Beholden to a schedule?
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
3w ago
Q: I keep hearing “beholden” used in terms of having to go by a schedule, and even caught myself doing it once. Is this usage becoming more common and considered correct? A: Traditionally, “beholden” has meant obligated or indebted to someone or something, especially for a gift or favor. Although “beholden” has also been used for figurative debts or obligations, standard dictionaries don’t recognize its use in the sense of restricted to or bound by something, such as a schedule. You’re right, however, that the sense of bound by is out there and has appeared in some major publications. This use ..read more
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Like hell, like mad, like stink
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
1M ago
Q: What is the origin of the phrase “like stink” (as in “run like stink”)? I know what it means, but not why it means that. A: “Like stink” has been used colloquially in British English since the early 20th century to mean furiously or intensely. It’s similar to “like hell,” “like mad,” and “like crazy,” intensifiers of a type that dates back to the early 16th century. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest “like stink” example, which we’ve expanded, is from a play set in the trenches of a British Army infantry company during World War I: “If you see a Minnie coming—that’s a big trench ..read more
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Oh, dear! Oh, deer!
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
1M ago
Q: I’ve just begun The Age of Deer, a book by Erika Howsare that explores the connections between deer and humans. Are the words “dear” and “deer” also related, or merely two different words with the same pronunciation? A: The short answer is that “dear” and “deer” may very well be etymologically related, not just homonyms, but the evidence isn’t conclusive. In Old English, the language spoken from roughly 450 to 1150, the noun “deer” (spelled dior or deor, and occasionally dear) meant something like “beast” and referred to wild animals in general, especially four ..read more
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Footing the bill
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
1M ago
Q: How did “foot” come to be used in “He’ll foot the bill”? And doesn’t it sound awkward to say “He footed the bill”? A: The use of the verb “foot” in the expression “foot the bill” ultimately comes from the use of “foot” as a noun for the lower part of something—in this case, the total at the bottom of a bill. When “foot” first appeared in Old English, it referred (as it does now) to the part of the leg below the ankle. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the epic poem Beowulf, dating back to as early as 725: “Sona hæfde unlyfigendes eal gefeormod fet ..read more
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Mixed marriage: two ways to wed
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
1M ago
Q: Should one officiate a wedding or officiate at a wedding? Or is either fine? Using it as a transitive verb sounds odd to me. A: The verb “officiate” has been used both transitively (with a direct object, as in “officiate the wedding”) and intransitively (without the object, as in “officiate at the wedding”) since it appeared in the 17th century. But the intransitive usage was long considered the traditional form, and was much more common until the late 20th century. Today, dictionaries of American English recognize both the transitive and intransitive uses of “officiate” as standard. Dictio ..read more
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The earliest English writing
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
2M ago
Q: You often quote examples of writing from Anglo-Saxon times to illustrate the history of a usage. What is the earliest example of English writing that you know of? A: You’ve asked what seems to be a simple question, but the answer is complicated. It depends on what you consider writing and how you determine the date. The earliest version of the language, Old English, developed in England in the fifth century from the dialects spoken by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes—migrants from what is now Germany and Scandinavia. Old English was originally written with runes, characters in futhark, an ancient ..read more
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Left for dead
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
2M ago
Q: I’m curious when the phrase “left for dead” became common usage. Why is the phrase not “left to die”? I saw the “for dead” version recently in an article and I began wondering. A: The expression “leave for dead” first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times and has been used regularly since then to mean abandon someone or something almost dead or certain to die. The earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary, which we’ve expanded here, is from a passage concerning St. Paul in The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, First Series, written around 990 by the Benedictine Abbot Ælfric of Eynsha ..read more
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Did you warsh behind your ears?
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
2M ago
Q:  Can you suss the pronunciation of “wash”?  I’m from central Illinois and I forced myself as an adult to pronounce it “wawsh” instead of the colloquial “warsh.” A: In American English, the word “wash” is usually pronounced “wawsh” or “wahsh” (wɔʃ or wɑʃ in the International Phonetic Alphabet), according to the Oxford English Dictionary. However, a lot of Americans pronounce it with an “r” before the “sh,” a usage that may be dying out. The Dictionary of American Regional English describes the dialectal “warsh” or “worsh” pronunciation (wɑrš or wɔrš in DARE’s phonemic system ..read more
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‘Dad wouldn’t have a bar of it’
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
2M ago
Q: Can you shed any light on the origin of the (mainly) Australian phrase “wouldn’t have a bar of it,” especially what “bar” is doing in there? A: The expression “not to stand [or “have” or “want”] a bar of something” first appeared in Australian English in the early 20th century, according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang. The earliest example in the dictionary is from a Sydney newspaper: “He attributes most of his trouble to the fact that he is a married man and father of a grown-up family, but neither wife nor children will stand a bar of him at any price” (Truth, May 21, 1904). Thi ..read more
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Wanna look like a chumbolone?
Grammarphobia » Etymology
by Pat and Stewart
3M ago
Q: Have you come across the word “chumbolone”? It’s a new one for me. I found it on John Kass’s website. He was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and now writes a lot of angry screeds about the state of everything. A: It was unknown to us, too. The rare slang term “chumbolone” was first recorded about a decade and a half ago at the federal trial of Anthony Dale, a former Chicago police officer accused of leaking information to the mob. Here’s the relevant passage: “ ‘I  don’t wanna look like a ‘chumbolone,’ an idiot,’ said Doyle, using street slang” (from a report by Jeff Coen in the Ch ..read more
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