Language »

The Origin of the Phrase “A Penny For Your Thoughts”

The Origin of the Phrase “A Penny For Your Thoughts”

Matt Blitz December 8, 2014 2

Mark C. asks: Where did the expression “a penny for your thoughts” come from? The word “penny” may have come from the English ruler Penda, King of Mencia (an Anglo-Saxton kingdom in today’s English

Read More »
The Origins of Aunt, Uncle, Brother, Sister, Mom and Dad

The Origins of Aunt, Uncle, Brother, Sister, Mom and Dad

Melissa December 4, 2014 1

In case you ever wondered how your relatives came to be called what they are, here’s a brief history. The modern English word for a parent’s sister, “aunt,” is a direct descendant of the

Read More »
Origin of “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish,” and Some of History’s Other Most Insightful Quotes about Money

Origin of “Penny Wise and Pound Foolish,” and Some of History’s Other Most Insightful Quotes about Money

Melissa November 26, 2014 0

Andy L. asks: Who first said “penny wise and a pound foolish”? The person credited with coining the phrase, “penny wise and pound foolish,” Robert Burton, also said about writers, “They lard their lean

Read More »
The Truth About Prepositions and the End of Sentences

The Truth About Prepositions and the End of Sentences

Melissa November 24, 2014 1

A great man once said, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” Eloquently highlighting the ridiculousness of strictly adhering to the rule against ending a sentence with a

Read More »
“Sleeping Tight” and When the Bed Bugs Started to Bite

“Sleeping Tight” and When the Bed Bugs Started to Bite

Matt Blitz November 24, 2014 2

Nothing put more fear into this author as a child more than being told, right before bedtime, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” I was a logical kid and I knew that ghosts,

Read More »
Why are Potatoes Called “Spuds”?

Why are Potatoes Called “Spuds”?

Daven Hiskey November 18, 2014 0

Chelsea asks: Why are potatoes called “spuds”? Among other definitions, a “spud” is a “sharp, narrow spade” used to dig up large rooted plants. Around the mid-19th century (first documented reference in 1845 in

Read More »
Why the Mass Avoidance of Some Business is Called “Boycotting”

Why the Mass Avoidance of Some Business is Called “Boycotting”

Daven Hiskey November 7, 2014 0

This term was named after a nineteenth century Englishman, Captain Charles C. Boycott (who originally had the surname “Boycatt,” but the family changed the spelling when he was nine years old). If you guessed

Read More »
Why We Say “O’Clock”

Why We Say “O’Clock”

Daven Hiskey November 7, 2014 0

The practice of saying “o’clock” is simply a remnant of simpler times when clocks weren’t very prevalent and people told time by a variety of means, depending on where they were and what references

Read More »
Why Do We Call Parents “Mom” and “Dad”?

Why Do We Call Parents “Mom” and “Dad”?

Karl Smallwood November 4, 2014 5

Becky E. asks: Why do we call parents mom and dad? Calling our parents anything other than mom, dad or one of the many variations thereof is an almost alien concept to many (and

Read More »
Did English Speakers Really Not Use Contractions in the 19th Century as Depicted in True Grit?

Did English Speakers Really Not Use Contractions in the 19th Century as Depicted in True Grit?

Melissa November 3, 2014 3

Karl A. asks: In the movie True Grit, they don’t use contractions. Is it true that people back then didn’t use them? Won’t, don’t, wouldn’t, isn’t and even ain’t- where would we be without

Read More »
Why We Call Certain Types of Threats “Blackmail”, and The Origin of the Lesser Known “Buttockmail”

Why We Call Certain Types of Threats “Blackmail”, and The Origin of the Lesser Known “Buttockmail”

Karl Smallwood October 20, 2014 4

Karl M. asks: Why is it called blackmail when you threaten to reveal something about someone if they don’t give you money? “Blackmail” has its roots in the early 16th century, first used by

Read More »
Noah Webster and Moving Away from British English

Noah Webster and Moving Away from British English

Melissa October 7, 2014 6

Eliminating the unnecessary u, many duplicate consonants, the redundant e, converting diphthongs into simple vowels and turning the combination of e and r at the end of a word the right way around, Americans

Read More »
Why Do We Say Costs Can Be “Footed” by Someone?

Why Do We Say Costs Can Be “Footed” by Someone?

Melissa October 2, 2014 1

Ryan F. asks: Why do we say someone “footed the bill”? Turning a noun into a verb and then employing it in a way that seems completely out of context, the phrase “foot the

Read More »
Why Do American Footballers Say “Hut, Hut, Hike!”

Why Do American Footballers Say “Hut, Hut, Hike!”

Melissa October 1, 2014 0

Michael R. asks: Where did the football saying hut… hut… HIKE! come from? An integral part of the game, immediately prior to the start of play, the football quarterback begins his cadence. More than

Read More »
Why Books are Called Books

Why Books are Called Books

Melissa July 2, 2014 4

Jon asks: Why are books called that? “A portable volume consisting of a series of written, printed, or illustrated pages bound together,” the word for book (or variously booke, bokis, boke and boc) has

Read More »
Origin of the Word “Cocktail” for an Alcoholic Drink

Origin of the Word “Cocktail” for an Alcoholic Drink

Melissa July 1, 2014 0

Neil asks: Why do we call some alcoholic drinks cocktails? Typically some type of hard liquor mixed with any of a variety of ingredients, although the idea of the cocktail is likely as old

Read More »
Why Are Continental Breakfasts Called That?

Why Are Continental Breakfasts Called That?

Melissa June 30, 2014 1

Austin asks: Why are continental breakfasts called that? Many hotels offer guests a free breakfast consisting of muffin, coffee, cereal and milk, toast, juice, bagel, and, at some, even scrambled eggs and make-your-own waffles.

Read More »
What Does the Arabic Prefix “al-” Mean?

What Does the Arabic Prefix “al-” Mean?

Melissa June 5, 2014 1

Gina asks: What does “al” mean in Arabic? Roughly translated to “the,” the Arabic word “al-” is prefixed to nouns to make them definite. For example: “kitab ‘book’ can be made definite by prefixing

Read More »