Category Archives: Language

Why Are Continental Breakfasts Called That?


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. Born in the Gilded Age, today’s continental breakfasts reflect the West’s transition from a mostly agrarian culture to an industrial (and today, service) society. Luckily, however, […]

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The Origin of the Phrase “Pulling Your Leg”


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 be joking/teasing/making something up.” Extremely popular in the 20th century, the origin of this phrase is still something of an enigma to etymologists. There are two […]

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The Origin of the Term “Brownie Points”


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 and widely accepted theories is that “brownie points”—imaginary points earned by someone for doing a good deed, and lost by doing something unfavourable—stem from the Brownies, […]

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The Origin of the Phrase “Mind Your Own Beeswax”


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 the school playground. For the uninitiated, they basically mean “mind your own business” or “it’s none of your business,” but some people think it’s more complicated […]

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


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 that is directionally diagonal from a certain point. Interestingly, despite all of the “cats” and “kits,” the word has nothing to do with domesticated felines. Rather, […]

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


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 are sophomores, third year students are juniors, and the most experienced are seniors. Yet although this practice seems uniquely American, its origins date back several centuries […]

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Where The Expression “Dressed to the Nines” Came From


Samira asks: Why do we say “dressed to the nines” when someone’s dressed up? Like so many etymologies of expressions and words, we can only make educated guesses at the true origin of “dressed to the nines” or just “to the nines,” meaning more or less “to perfection.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded instance of dressing […]

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The Origins of the Names of the Historic Counties of Wales and Northern Ireland


Today I found out the origins of the names of the historic counties of Wales and Northern Ireland. WALES Anglesey Anglesey is believed to be a Viking place name. The Vikings denoted islands with the suffix “ey.” The best bet is that Anglesey started out as “Ongl’s Ey,” but no one knows who Ongl might have been. Brecknockshire Brecknockshire, as […]

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