Word and Phrase Origins

Includes questions related to the origins and etymology of English words and phrases.

Asked in Care of Fish, Word and Phrase Origins, Fish

What words describe fish?

User Avatar
sleek, scaly, underwater sometimes slimy or rubbery
Asked in English Language, Word and Phrase Origins, English Spelling and Pronunciation

Why do you say 'a uniform' not 'an uniform'?

User Avatar
As a general rule, "a" is used when the first sound (not letter) in a word is a consonant. "An" is used when the first sound (not letter) is a vowel. "Uniform" is pronounced /ˈjuːnɪfɔːm/ or /ˈjunəfɔrm/, the first sound being /j/, (sounds like the 'y' in the words "you" or "yes"), which is a consonant. The rule has to do with the sound of the word and not the written form of the word. If the following word has the initial sound of a consonant then "a" is used. If the initial sound of the following word is a vowel then "an" is used. This rule results in a slight difference in usage in Britain and the USA.
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins

Where did the phrase all day unless it rains originate?

User Avatar
Street vendors that rely on pleasant outdoor weather for foot traffic (passersby) will "stay open" or "be here all day unless it rains"
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins

What does the phrase Belay your order mean?

User Avatar
Belay your order essentially means "cancel the order" or "stop the order" refer to: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belay
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins

Where did the phrase off color originate?

User Avatar
16th. cent. originally 'choler', early medical 'choleric' theory believing four 'cholers' and their balance (health) or imbalance (illness) was determinable by sight. 'Off choler' describing a generalized illness.
Asked in Louisiana, Word and Phrase Origins, Names and Name Meanings

What is the meaning of the name 'Louisiana'?

User Avatar
Louisiane was named in 1682 by the French explorer La Salle for Louis XIV of France, and originally applied to the entire Mississippi basin.
Asked in English Language, Word and Phrase Origins

Who came up with the word ajar?

User Avatar
The word 'ajar' means (of a door, window, lid, and so on) 'slightly open'. It can be traced back to the Old English* term, cier, or cierr, meaning 'a turn' or 'on the turn', which became, in Middle English**, char. By the 1700s in England, the term had become on char. The modern word ajar is first documented in English in 1718, and is thought to have come from a char, a Scottish variant of on char. *Old English: before about 1100. **Middle English: before the mid 1400s. Another, unrelated and now rarely-used meaning of 'ajar' describes something which is not in harmony (with others, or with surroundings, and so on). This word is from the 1520s English word, (to) jar, meaning to annoy, irritate, to make a harsh or unpleasant sound. That term became at jar, meaning at discord, and finally, ajar. The modern word, jar, is still commonly used in this sense, as in jarring, or jarred, suggesting something discordant, or out of harmony.
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins

Where does the phrase yellow rag come from?

User Avatar
In 1893 The New York World newspaper issued a yellow colored supplement in which it highlighted specific news stories. Critics of the paper labeled it "yellow journalism" indicating it was sensationalistic news, and the name stuck.
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins

What is the origin of the word morbid?

User Avatar
Morbid is derived from the Latin word morbus which means "illness". If you remove the suffix (morb-), you are able to add the English suffix -id to create morbid.
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins

What is the meaning and origin of tata bye bye?

User Avatar
"good-bye," 1823, a word first recorded as infant's speech. Abbreviation T.T.F.N., "ta-ta for now," popularized 1941 by BBC radio program "ITMA," where it was the characteristic parting of the cockney cleaning woman character Mrs. Mopp, voiced by Dorothy Summers.
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins, Bigfoot Yeti and Sasquatch

What is the origin name of doldrums?

User Avatar
Circa 1850's: originally 'doldrum' was a word meaning 'dullard; dull or sluggish; probably derived from 'dol', meaning 'dull'. It was, around the same time, used as a nautical term to describe an area just north of the equator where the two belts (meteorological term describing a region where a specific condition is found) of trade winds meet and neutralize each other resulting in no wind or wind insufficient to move a ship fitted only with sails. It was mistakenly used to describe a place rather than a circumstance. It is commonly used today to adumbrate a nautical state of being, a physiological condition and/or an emotional condition.
Asked in History of Ireland, Saint Patrick's Day, Word and Phrase Origins

What is the origin of the term 'Luck of the Irish'?

