mid-15c. (late 13c. in Anglo-French), "royal writ to determine by what warrant a person holds an office or franchise," a Medieval Latin legal phrase, literally "by what warrant," from quo "from, with, or by whom or what?," ablative of the interrogative pronoun quis "who?" (from PIE root *kwo-, stem of relative and interrogative pronouns). Also see warrant (n.).
"an inexpressible something," French, literally "I do not know what."
[T]hey are troubled with the je-ne-scay-quoy, that faign themselves sick out of niceness but know not where their own grief lies, or what ayls them. [Thomas Blount, "Glossographia," 1656]
a Latin phrase from Cicero. It means "to whom for a benefit," or "who profits by it?" not "to what good purpose? for what use or end?" as is sometimes said. From cui "to? for whom?," an old form preserved here in the dative form of the interrogative pronoun quis "who?" (from PIE root *kwo-, stem of relative and interrogative pronouns) + bono "good" (see bene-).
"venomous lizard of the American southwest" (Heloderma suspectum), 1877, American English, from Gila River, which runs through its habitat in Arizona. The river name probably is from an Indian language, but it is unknown now which one, or what the word meant in it.
People are apt to sneeze, in hot weather for example; and people do not die of sneezing now-a-days, as they did in days that no one knows any thing about. We cannot give six draughts a-day, at one and nine pence each, for sneezing: call it the hay-fever. What a wonderful man! what a clever man! he understands the hay-fever: call him in! Thus is the hay-fever among the last in the list of fashionables. ["On Fashions in Physic," London Magazine, October 1825]
"peep show contained in a box," 1680s, so called "in imitation of the foreign way of pronouncing rare show" [Johnson]. "Johnson's statement is prob. correct; the early exhibitors of peep-shows appear to have been usually Savoyards, from whom the form was no doubt adopted" [OED]. Compare German raritäten-kabinet "cabinet of curiosities or rarities." Early peep shows were more innocent than what usually was meant later by that term.