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To Hell in a Handbasket

A Huntsville, Alabama, man finds that his younger co-workers have never heard the phrase going to hell in a handbasket. Although the expression is at least as old as the U.S. Civil War, its etymology remains unclear. In the early 1960s, the humorist...

Pop Stand

When it comes to learning new things, what’s on your bucket list? A retired book editor decided to try to learn Latin, and ended up learning a lot about herself. There’s a word for someone who learns something late in life. And when it...

Put Up Your Dukes

“Put up your dukes!” means “Get ready to fight!” But its etymology is a bit uncertain. One story goes that it’s from Cockney rhyming slang, in which dukes is short for Dukes of York, a play on the slang term fork...

Pretty Adverb

The word pretty, used to modify an adjective, as in pretty good or pretty bad, has strayed far from its etymological roots, which originally had to do with being “cunning” or “crafty.” This is part of a complete episode.

Proof in the Pudding

Have you ever offered to foster a dog or cat, but wound up adopting instead? There’s an alliterative term for that. And when you’re on the job, do niceties like “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” make you sound too...

Mordida!

In Spanish, mordida literally means “a bite,” but it’s a kind of bribe. It predates the English phrase “put the bite on someone” by more than a hundred years. One proposed etymology for the Spanish term is that divers...