Questions tagged [etymology]

the study of the origin of words and phrases.

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8
votes
1answer
627 views

Is the use of X for unknown quantities taken from the Arabic word “shay”?

In this TED Talk, the speaker says that the use of X for unknown quantities was the result of Spanish people taking the Arabic word shay (meaning "thing"), which was used by Arabs to denote unknown ...
72
votes
3answers
20k views

Is there a relationship between the words “night” and “eight”?

I have seen on Facebook, a post (in French) claiming that many words for the night are based on a n+respective number for the number 8. For example on this website, Language Number 8 night ...
49
votes
2answers
31k views

Is “tag” named for “touch and go”?

A Facebook meme (with 146 thousand shares) asks: How old were you when you learned that the game TAG stands for "Touch and Go" I was today years old... Is the etymology of the game tag an ...
1
vote
1answer
782 views

Do Muslims call an inner layer of a hijab a “ninja”?

At the National Museum of Ethnology, in Osaka, Japan, it's claimed that an inner, stretchy layer of a hijab is referred to by Malaysians as a "ninja", and that it was thus named based on the clothing ...
19
votes
1answer
20k views

Was the phrase “hello” popularized because of the name of Alexander Graham Bell's wife/girlfriend “Margaret Hello”?

This is a popular explanation of the etymology of the word hello, seen in many email forwards: When you lift the phone, you say "Hello". Do you know what is the real meaning of "Hello" It is ...
21
votes
0answers
2k views

Was the oven mitt first developed by Earl Mitt?

Did "Earl Mitt" even exist at all? I first heard this story from an answer to this English Language and Usage Stack Exchange question about oven mitts/oven gloves. Earlier today, the story was in ...
7
votes
1answer
389 views

Was the term “goosebumps” ever used to refer to venereal sores?

This Cracked.com article claims that "goosebumps" used to refer to venereal sores: Well, it's thought that "Goosey" is referencing an old slang term "goose" which was a nice but roundabout way of ...
18
votes
4answers
25k views

Was the word 'racist' coined by Trotsky in 1927?

According to the image below, "racist is a made up word by Leon Trotsky in 1927." I searched in the Online Etymology Dictionary and found that racist (n.) 1932 [as a noun], 1938 as an ...
13
votes
3answers
18k views

Does the word “butterfly” stem from an erroneous transcription of “flutterby”?

I've heard it said on multiple occasions that the word Butterfly was originally Flutterby, but that it was either misread or mispronounced and somehow ended up being recorded as Butterfly instead. I ...
1
vote
1answer
555 views

Is the etymology of quack from quicksilver?

Does the work "quack" to describe a charlatan or medical kook, come from the word quicksilver (mercury)? I heard doctors would inject mercury in sick patients to destroy malignant cells, and as a ...
14
votes
1answer
941 views

Was “bug” used to refer to software bugs before being popularized by Grace Hopper?

A very famous photo is the following which is the picture of a moth stuck to a piece of paper with the writing "First actual case of a bug being found". We already know that bug was being used for ...
14
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3answers
4k views

Is Nazi a diminutive of Ignatius?

The German Wikipedia page for Nazi claims that the word Nazi is a diminutive form of Ignatius (Ignatz). The cited source is etymonline.com: The 24th edition of Etymologisches Wörterbuch der ...
35
votes
1answer
3k views

Did the computing term “bug” come from a moth stuck in a computer?

The story goes like this: Back when computers still consisted of vacuum tubes, a system went down one day and people started investigating the cause. They found that a moth was stuck in the ...
11
votes
2answers
1k views

Did “secular” mean “non-denominational”?

The Reverend Fred Nile MLC is leader of the Christian Democratic Party in Australia. In a letter to a major Australian newspaper on the subject of ethics classes as an alternative to Special Religious ...
45
votes
3answers
22k views

Was the name “Wendy” created for Peter Pan?

I ran across something odd today... I have an iPhone app that lists facts, trivia, and other useless information (it's called Cool Facts, downloaded from iTunes). So far, nothing I've found on it ...