Skip to main content
291 votes
Accepted

Why are the vowels in Christ and Christmas different? (and other strange diphthong behaviour)

Short answer The PRICE vowel that we hear in the word wise, /waɪz/, has a systematic relationship with the KIT vowel which we hear in the word wizard, /'wɪzəd/. As we add syllables to the base of a ...
Araucaria - Him's user avatar
165 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

billion comes from bi- + million, as it originally meant the product of two millions - in other words, a million million. This usage persists in Europe (see long scale), but in America a billion ...
Tim Goodman's user avatar
  • 1,449
131 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

One is biscuit / biscotti, which literally means "twice cooked". Although the prefix here is "bis", it does start with "bi", so... from Oxford Living Dictionary: Origin Middle English: from ...
Jim Mack's user avatar
  • 11.9k
110 votes
Accepted

Was "man" a gender-neutral word in common usage at some point?

Man in Old English could be either gendered or non-gendered. We inherited that ambiguity. In Old English, man referred to both an adult male and a human being of either sex. Here is Stephen A. ...
TaliesinMerlin's user avatar
81 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

The example given by the OP isn't too far off the mark. Rather than bicycle consider the shortened version "bike" where it may be used as part of another word e.g. quad-bike. In this case it is being ...
Craig Mitchell's user avatar
57 votes
Accepted

Is this use of 'chuse' a spelling mistake, a digitization error or the correct spelling for the time?

'Chuse' was actually a variant spelling which went out-of-style around 1840, after enjoying singnificant popularity in the 1700s. Since your novel was published in 1815, I'd say it's not an error. ...
Tushar Raj's user avatar
54 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

Might be a bit of a stretch, but... Bivouac a temporary encampment with few facilities, as used by soldiers, mountaineers, etc verb -acs, -acking or -acked (intr) to make such an encampment ...
Wolfgang's user avatar
  • 869
47 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

While bigamy technically means the act of taking a second spouse while still legally married to a first (in cultures that enforce marital monogamy), in practice it also refers to people who have a ...
arp's user avatar
  • 2,719
45 votes
Accepted

How many birds in the bush?

There have always been “two birds in the bush” I did not find any references that showed there ever being more than two birds, possibly nestling, in a shrub. However, some claim that the version with ...
Mari-Lou A's user avatar
  • 91.4k
42 votes
Accepted

Why are typewriter keys referred to as “stops”, especially when compared to organ stops?

My recollection of using a typewriter is that the stops refer to devices that limit the travel of the carriage. To produce typing between adjustable margins, the travel of the carriage has to be ...
Anton's user avatar
  • 28.7k
38 votes
Accepted

Meaning of "bully" in the 1800s

The relevant definition from OED is: Capital, first-rate, ‘crack’. This is most certainly the definition you are looking for as, all of the citations are 1844-1875 (although the earliest of said ...
Laurel's user avatar
  • 66.5k
36 votes
Accepted

Why are two-digit numbers in Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" (1726) written in "German style"?

Putting the ones place before the tens place was formerly the primary way to discuss two-digit numbers like twenty-two. The Oxford English Dictionary, under "twenty, adj. and n.," lists the Old ...
TaliesinMerlin's user avatar
36 votes

In Indian English, did the word 'griffin' ever mean newcomer or novice?

Yeah, it used to. That q.v. is telling you that there’s related information elsewhere in the text, so you have to ‘ctrl-f’ your way through Hobson-Jobson to the entry for griffin. We get: Griffin, ...
Heartspring's user avatar
  • 8,610
35 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

My pet peeve: bimonthly, which means every 2 months, but also every 1/2 a month. The latter meeting your criteria. Edit: I'm relieved that other people find this as odd as me. Yes bimonthly means ...
Jim W's user avatar
  • 549
31 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

If you can forgive the transformation of bi- to ba- over time, a barouche is a luxurious, four-wheeled carriage drawn by horses. The word ultimately comes from Latin birotus (bi- "two" + rotus "wheel")...
Théophile's user avatar
31 votes

Why do people say a dog is 'harmless' but not 'harmful'?

