Category Archives: Language

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


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 our contractions? Prevalent in spoken English and increasingly accepted in written pieces, contractions enable brevity and make written works more accessible and friendly. Contractions in some […]

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Elvis Has Left the Building


The year was 1954. A 19-year-old singer named Elvis Presley was just starting out, often singing on the then famous Louisiana Hayride radio program. He was a young, good-looking singer, but mostly minus the wriggling, shaking, and sneering that were to naturally develop over time. But it didn’t take long before teenage girls began to take notice of the budding […]

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The Rare Language of Boontling


At the turn of the 20th century in the isolated little town of Boonville, California, local residents became so enamored with creating and using their unique slang that they essentially developed an entire language. Called Boontling after the town, due to the way the language was formed, it is relatively incomprehensible to all except the initiated. About 50 miles southeast […]

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The Vandals and Vandalism


The English word vandalism derives from the French word, vandalisme, and was first seen in print in 1794 when the Bishop of Blois, Henri Grégoire, included the term in a report of the mayhem, and in particular the destruction of art, that occurred during the French Revolution. Vandalism itself was a modification of vandal, a word that in English dates […]

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How ‘Gay’ Came to Mean ‘Homosexual’


Today I found out how ‘gay’ came to mean ‘homosexual’. The word “gay” seems to have its origins around the 12th century in England, derived from the Old French word ‘gai’, which in turn was probably derived from a Germanic word, though that isn’t completely known. The word’s original meaning meant something to the effect of “joyful”, “carefree”, “full of […]

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Dollars to Doughnuts


Kerrey23 asks: Where did the expression “dollars to donuts” come from? The word “doughnut” is American in origin and traces its roots to the early 19th century. It is presumed to have been a combination of the words dough and nut. It first appeared in print in Washington Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker’s History of New York Sometimes the table was graced […]

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Why Your Lap is Called That


Oakley420 asks: Why is a lap called a lap? Used as a noun, verb and adjective, most with several distinct meanings, lap is a prominent word in the English language. One of its most common meanings denotes the upper part of the legs when seated. Derived from a Proto-Germanic word *lapp, meaning the “skirt or flap of a garment,” or […]

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Kits and Caboodles


Meaning a complete collection of a set of related things, the curious expression the “whole kit and caboodle” has part of its origin in military life. In the 1785 version of his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Francis Grose gives us the first mention of the word “kit” with this meaning, as well as the phrase “the whole […]

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Flotsam and Jetsam


Marcus asks: Where did the words flotsum and jetsum come from? Bumping into a rock or a reef, war, swamped by rough weather or high waves, pilot error or pirates, there are a variety of ways a ship can sink. After it does, depending on whether it floated out on its own, was thrown overboard or sank to Davy Jones […]

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