User Avatar
It is an ironic phrase. The Irish have been, and are a spectacularly unlucky race. The "luck of the Irish" is BAD luck, as any reading of Irish history will document. When I did my Master's thesis on Irish references in the American language, I found the original and proper use of this irony goes clear back to the Old Country and migrated to America early on. Nowadays many speakers and writers -- even the supposedly erudite ones -- misuse the phrase to imply GOOD luck. Let these misinformed (and misinforming) folks eat only potatoes for a few decades -- if any potatoes can grow in their fields. Some trace the origin of the phrase to the US where, during the exploration for gold in the West, there were a high number of Irish people who got lucky, and found their "pot o' gold" in the gold fields of California, or were equally prosperous in silver mining. Luck of the Irish does owe its origin to the U.S.A.. When they arrived, they were very disliked, treated badly, despised and hated. When the Irish had any kind of success most Americans at the time didn't think the Irish were capable such successes, so they called it luck. Hence the term "Luck of the Irish". As far as I know, the term comes from the legend of the 'Little People' of the land, or the leprechauns. Finding or catching a leprechaun (who would then give you gold) was a lucky event that could only take place in Ireland.
Asked in English Language, Word and Phrase Origins

What does the phrase Love Like Woe mean?

User Avatar
The word woe means to cause sorrow or distress. So it means about a girl/boy whose love has caused them sorrow.
Asked in Idioms, Cliches, and Slang, Word and Phrase Origins

What does the phrase 'Go Figure' mean?

User Avatar
To figure means to calculate (as in, do figures), and in this case is extended to mean "think through", a meaning for "to figure" also found in "figure it out"( think about it until you understand it). When someone tells you to go figure, it literally means they want you to think about something. When the "something" isn't specified (the phrase is used at the end of another phrase or by itself), it refers to whatever has just been said, and indicates that the speaker thinks there's something funny about it (though often it's black humour and it's depressing as soon as you stop laughing), and almost always about someone (or mankind as a whole) being stupid or Murphy's law applying. Can often be replaced with "which was to be expected" or "can you believe anyone in his right mind would do that?"
Asked in Idioms, Cliches, and Slang, Word and Phrase Origins, Definitions

What does safe mean in slang?

User Avatar
When someone is on good terms with your, or a friend. Someone who is cool/nice. (According to UrbanDictionary.com)
Asked in Photography, Word and Phrase Origins

Where did the word photography come from?

User Avatar
It comes from 'photos' = ancient greek /latin for light and graphos = to write; so its writing with light. Splitting hairs i know, it is to PAINT/DRAW with light
Asked in Relationships, Word and Phrase Origins

What does romance moves you in a new direction mean?

User Avatar
Romance makes you feel a better person in yourself and because your happy its like it turns a new page in your life and everything just seems perfect
Asked in Genealogy, Word and Phrase Origins

Why do you call your ancestors ancestors?

User Avatar
"Ancestor" is the English word for those from whom you are descended. You use that word because that is what the word is. In many ways words are arbitrary sounds that are agreed to have a particular meaning. The English word ancestor comes from the Old French word ancestre. This in turn comes from the Latin word antecessor. They all derive from from the Latin verb antecedere, meaning to precede or go before, which is what an ancestor did. So your ancestor's ancestor is also your ancestor. We do not need or have a separate word for that in English.
Asked in Word and Phrase Origins, Geology

What is alluvial deposition?

User Avatar
Alluvial sediment:is clay or silt or gravel carried by rushing streams and deposited where the stream slows down. Alluvial deposition refers to this process.by which alluvium is thus deposited.

Copyright © 2020 Multiply Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The material on this site can not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Multiply.