I'm a woman in my late 40s, and the first thing I think when I see an older van without windows is that it's a "rape van." My immediate first thought is that it's a dangerous thing. Literally all of the (female) friends I ask about this agree with me: these vans are used for crimes. And yet none of us really know why that's our visceral reaction. What's the origin? [more inside]
Is there a suffix (or other word modifier) used like -phobia/-phobic/-phobe that means concern or alarm or apprehension without the connotation of terror or hatred or exclusion? Ideally the word would make sense to a fluent English speaker, but if it needs a little explaining, that's okay. This isn't a political question; it's for a story.
I've seen the term "engineer's disease" on Metafilter (and used it myself both here and elsewhere) used to describe engineers and other technical folks assuming their technical knowledge of systems (usually computer, mechanical/electrical) gives them expertise in solving other complex issues. Where did the term start? I'd like to be able to give a reference to people when I use the term, but running a search for the term yields either links about autism or about being too creative, neither of which I am looking to talk about. [more inside]
So there is this odd little reference in Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) to the practice in defeat in war to "demand Quarter (which the Greeks called ζωγρία, taking alive)" (Pt II, Ch20). I am trying to find something (book, text etc) on the legal-philosophical origin or history of this practice. However, I"m not having much luck finding info on it at all. Any suggestions? History of rules of war perhaps? [more inside]
Are there any words for belief/nonbelief in an afterlife? If not, could you help me make some up? [more inside]
I've said and written 'spicket' my entire life and only this morning discovered it was non-standard. Some dictionaries give a cursory redirect to 'spigot'; some don't even list the 'ck' variant. The apparent root of 'spigot' [Latin spica] would seem to obviate this discussion, but the change from /k/ to /g/ had taken place at least by 1590 (both forms co-existed for a while). When did 'spicket' become non-standard, and why has that /k/ persisted to the present day? [more inside]
"Après moi, le deluge" is a famous phrase. Literally it means "After me, the deluge." Idiomatically it essentially means "I don't care what happens after I'm gone, even if the world ends." I get all that. But what is missing from the Wikipedia page I linked to is the historical/cultural context; "the deluge" figuratively refers to the biblical flood described in Genesis 6-9. Is there a specific word for this sort of context for a phrase or term of art? [more inside]
Can anyone answer the question posed in this blog post? Namely, what is the etymology behind the choice of kanji for the word for Australia?
What is the etymology of using "believe" as a synonym for "ask" or "pray to"? As in, 'If I Want to Believe God for a $65 Million Plane, You Cannot Stop Me' (and how I found it, naturally). Or if not the etymology, when/where it appeared? It wasn't in Google Ngram. [more inside]
I have noticed that in the UK people will sometimes refer to the (head) office of a company as "[Company name] Towers", even if the building is not in a tower, and it's not officially called a tower. Where does this come from? [more inside]
When did people start saying "a training" to mean "a training session/workshop/meeting/program/etc"? What dialect of English did training-as-a-noun originate in? How did it spread?
What is the origin of the term API (Application Programming Interface)? Who coined it? What terms did it compete with?
When you tell your dog to go attack somebody, we say "Sic 'em!" Anybody know the word origin of this phrase?
If it means "the love of knowledge," as it is commonly given in dictionaries, why isn't it "sophophilia" on the analogy of Anglophilia, necrophilia, bibliophilia, etc? [more inside]
"Nice catch!" you'll think, realizing that I deserve kudos for noticing that this question is hard to find an answer to. But where does the phrase "nice catch" come from? Why is noticing and identifying a thing a "catch"? When was this first used and whence did it come?
Basically Nora Reed's unanswered question in this comment from two years ago: what is the etymology of 'umbers', in the New Mexican idiolect? Will also accept explanations of 'a la v[e|ay]'. At some point I was told it was a not super minced version of something really profane, and I've never been able to work out what.
What is the origin of the phrase 'Suck it up, buttercup'?
I was playing around with Google's Ngram viewer and noticed this interesting graph. Any idea what drove the two peaks around 1885 and 1919?
I have an idea for a project that would require the ability to search a dictionary of words and find the year of it's known introduction (as close as possible). I am aware of etymology-online (love that site), but since, as far as I'm aware, it's just a site, and the compilers don't have a publicly accessible database, I was wondering if anybody knows of any site that actually WOULD have a freely available database (either query via an API through the web, or downloadable to self-host)? [more inside]
What's the origin of the now-archaic phrase "sift this matter to the bottom," meaning to make it a priority? [more inside]
Do any other languages use hot as a synonym for spicy? Examples of spicy in other languages with etymology / literal translation are welcome
Anti-feminists seem to often use the word "female" in the noun form, in places where people would ordinarily just use "women." (I don't want to spend a lot of time hunting up evidence of this, but here are some examples. There's also this and this.) I'm curious to know how/why this became a thing -- for example, I've wondered if it has something to do with military or police usage, because those are the only places I've previously noticed women being referred to as females. Does anybody know?
Is there a known origin point for the phrase "as one does" (or "like you do" or similar variations), when used to indicate that the speaker is aware of how ridiculous an action is? For instance, "I was at the supermarket at three in the morning, offering the cashier ten bucks for an early box of Count Chocula -- as one does -- and...."
What is the origin of the phrase, "the great outdoors?"
What's the etymology of the "Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon"? [more inside]
In the early 1990s, the boys in my middle school used to threaten to "steal" each other, meaning hit/punch/sock/pop/smack. It was most commonly heard as, "I'mma steal you in your eye!" or "I'm gonna steal him upside the head!" I found it strange even then, and I haven't heard or seen reference to it since. Have you heard "steal" used like this before? Where could it have come from? Relevant details: This was in Nash County, North Carolina. I recall hearing it exclusively from white boys. The couple times I asked someone who was self-aware enough to discuss it, they were adamant that it was "steal" and not "steel."
What is the origin of "making it sing," as in to cause something to be at its best, be it an instrument, weapon, machine, or anything else? [more inside]
What are some examples of really easy/obvious etymological descents that most people aren't really aware of? I'm trying to prove to somebody that there are a lot of these in the english language but I've forgotten most of the interesting ones I used to know. [more inside]
What is the origin of ending a sentence with a trailing "so..." ? Who is on record first using it? How did it spread? I am talking about the annoying unfinished sentence word: "We would have gone cycling, but I couldn't find my bike, so..." I am not talking about the legitimate adverb: "I love biking so!"
In popular culture, there's a "meme" of sorts involving a person helping another push someone over. I've seen it in goofy images and comics: someone kneels down on all fours behind the victim's legs (often smiling) while a person in front pushes the victim. Is there a term for this?
Is there a term for a seer/diviner/oracle that is only able to see into the past? I'm willing to grab one from a non-English language if there is a word that means specifically "a seer who can only see the past", but English is prefered. Antiquated terms are OK. Bonus points for interesting etymological details (or links to interesting etymological details). [more inside]
I had never heard this phrase before and came across it in an article about autism. Curious about it, I searched online, but was unable to find much. [more inside]
I flashed the biker wave on my ride home tonight, and as I was thinking some warm fuzzy thoughts about the "motorcycling fraternity", I noticed that the other rider was a woman. Is there a word which represents this concept in a gender-inclusive way? If "fraternity" has to do with brothers and "sorority" has to do with sisters, what word has to do with "siblings"? [more inside]
Why do people say "grill out" instead of "grill"? [more inside]
What is the etymology of "ratchet," a slang term with a negative meaning? [more inside]
At what point did the phrase "I'm/you're/we're hosed" come into play in the US vernacular? Earliest record? From pop culture somewhere? Are there regions of the US that did not ever use this turn of phrase?
I am looking for a text file of a list of words (roughly the 5000-10000 most common English words) and their root word and root word language. My Google Fu only turns up single words or pages that I can type in a word to get to another page to get the etymology. Wikipedia has some stuff, but it is sorted by language root, which is not what I am looking for. I would like to have a long list of words in a text file so that I can manipulate it programatically. Comma separated or whatever, any format would be great. Here is one use case: Yoke - [list of words that have yoke in the etymological history] (Many, many many English words come from the root work for Yoke.) All answers appreciated!
What's a good resource for looking up the Latin roots of Spanish words? (There are a number of fantastic resources for finding the Latin roots of English words, but I'm having a harder time with Spanish words.) [more inside]
I have two phrases that I've come across in the past two days that I cannot get the internet to tell me what they mean: "yard cousin" and "bluefish wars". [more inside]
I have a theory about the origin of the expression “I know, right?” that’s been fairly popular among young and youngish Americans (and others, for all I know) for the past several years. I’m testing that theory with this question. I understand that Mexicans (and maybe other Latin Americans) have an equivalent expression, “Sí, ¿verdad?” - even with the same intonation as “I know, right?”. Well, one source has told me this, anyway. Can other people verify this? And if so, how common is/was the Spanish version of the expression, and roughly when (and where) did people start saying it?
"Emydidae" is the name of a family of turtles. What I want to know is what does the name *mean*. I have exhausted my google-fu and the best I've been able to find is this wiktionary link that gives a meaning for "-idae" as "appearance". Any reptile/turtle fans care to enlighten me?
What is this non-English, possibly German word? Sounds like veetsul zooten, means emotional from an impending change. [more inside]
What does the word orthogonal mean in this context? [more inside]
What is the etymology of British nicknames ending in -zza/-zzer? [more inside]
Stamp collecting is philately. Coin collecting falls under numismatics (perhaps as a subdivision). Rock collecting is not really geology in the same way as the above terms are used. Is there a similar term for rock collecting?
Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck? That's not my question (much as I might like it to be). I'm trying to find the origin of this question, which was asked to President Obama recently. [more inside]
I'm looking for examples of terms that remain in common use, even though the technology that they originally described is obsolete or has changed. Also: does this phenomenon have a name? [more inside]
Is there a resource where I can learn about the Greek and Latin words that commonly underlie words and names in English? I don't want to learn Greek or Latin, I'm talking about only the words which are commonly useful as 'clues'. [more inside]
Where did the expression "Why? Because fuck you, that's why!" come from? [more inside]
As I understand it, 'prepend' is common computer jargon to mean the opposite of append. In a little debate with some of my computer science colleagues, they claim that it is an actual English word with that meaning, while I contend that it's computer jargon that was invented out of convenience and that 'prepend' is actually an archaic word that means something similar to pondering. [more inside]