking shelves with merchandise ...
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  • 13k
42 votes
Accepted

What is the origin of "don't punch a gift horse in the mouth"?

By far the earliest match for "punch a gift horse" in Google Books search results is from a 1972 issue of National Lampoon, a U.S. satirical magazine that grew out of The Harvard Lampoon, a ...
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  • 152k
40 votes

Which "bra" came first?

The bra from physics came from Dirac breaking the word bracket into bra + ket. He introduced these terms in 1939. See Wiktionary. The clothing bra came from an abbreviation of the word brassiere, ...
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37 votes

What sparked the figurative usage of “short fuse” in the 1960s?

"Short fuse" was used metaphorically before the 60s Here's an example that seems to be exactly matching the modern sense: The Navy must needs cross the water and protect our interest, hence ...
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  • 58.7k
36 votes
Accepted

Why and when did "fowls" start being called "chickens"?

Chickens were called chicken before chickens were called fowl. Fowl emerged in early modern English, had a period of popularity, and then faded by the 20th century. Chicken Chicken goes back to Old ...
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34 votes

Is “I'm working totes” new slang?

In retail, a tote is a common noun used for the reusable plastic boxes with folding lids in which certain shipments are received. "Working totes" then can be taken to mean "unloading ...
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  • 441
29 votes

What is the origin of "playing into someone's hands"?

According to this tumblr post, playing into someone's hands originates from card playing: This expression has its origin in card playing. A part of the game’s strategy is to force your opponent to ...
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  • 10k
23 votes
Accepted

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

Is there a specific sport this phrase originally referred to before the general public started using it? Yes. Baseball. From idiomorigins.org: Take one for the team This expression derives from ...
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  • 10k
22 votes

“Green” has been associated with envy (green-eyed monster), as well as with a novice. How did these associations arise?

The origin of the sense “novice” is from fruit and vegetables which when are green, are generally unripe, immature: From c. 1200 as "covered with grass or foliage." From early 14c. of ...
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22 votes

Did Peter Piper steal a peck of American pickled peppers?

If "Peter Piper" does come from Pierre Poivre (since 1769-1770), then there is a high probability that the word "picked" in the tongue twister does allude to pickpocketing/stealing:...
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  • 10k
21 votes
Accepted

Why "monatomic" and not "monoatomic"?

OED says that monatomic is formed within English, by compounding; probably modelled on a French lexical item and provides the etymology below: < mono- comb. form + atomic adj., probably after ...
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  • 54.1k
18 votes

Which "bra" came first?

This answer is meant to supplement the others already given by providing more details on the sources and dates. The answer to the original question, as others have already said, is that the bra as an ...
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17 votes
Accepted

“Green” has been associated with envy (green-eyed monster), as well as with a novice. How did these associations arise?

Green-eyed monster The OED has Shakespeare’s Othello (a1616) as the first green-eyed monster: O beware iealousie. It is the greene eyd monster. Shakespeare earlier used monsterless green-eyed to ...
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  • 65.9k
17 votes

Where does “beats me” come from?

This sense of beat goes back as early as c1810 per OED. (c indicates circa here). Although, it was not used as "beats me" in the earliest citation. The origin of "beats me" appears ...
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  • 54.1k
16 votes

Origin of the phrase "to have no truck with"

Have no truck with: “Truck” came from the French word (troc) for “barter.” Originally, if you had no truck with somebody, you refused to trade with him or her. By extension it came to mean you ...
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  • 60.6k
15 votes
Accepted

What is the origin of the idiom "Put on a clinic"?

The original question asked about the idiom put on a clinic to mean "to perform exceptionally well." While the term originated with medical clinics and was transferred, as OED notes, to non-...
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  • 561
15 votes

Origin of “on tilt”

The OED's first citation for tilt with reference to pinball machines is: [1934 Billboard (Cincinnati) 17 Nov. 67 (advt.) Anti-tilt.] The view among poker players is that being/going/putting &...
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  • 17.4k
15 votes

Transformation Of The Meaning Of the Word "Idiot"

The historical core meaning of the word "idiot" was a person with a low IQ to a developmentally disabled degree This is not so. The other, which I think is a more recent restrictive sense ...
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  • 29.4k
15 votes
Accepted

Where does the word stoothing come from? Is it used in any other contexts apart from "stoothing wall"?

"Stoothing" is a (colloquial1) dialect for studding/battening/lathing and plastering. The earliest usage of "stoothing" I could find in Google Books was in 1789, in A Survey of ...
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  • 10k
15 votes

What is the origin of the word "latte" referring to a caffè latte?

As a loanword from Italian, latte (as in a latte, and distinct from combined forms like caffe latte) is from the US, and likely the Pacific Northwest, circa the mid-to-late 1980s. (It first appears in ...
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12 votes

Did Peter Piper steal a peck of American pickled peppers?

Is there any evidence to suggest that readers understood pick in the rhyme as steal? No. The best evidence would come from direct treatments of the poem that acknowledge the alternate reading. For ...
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12 votes

Does anyone know the expression "Aye Gannies" (or perhaps the spelling is "I gonees")

From M. Montgomery and J. Heinmiller (eds.); Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English (2021): ay (also aye, ey, i) interjection Used as a mild exclamation or oath to express a range of emotion (...
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  • 17.4k
12 votes
Accepted

Is the phrase “nitty-gritty” racist?

Coverage of 'nitty-gritty' in slang dictionaries J.L. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1997) has entries for nitty-gritty as a noun and for nitty-gritty as an adjective, ...
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  • 152k
11 votes

What is the origin of "don't punch a gift horse in the mouth"?

Your friend would have a hard time defending their position that "punch" is the official version. A Google ngram (meaning, searching books) yields nothing for "punch a gift horse". ...
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  • 5,613
10 votes
Accepted

What is the origin/meaning of the term "color" in corporate earnings calls?

I don't think the use of color in your examples has to do with finance, per se, but rather the word is being used in its sense of interesting and elucidating details, examples, anecdotes, etc., and ...
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  • 17.4k
10 votes

What is the origin of the phrase "circular firing squad"?

OED—"September 2020 draft addition" under circular: circular firing squad n. originally and chiefly U.S. a group of people who are engaged in self-destructive internal conflicts and mutual ...
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  • 17.4k
10 votes

Transformation Of The Meaning Of the Word "Idiot"

According to the OED, both senses date to c1400-1480, so I don't think we can called either one "new." We do the same thing at the other end of the intelligence spectrum: your friend comes ...
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  • 17.4k
10 votes

Where does the word stoothing come from? Is it used in any other contexts apart from "stoothing wall"?

It's in the OED, as a derivative of stoothe, meaning " To garnish with studs or knobs" (obsolete) and " To furnish (a wall) with the framework on which the lath-and-plaster is fixed; to ...
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10 votes
Accepted

What is the origin of "deadly" as "excellent" in Irish and Australian English?

According to the following Macquarie Dictionary Blog the origin of deadly with a positive connotation is still unknown: The word deadly with its current meaning was originally coined in the 1900s. ...
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