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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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The Origin of the Phrase “Coin a Phrase”

The Origin of the Phrase “Coin a Phrase”

Emily Upton May 26, 2014 1

Shannon asks: Where did the phrase “coin a phrase” come from? Thanks! For those unfamiliar, “to coin a phrase” traditionally means “to create a new phrase.” These days, “coin a phrase” has also taken

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Origin of the Phrase “Dead Ringer”

Origin of the Phrase “Dead Ringer”

Emily Upton May 22, 2014 1

Dustin asks: Where did the expression “dead ringer” come from? You have probably heard the often-repeated story about how the original “dead ringer” was a person believed to be dead who was then buried

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The Origin of the Phrase “Pulling Your Leg”

The Origin of the Phrase “Pulling Your Leg”

Emily Upton May 16, 2014 5

Diane M. asks: Where did the expression “pulling my leg” come from? For those who aren’t familiar with the phrase, when someone says, “You must be pulling my leg!” they usually mean, “You must

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Where Did the Word “Scumbag” Come From?

Where Did the Word “Scumbag” Come From?

Matt Blitz May 15, 2014 5

Mondagiriaksita asks: I was told a scumbag was originally a condom. Is this really where the word came from? “Scum” originated in the early 14th century from the Middle Dutch word “schume” meaning foam

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The Origin of the Term “Brownie Points”

The Origin of the Term “Brownie Points”

Emily Upton May 6, 2014 2

Andrew M. asks: Why do we say “You just earned some brownie points.” What were brownie points originally for? There are many, many origin theories for this one. One of the most often repeated

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The Origin of Bread and the Phrase “The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

The Origin of Bread and the Phrase “The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread”

Matt Blitz May 5, 2014 3

An idiom that is often used when something is new and fantastic is that, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” But how did this saying come to be? And what makes sliced bread

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The Origin of the Phrase “Mind Your Own Beeswax”

The Origin of the Phrase “Mind Your Own Beeswax”

Emily Upton May 2, 2014 0

Today I found out the origin of the phrase “mind your own beeswax.” “Mind your own beeswax” and “it’s none of your beeswax” are common phrases you might hear being shouted by six-year-olds on

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The Origin of the Phrase “As Dead as a Doornail”

The Origin of the Phrase “As Dead as a Doornail”

Emily Upton April 30, 2014 2

Ranjiith asks: Why do we say something is as dead as a doornail? In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote about the questionable phrase, “dead as a doornail,” saying: Old Marley was as dead

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The Origins of Kitty-corner, Catawampus, and other Cat Words

The Origins of Kitty-corner, Catawampus, and other Cat Words

Emily Upton April 25, 2014 0

Today I found out the origins of the words “kitty-corner,” “catawampus,” and other “cat” words. The word “kitty-corner” has many different variations: catty-corner, caddy-corner, cat-a-corner, or kit-a-corner. They all mean the same thing: something

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What Is the Origin of Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior and Senior?

What Is the Origin of Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior and Senior?

Melissa April 25, 2014 2

Ian K. asks: Why are students called freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors? Rather than referring to a student’s year of study, in U.S. high schools and colleges, first year students are freshmen, second years

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