The Big List

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This is the list, some 400 word and phrase origins. The words and phrases are selected because their origins are inherently interesting or because some bit of folklore, sometimes true and sometimes false, is associated with the origin. The etymologies of common words with straightforward explanations can be found in any good dictionary and I do not attempt to reproduce them here. Many, if not most, of the words have been added as a result of questions or suggestions from readers of the site.

redskin, red man

reeve, sheriff

reggae

reindeer

rhenium

Rhode Island

rhodium

rhubarb

riding

right stuff

ring around the rosie

robot

roentgenium

roger

rope-a-dope

round robin

Rube Goldberg

rubidium

rule of thumb

run it up the flagpole

ruthenium

rutherfordium / kurchatovium

sabbatical

sabotage

salad days

Sam Hill

samarium

sandwich

Santa Claus

Saracen

Saskatchewan

satellite

saved by the bell

sawbuck

scab

scandium

scapegoat

scot free

scram

screw the pooch

scuttlebutt

sea change

seaborgium

secretary

seed

selenium

shark

sheriff, reeve

shit

shock and awe

short shrift

shrewd, shrew

shrink

sideburns

silicon

silver

sin

sixes and sevens, at

skedaddle

skid row

skin of one’s teeth

slang

sleep tight

slim

smart aleck

smoking gun

snowclone

soap opera

soccer

sodium

soft-nosed

Soho

son of a gun

sophisticated

SOS

southpaw

spam

spangle

speed

spic

spick and span

spitting image

spud

square meal

squaw

staircase wit

star

star-spangled, spangle

starboard

state of the art

station wagon

stiff upper lip

stool pigeon

strontium

suborn

sulfur

sur-

swan song

swashbuckler

sweeps

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