origin

origin, source, inception, root, provenance, provenience, prime mover denote the point at which something (as a process, a growth, a development, a custom, a habit, or an institution) begins its course or its existence.
Origin applies chiefly to the point at which the thing under consideration has its rise or to the person or thing from which it is ultimately derived; it often applies specifically to the causes in operation before the thing itself is finally brought into being
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the origin of the custom of giving presents at Christmas

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is probable that the origin of language is not a problem that can be solved out of the resources of linguistics alone— Sapir

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Often, when used in reference to persons, it means little more than ancestry or parentage; it is then used either in the singular or the plural
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his father was of no great originBelloc

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quickly realized how far he had traveled from his originsCommins

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Source basically applies to the point at which waters from a spring or fountain emerge to form the beginning point of a stream or river
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the source of the Hudson river

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In extended use source more often than origin applies to what serves as the ultimate beginning of a thing, especially an immaterial or intangible thing; however, since the term is sometimes qualified by such words as immediate or secondary which weaken or destroy this implication, it is often in this sense modified by ultimate, fundamental, or primary
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an ever-present energy, which is the source of all cosmical movement— Inge

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the power of concentrated attention as the fundamental source of the prodigious productiveness of great workers— Eliot

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theoretically the mob is the repository of all political wisdom and virtue; actually it is the ultimate source of all political power— Mencken

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Source is also applied to the one (as the person, book, manuscript, or document) from which a person derives information; in this sense a primary source is a person who has firsthand knowledge or a work that was written at the time under discussion, especially by one who had firsthand knowledge; a secondary source is a person who has learned the facts from others or a work which is based upon information gathered from others
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graduate students in history are discouraged from using secondary sources

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Inception is often preferred to origin when the reference is to the actual beginning (as of an undertaking, a project, an institution, or a practice); the term carries a weaker connotation of underlying causes than origin, yet does not, as source often does, carry a suggestion that the thing so called is the ultimate origin
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they joined the League of Nations Union. . . . Stanley did so, at its inception, and became, in fact, a speaker on platforms in the cause— Rose Macaulay

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the subject may and does change between the inception of the work and its completion— Alexander

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Root often suggests that the actual origin of a thing goes back to something very deep and fundamental and that the thing itself is only an outward manifestation of its influence. Root therefore more often even than source applies to what is regarded as the first or final cause of a thing
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the love of money is the root of all evil—7 Tim 6:10

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John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system; it only breathes—it does not live— Phillips

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Provenance and provenience are chiefly used to designate the place or, sometimes, the race or people from which a thing is derived or where or by whom or among whom it originated or was invented or constructed
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antiquities of doubtful provenance

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he would have some difficulty in guessing its provenance, and naming the race from which it was brought— Lang

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a fragment of a cast copper dagger had been discovered earlier, but its provenience is not certain— Daifuku

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in the provenance, or history of previous ownership, of many of the Duveen works appeared the names of kings and the mistresses of kings— Behrman

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Prime mover is chiefly used as a designation of an ultimate and original source of motion or motive power; when applied to a personal agent, it usually refers to an inciter or instigator of an action or course
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convinced that the great man is best understood as an effect or manifestation rather than as a prime mover—L. A. White

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the prime mover in the whole matter was Hugh the Great— Freeman

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In mechanics the term specifically applies to the natural or mechanical power which sets a thing moving or in motion; it has been used in reference to wind (as in driving a sailing ship), steam (as in driving a steamship), a waterwheel, a windmill, or a steam or diesel engine.
Analogous words: beginning, commencement, initiation, starting (see corresponding verbs at BEGIN): derivation, origination, rising or rise (see corresponding verbs at SPRING): *ancestry, lineage

New Dictionary of Synonyms. 2014.

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