Ever wonder why, when we’re stymied and/or confused, we say we’re stumped? I’d never really paused to wonder about this one, but my daughter learned this etymology in her history class and had to share, and it made me go, “Oh, of course!”
As early as the 13th century, this word was used to literally mean “to stumble over a tree stump.” It was in the early 1800s that Americans began using it in a metaphorical sense, and it’s believed to be because the literal use became so common as wagons ventured west–often getting stuck on stumps that hadn’t been cleared fully from the trail–and when clearing a field for plowing that it became a part of the everyday vernacular and so took on a broader meaning.
Etymologists also point out, though, that it probably stuck because it also called upon an earlier meaning of “to challenge or dare” that was used in the 1760s.
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