Hot answers tagged

160 votes
Accepted

How did English retain its non-Christian names of the week?

Background When in ca. 100 CE Plutarch wrote a treatise entitled Why are the days named after the planets reckoned in a different order from the actual order?, it can be deduced that in Rome the ...
KarlG's user avatar
  • 28k
154 votes
Accepted

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

how about 'Standard-bearer'? A standard-bearer is a person (soldier or civilian) who bears an emblem called an ensign or standard, i.e. either a type of flag or an inflexible but mobile image, ...
Bhoomika Arora's user avatar
91 votes

Where does the expression "triple-A" come from?

Actually, the term 'AAA' for superior quality came from the bond market; since the nineteenth century, AAA has been the highest credit rating for a financial instrument. I would be suspicious of ...
Tim Lymington's user avatar
82 votes
Accepted

What does "Dis sho' am good" mean in this old advertisement?

As other people have said, it means "this sure is good." The re-spelling of this as "Dis" represents the change of the voiced dental fricative /ð/ to a plosive [d]. This sound change occurs at the ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 80.4k
77 votes
Accepted

What is so bad about puns?

It's not generally to excuse a pun, but to draw attention to it. Sometimes "no pun intended" is an edit, or when the author/speaker realised an accidental pun (and in the case of writing decided ...
Chris H's user avatar
  • 21.6k
71 votes
Accepted

Have "choir" and "deer" ever rhymed?

Yes, the two words would have been pronounced with the same rhyme at around 1400 A.D. The word deer is of Germanic origin (cf. German Tier). It was pronounced with a long, mid-high e-sound until the ...
Richard Z's user avatar
  • 2,001
66 votes

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

An old-fashioned/specialist1 term for this is standard-bearer. It is now more widely used as an idiom for someone who represents a cause of any sort, but the original meaning was the person who ...
1006a's user avatar
  • 22.7k
49 votes

Why the "wedded" in "wedded wife"?

As far as I can tell, it's one of two reasons: According to the The History of the English Language, "wedded" in vows originally meant something more along the lines of "pledged". ...
Laurel's user avatar
  • 65.4k
46 votes

How did "biscuit" come to have a distinct meaning in North American English?

A look at early (pre-1800) English dictionaries points to a possible source of confusion early in the career of biscuit. Two dictionaries—Edward Phillips & John Kersey, The New World of Words: Or, ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
  • 162k
45 votes

Is "spilled milk" a 1600's era euphemism regarding rejected intercourse?

A fascinating question. A bit of searching unearths this masters thesis https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1215&context=theses Which says about the incident: This account ...
coagmano's user avatar
  • 491
44 votes
Accepted

Word that sounds like "metal" but means "grit", "tenacity", and "perseverance"

Mettle Defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: a person's ability to cope well with difficulties; spirit and resilience. It is commonly seen in the phrase: (put someone) on their mettle meaning, (of a ...
marcellothearcane's user avatar
44 votes
Accepted

Meaning of "I have often seen Essex cheese quick enough"

Heywood is rhyming "thick enough" with "quick enough" and at the same time making a pun. The word "quick" not only relates to speed, but to the state of being alive. We still use it in that sense ...
Ray Butterworth's user avatar
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
  • 28.4k
39 votes
Accepted

Around 1960 in Britain "Have you a camera?" or "Do you have a camera?"

Interesting question. According to Ngrams, "Have you a" was more common than "Do you have a" in the past, but it has reversed over time. Here, in British English, the reversal ...
GEdgar's user avatar
  • 25k
37 votes

Is "spilled milk" a 1600's era euphemism regarding rejected intercourse?

Since you use Genesis 38:9 as the foundation for your hypothesis, please know that Onan's death was the result of spilling seed (having sex but spilling his seed outside of her vagina) in order to ...
anongoodnurse's user avatar
36 votes

When did double superlatives go out of fashion in English?

Both double comparatives and double superlatives were marginalised and even forced out of standard English by grammarians as tautological and pleonastic towards the end of the 17th century and ...
fev's user avatar
  • 32.2k
33 votes
Accepted

Do the English have an ancient (obsolete) verb for the action of the book opening?

This is a very interesting question. There may not be an old word in English that does what you describe, but it is important to note that the English word "open" relative to a book meant something ...
D Mac's user avatar
  • 672
33 votes

Why is the zh (ʒ) sound so infrequent in English?

I would say it is a combination of two factors that show up separately in other sounds with token frequency on the low end. /ʒ/ never developed in vocabulary inherited from Proto-Germanic English is ...
herisson's user avatar
  • 80.4k
31 votes

Where are all the Latin words?

These figures are almost always the numbers for the top N words in a corpus. The results can vary considerably depending on what corpus is used and what N is (as you can see in this paper). "The ...
Laurel's user avatar
  • 65.4k
30 votes

Why is it a *canary* in a coalmine?

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 ...
Adhemar's user avatar
  • 919
30 votes
Accepted

Where does the expression "triple-A" come from?

The earliest usage of this rating that I’m aware of was by Moody’s in its bond-rating books from the first decade of the twentieth century. (For example, Moody’s Analysis of Railroad Investments 1909....
Davislor's user avatar
  • 7,345
30 votes

Why do translations refer to the original language with a definite article, e.g. "translated from the Spanish"?

“the adj” is a reduced form that removes a noun (which is usually obvious from context) because the adjective is what really matters. In this case, “the Spanish” probably means “the Spanish version”, ...
StephenS's user avatar
  • 735
27 votes

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

In the British Army this person would be a Colour Sergeant or Staff Sergeant ("the colours" being an alternate name for the regimental flag)
zui leng's user avatar
  • 271
27 votes

What exactly is a "ring-a-ding girl"?

The earliest version of The American Slang Dictionary (which first appeared in 1960) include an entry for ring-a-ding is Robert Chapman, New Dictionary of American Slang (1986): ring-a-ding-ding or ...
Sven Yargs's user avatar
  • 162k
27 votes

Why the "wedded" in "wedded wife"?

Historically and etymologically, "wife" meant "woman" (and "husband" meant "householder"). The word was used for both "female spouse" and "adult ...
Tim Pederick's user avatar
  • 1,103
27 votes
Accepted

Is the use of "an" to mean "if" an invention of fantasy writers?

An with the meaning of “If” is rather like Schrödinger’s cat – it both exists and does not exist at the same time. OED Etymology: Variant of and conj.1 with loss of final d An apparently isolated ...
Greybeard's user avatar
  • 40.5k
26 votes

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

Merriam-Webster describes the transformation from "sifted" to "distorted" under "The Winding History of Garble": Garble developed from Late Latin cribellare, a verb meaning "to sift." Arabic ...
Laurel's user avatar
  • 65.4k
26 votes

At what point did "gross" come to mean "disgusting"?

"Gross" dates back to at least the 1380s. The OED lists the following quote under the definition "Of conspicuous magnitude; palpable, striking; plain, evident, obvious, easy to apprehend or understand....
Laurel's user avatar
  • 65.4k
26 votes

Around 1960 in Britain "Have you a camera?" or "Do you have a camera?"

I'll supplement the NGram answers with some corpus data, which shows Have you + NP was in oral use in Great Britain. These samples come from the British National Corpus, which has both oral and print ...
TaliesinMerlin's user avatar
25 votes
Accepted

Did the word "Crocodile" have a dreadful connotation in London 1600s?

Othello being the much older "crocodile-tears" reference, which I thus conclude that it must have been regarded as having a "fox-like" cunningness to it, but would it have been ...
Greybeard's user avatar
  • 40.5k

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