This is understood readily if one considers that "harmless" means "unable to cause harm", whereas "harmful" means "causing damage or injury to somebody/something&...
LPH's user avatar
  • 21.7k
29 votes

Was "man" a gender-neutral word in common usage at some point?

I'm old enough to remember when "man" or the combining for "-man" was just common usage. "All men are created equal" was just taken for granted as meaning "All persons were created equal." Words like ...
Catlest's user avatar
  • 315
28 votes
Accepted

When and why did the word "pasta" become commonly used?

According to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, the word pasta has appeared in English publications since at least 1847—but you wouldn't know it by checking editions of Webster's ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
  • 164k
25 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

Perhaps bifurcation is an example? At least the mathematical sense given in Wiktionary, The change in the qualitative or topological structure of a given family as decribed by bifurcation theory. ...
Stephen Powell's user avatar
24 votes

When and why did English stop pronouncing ‘hour’ with an [h] like its spelling still shows?

English has never pronounced hour with an /h/. According to the OED, the word hour comes from Norman French, where it was spelled houre, but pronounced without the /h/ because /h/s are never ...
Peter Shor 's user avatar
23 votes

Was "man" a gender-neutral word in common usage at some point?

Yes. From the Oxford English Dictionary (subscription required): Man was considered until the 20th cent. to include women by implication, though referring primarily to males. It is now frequently ...
GEdgar's user avatar
  • 25.2k
22 votes
Accepted

Countries ending with -Y vs. -IA: What is the pattern?

It's accident, specific to each individual use of the country name in English. Let's take Austria and Hungary as an example. You might want there to be a deep phonological or etymological reason that ...
TaliesinMerlin's user avatar
21 votes
Accepted

What language is this OED entry in?

It's Law French, the normal language of law in England until well after 1464. The words Rawe, Skawe, cokell [and] fagge are evidently English words, not French ones, presumably either because there ...
Colin Fine's user avatar
  • 77.2k
19 votes

Is this use of 'chuse' a spelling mistake, a digitization error or the correct spelling for the time?

"Chuse" was a common alternative spelling. Today, it's obsolete, but many authors from the 19th century and earlier (ch)use it. For example, I would the Colledge of the Cardinalls Would ...
David Richerby's user avatar
19 votes
Accepted

Why does the term "gondola" refer to BOTH a Venetian canal boat AND an enclosed lift up a mountain?

Some of the successive meanings given in the OED are: 1a. " A light flat-bottomed boat or skiff in use on the Venetian canals, having a cabin amidships and rising to a sharp point at either end; it ...
Colin Fine's user avatar
  • 77.2k
19 votes

Meaning of "bully" in the 1800s

J. E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994) notes that bully in the sense of "splendid or excellent" is considerably older than the United States: bully adj. very ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
  • 164k
19 votes
Accepted

How did "oxen" (plural of "ox") survive as the only plural form with the Old English plural ending -en?

Old English oxan, plural of oxa, was very common, appearing in the psalter, the bible, and laws, among other places, although the spelling oxen is attested in only one place, in a document relating to ...
TimR's user avatar
  • 2,999
18 votes
Accepted

What is the historical English word for graffiti?

In the 19th century, the term graffiti was confined to art history and literature and stood for scribbling. Judging from the inscriptions scratched upon the walls of the rooms, it was chiefly ...
Mari-Lou A's user avatar
  • 91.4k
18 votes

Words with "bi-" prefix that no longer mean "two"

"Bicarbonate" and "bisulfate", maybe; these are (in chemistry) older, discouraged (but still in somewhat common use, especially "bicarbonate") names for the hydrogencarbonate and hydrogensulfate ...
Vikki's user avatar
  • 380
17 votes

What is the historical English word for graffiti?

Consider defacement to mar the surface or appearance of; disfigure "to deface a wall by writing on it." Google Trends shows a steady decline for the word since 2005. Google Ngram shows that ...
arrivalin's user avatar
  • 506

Only top scored, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible