194 posts tagged with etymology.
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Why is it called /etc?

On Unix systems, what is the origin of the directory name "/etc"? That is, why is it called that versus "config", "conf", or anything else that might make sense? Thanks!
posted by arrhn on Apr 10, 2006 - 43 answers

Potato, potahto, Muslim, Moslem

Muslim or Moslem? [more inside]
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood on Apr 8, 2006 - 21 answers

Getting it on (like Donkey Kong?)

What is the origin of the phrase "It's on like Donkey Kong"? [more inside]
posted by roofus on Mar 30, 2006 - 5 answers

"Dying is easy, Comedy is hard" - Source?

What is the origin of the phrase/quote/saying "Dying is easy, comedy is hard?"
posted by YoungAmerican on Mar 7, 2006 - 8 answers

Couple : Several : A Few

Several, couple, a few: occasionally, these words are used to indicate specific quantities of items (3, 2, and 4-5, respectively). Tell me about the etymology of these uses, and help me come up with more words (in English or other languages) that have this interesting specific/nonspecific duality.
posted by breath on Jan 1, 2006 - 41 answers

Why is he called a "body man"?

The personal aide to a President, other politician, and certain other muckety-mucks is sometimes known as a "body man". (This usage was popularized, but not invented, by Charlie's role in The West Wing.) Why "body man"? Does anybody know the origin/etymology of the term?
posted by willbaude on Dec 24, 2005 - 13 answers

What is the etymology of the phrase flaming liberal?

What is the etymology of the phrase flaming liberal? [more inside]
posted by sequential on Dec 5, 2005 - 13 answers

Why is it beef, not cow?

Why do we use euphemistic names for some kinds of meat? [more inside]
posted by 5MeoCMP on Dec 4, 2005 - 52 answers

Where'd Borges Get Dem Werds?

On behalf of a friend, though it actually sounds like an interesting question and I think I'd like to know too: Could you put up something asking about whether there's a real-world source/derivation for the words "hron" and "hronir" used in Borges' "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me on Nov 5, 2005 - 3 answers

Is there a word like widow or widower to describe a surviving twin?

Is there a word like widow or widower to describe a surviving twin? [more inside]
posted by Frank Grimes on Oct 22, 2005 - 12 answers

Worst. Question. Ever.

Can anyone point me to a brief online etymology about this over-punctuated style of expression yourself: Worst. Whatever. Ever. Is it a slashdot thing? Mefi thing? Geek thing? Are there any articles about this online?
posted by arielmeadow on Sep 27, 2005 - 14 answers

Why is something "under" construction?

Why is something "under" construction? [more inside]
posted by birdsquared on Sep 14, 2005 - 17 answers

Where does "Cohee" come from?

What is the etymology behind the word "Cohee"? [more inside]
posted by Third on Sep 13, 2005 - 2 answers

Where did the Pac-Man term "Cruise Elroy" come from?

Where did the Pac-Man term "Cruise Elroy" come from? [more inside]
posted by danb on Jul 15, 2005 - 5 answers

When calling someone a "cocks**ker" are you calling them a "girl" or are you calling them a "homo"?

BadWordFilter - Does the word "buttf**ker" refer to a man who sodomizes a woman, and in turn is just a "dirty sex act" word, or does it refer to a homosexual who sodomizes a man and in turn is a homophobic word? Likewise for "cocks**ker"? When calling someone a "cocks**ker" are you calling them a "girl" or are you calling them a "homo"? Am I thinking too much about it, or should I avoid using these words around women / homosexuals so not to appear sexist / homophobic?
posted by pwb503 on Jul 14, 2005 - 41 answers

What... up?

The 70's seemed to be gripped by "Up the [blank]" mania. Up The Organization (1970). Up the Chastity Belt (1971). Up the Sandbox (1972). Up the Workers (1973). Up the Academy (1980). Then there was "Up With People," but that doesn't really seem related in tone. Where did the "Up the..." form come from, and why the prevalence in 70's culture?
posted by eschatfische on Jun 5, 2005 - 25 answers

The Origin of "meh"?

Can anyone provide me with the origin of the word "meh"? I mean, yeah, definition-wise, it almost undoubtedly comes from "ehh." [more inside]
posted by WCityMike on May 17, 2005 - 29 answers

Does a rule exist to determine how a placename is changed when speaking of something native to that place?

How is the term is determined for a native, thing or resident of a place? For example, an American from America or Italian from Italy seems simple enough, but Glaswegian from Glasgow? Shouldn't it be Moswegian and not Muscovite? [more inside]
posted by geckoinpdx on Apr 13, 2005 - 37 answers

And How!!!

What is the Etymological origin of the phrase "And How!" used as an exclamation. [more inside]
posted by Megafly on Mar 23, 2005 - 7 answers

Etymology of the phrase "hunt you down like a dog"

What's the origin of the phrase "hunt you down like a dog?" I can seem to find the origins of other phrases involving dogs pretty easily but not this one.
posted by DyRE on Feb 3, 2005 - 16 answers

Where does underwater basketweaving come from?

At least since I was a kid, there's been the joke/expression "underwater basketweaving." Namely as a joke college major: "What's your major?" "Underwater basketweaving." What is the origin of this expression? Anyone know?
posted by zardoz on Jan 28, 2005 - 26 answers

Etymological Relationship between Latin "Iove" and Hebrew "Yahweh"?

Is there any etymological relationship between the non-nominative Latin forms of Jupiter [Iuppiter, Iovis], e.g. iove (which would be pronounced "yohweh"), and the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh?
posted by stopgap on Jan 23, 2005 - 11 answers


EtymologyFilter: Was the word "spirit" first used to describe alcohol, or the non-physical portion of the self, ghosts, etc.?
posted by b1tr0t on Dec 21, 2004 - 12 answers

How is the word "merc" pronounced and what does it mean?

Pronunciation/Definition Filter: The "word" merc. (+) [more inside]
posted by mygothlaundry on Dec 17, 2004 - 21 answers

Deciphering Arabic

LanguageFilter: Any Arabic speakers here? I'm trying to decipher an Arabic phrase: "Baashake ya halo." I might have spelled it wrong, but I know it's not a common Arabic phrase so much as it is slang. Any ideas?
posted by symphonik on Dec 12, 2004 - 9 answers

Dutch Ovens

Etymology of the phrase "Dutch oven." (Stop giggling. The culinary sense, please.) I have a partial answer but am in need of authoratative confirmation. [more inside]
posted by stuart_s on Dec 9, 2004 - 18 answers

Ukraine vs. The Ukraine

Ukraine vs. The Ukraine. Is the latter outdated now that Ukraine is an independent nation? Do Ukranians feel strongly about the difference? I hear people refer to it both ways.
posted by hal incandenza on Nov 26, 2004 - 6 answers

Cancer the Crab

Crawly linguistics: What is the association between crabs (the crustaceans) and cancer? We all know the zodiac sign of the crab is called "Cancer", Cancer is also the genus of some crabs, and I've just discovered that other crabs are of the genus Carcinus, which sounds very close to "carcinogen". What's the reasoning and history behind this?
posted by Jimbob on Oct 12, 2004 - 3 answers

Can genius be used as an adjective?

Can genius be used as adjective, as in this example from the BBC: "Send Dave your genius idea."? If so, why? [More Inside.] [more inside]
posted by MiguelCardoso on Sep 2, 2004 - 29 answers

The name of the White Castle sandwich- slyder or slider?

Can I please get a definitive ruling on White Castle "slider" vs. White Castle "slyder"? Google tells me it's "slider" but I don't think that's right.
posted by blueshammer on Aug 8, 2004 - 11 answers


Is there a single-word noun that means "things that relate to blogs/are in the manner of blogs?" If not, any ideas for a made-up one?
posted by Nikolai on Jun 15, 2004 - 28 answers

What's the origin of the comptroller? How is it different than a "controller"?

After reading up on this MeFi FPP, I began to wonder about the word comptroller. The dictionary does provide its etymology (just another variant of "to count" being "to compt"), but what I want to know is why this particular office in American cities is called such. Is this office the same name as that in other countries? Perhaps in the UK? Why do we call them comptrollers and not just controller?
posted by linux on May 19, 2004 - 11 answers

Where does 101 come from?

I'm in the process of teaching 1984 by George Orwell and, as we near the end of Book Three and are shown the horrors of Room 101, the question always arises: why do we use the number 101 to designate an introduction to a subject? What is the origin?
posted by ronv on May 18, 2004 - 11 answers

The opposite of indent

The opposite of indent is __________:
A. unindent
B. outdent
C. dedent
D. I can locate no firm etymological basis for any of the above [more inside]
posted by Danelope on May 12, 2004 - 26 answers

Astronaut vs Cosmonaut

Etymology question: astronaut vs. cosmonaut. Why are there two separate terms for the same thing? Is the distinction just a Cold War relic? It always seemed a little redundant to me. What about "taikonaut"?
posted by mkn on Feb 22, 2004 - 4 answers

Where did the phrase "bow-chicka-wow-wow" originate?

Meme origin question: The phrase "bow-chicka-wow-wow" has become the standard way to signify "porn movie music." I remember seeing a stand-up comic in the late '80s/early '90s who spoke that phrase, and that was what got my circle of middle schoolers using it, although I doubt that was the real progenitor. But it's too specific of an expression to have been developed independently. Thoughts?
posted by blueshammer on Feb 3, 2004 - 18 answers

Origin of "Go Piss Up a Rope" and the H. in "Jesus H. Christ"?

Excuse me, but can anyone tell me: What exactly is the origin of the phrase Go piss up a rope? I know it's present in the American South and Midwest, but did it originate elsewhere? Does the phrase occur in other countries? And how exactly does one piss up a rope? Does it mean Go climb a rope (similar to Piss off!), or literally Go urinate up a length of braided twine? And, while we're at it, what the hell does the H stand for in Jesus H Christ? I've always wondered. [...a little more inside] [more inside]
posted by Shane on Jan 19, 2004 - 12 answers

Airport Codes

Why is there sometimes an "X" added on the end of a three letter airport code? i.e. LAX [more inside]
posted by SpecialK on Jan 17, 2004 - 19 answers

Origin of a meme

What is the origin of the

1. Do one thing
2. Do another thing
3. ??????
4. Profit!

posted by jpoulos on Jan 13, 2004 - 6 answers

What is the origin of the slang term beeyotch?

What is the origin of the slang term beeyotch (not sure I spelled it right.) [more inside]
posted by konolia on Jan 12, 2004 - 22 answers

"Asshat" - origination and definition?

Where did the term "asshat" originate, and what's it's definition?
posted by SpecialK on Jan 8, 2004 - 10 answers

Are there deeper meanings to the names of Tolkien's characters?

I've got a friend wondering if there's an underlying logic to how Tolkien came up with his character names. Specifically, he's wondering about any meanings or allusions to the name "Boromir." Any leads on this kind of scholarship?
posted by blueshammer on Dec 19, 2003 - 11 answers

Why do lesbians have their own word?

Why are gay women lesbians, while gay men are just gay? [more inside]
posted by o2b on Dec 16, 2003 - 12 answers

The word "stat"

Where does the word "stat" come from, as in "Give me 20ccs of Ringer's Lactate, stat!"?
(I know it means quickly, but what's its origin?)
posted by jpburns on Dec 13, 2003 - 10 answers

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