289 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 ...
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 ...
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129 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 ...
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108 votes
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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. ...
80 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 ...
71 votes

Why is ‘i’ in milk pronounced differently from ‘i’ in find?

The answer to this question is very complex if all details have to be included; but here is a very simplified version:   1. Homorganic lengthening Some time in the later stages of Old English (so some ...
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. ...
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53 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 ...
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52 votes
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When is my son's first birthday?

I can't speak to the history of the usage, but basically, yes, "birthday" means the anniversary of your birth, not the original day of the event. People rarely refer to the day someone was born as his ...
  • 35.3k
49 votes

“Programming” versus “programing”: which is preferred?

You may have noticed that "programmed" and "programming" stand as an exception to the usual tendency for final consonant doubling to occur in two-syllable words only when the second syllable is ...
  • 153k
46 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 ...
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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 ...
  • 86.5k
42 votes

When did men start to lose their "virginity"?

The OED indicates first recorded use of the word "virgin" to refer to either sex was in 1300, about 100 years after the first recorded use to refer to females in 1200. The reference is to Cursor Mundi....
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 ...
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38 votes
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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 ...
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36 votes
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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 ...
33 votes
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Why did English change so much between Chaucer and Shakespeare?

The printing press changed everything. Prior to Gutenberg, English was primarily a spoken language and stories were often passed on in the oral tradition. The introduction of printed works in the ...
33 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 ...
31 votes

When is my son's first birthday?

Your son's first birthday will be 23 September 2015. 23 September 2014 was his zeroth birthday. Like C arrays, laws of thermodynamics, and the days of March, birthdays are zero-indexed.
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30 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")...
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 ...
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28 votes
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Why does American English still write "glamour" with a "u"?

Because it was not a French word, but a Scottish one. And we did lose a u — just not the u you were expecting. Per the OED, it was a corruption of grammar, which during the 18th century was ...
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25 votes
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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 ...
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24 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. ...
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 ...
23 votes
Accepted

Was the pronunciation of “symmetry” different in the past?

In Shakespeare's time, because of the Great Vowel Shift, symmetry was a much closer rhyme with eye than it is today (if it wasn't exact), and Shakespeare and his contemporaries used rhymes like this ...
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 ...
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22 votes
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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 ...
21 votes
Accepted

How far back in time could I travel and still be understood?

It largely depends on your current dialect. Regions of the English-speaking world vary in pronunciation to the point where communication can be impossible. For example, my Canadian-influenced Upstate ...
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21 votes

When did 'want' stop meaning "in need of"

Not yet. want have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for. "I want an apple" synonyms: desire, wish for, hope for, aspire to, fancy, care for, like; More (archaic) lack ...

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