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28

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 ...


8

Salsburg appears to be wrong. The OED gives meaning 2: "That has or conveys a particular meaning; that signifies or indicates something." from 1573; and meaning 4a: " Sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention; noteworthy; consequential, influential." from 1642. He might of course be right that meaning 4a was less common until the 20th ...


6

This link explains why influential statisticians are concerned about the use of the term statistical significance. Editorial from Nature Their concerns are not merely linguistic, but if we just focus on those, we see that the fundamental problem is that 'significance' in statistics is a technical term that emphatically does not have the same meaning as in ...


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 ...


4

Early versions of the proverbial phrase According to Martin Manser, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs (2002) has this entry for the proverb in question: a jack of all trades is master of none Somebody who has a very wide range of abilities or skills usually does not excel at any of them: We encourage our students to specialize at an early age,...


3

When to drop AD and BC from dates? Well as usual the answer is can the reader understand the text if you drop them. If you were talking about the G20 meeting in 2018 I think the meaning is clear even if you do not use A.D. If you were talking about the evolution of military tactics used by Roman Centurions, then I am sure you would need to include B.C. or A....


3

The OED confirms the Merriam Webster assertion of 1616. It gives in all three senses of the word but I believe the one you are looking for is sense 1. But clearly its importance takes off with the arrival of a consumerist society in the late-eighteenth, and early-nineteenth centuries. A room used to display goods for sale, (now) esp. large items such ...


3

In the scientific community, the use of significant can largely be attributed to the work of RA Fisher (who is among the subjects of The Lady Tasting Tea, and the source of the title of the book). In particular, scientific results are often deemed significant, and therefore publishable in a peer-reviewed journal, if the p value is 0.05 or less. Fisher ...


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

To your first question, the original context would have been legal, and I can find attestation for the exact phrase and similar phrases in the 1960s. A collocation search in the Corpus of Historical American English doesn't turn up "underage woman," but it does turn up several terms related to age-related laws, whether alcohol consumption (drinking, drinkers)...


2

It's hard to test systematically for early instances of "they" as third-person singular pronoun because such instances often follows on a contingent phrase that is highly specific and variable from one instance to the next. For example: If a person [performs action X], they will [get result Y]. However, I decided to check Google Books results for several ...


2

I believe it’s more an expression of the limits of her authority, however regretful that may be to her. Remember, King Canute never actually thought he could stem the rising tide — it was never about arrogance. As the story goes, he ordered his throne be carried to the water’s edge, where he commanded the waves to stop advancing in order to demonstrate to ...


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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