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Etymology is the study of the origin of words and how the meaning of words has changed

over the course of history. Lets get meta and take the word etymology as an
example. Etymologyderives from the Greek word etumos, meaning true. Etumologia was the
study of words true meanings. This evolved into etymology by way of the Old
French ethimologie. Thats all fairly straightforward, but there are many, many words in the
English language that have unexpected and fascinating origins. Here are a few such

Etymology is the art of revealing the formation of a word and the development of its
meaning. The source of the word itself is Greek, etumos, real, true, and thus the art is
finding the underlying or true meaning of words. There is also the sense of root, as in the
history of a word, rather than its meaning. But of course, the history of the word is in many
cases, the history of its meaning.

What is Etymology?
Etymology concerns the history, origins, and evolution of languages.
Etymologists use various techniques to infer connections between current
languages and their ancient roots. This can be especially helpful with large,
complex language families like the Indo-European, which includes numerous
branches that include many individual languages.
People have been tracing languages and language relationships as early as the
18th century.
Knowing Etymology can aid you in determining the approximate origin of the
word. It can help in finding out which areas influenced others.
People can learn prefixes, roots, and suffixes, and after linking words' meanings
to their roots, prefixes, or suffixes, they can find what the words originally meant.
Etymology is a form of history: by learning certain changes within evolution of a
language, history can be more easily remembered by finding a correlation.
How Etymology Helps With English and Vocabulary
(Part I)
Word origins give insight about how English works.
- i.e. How roots combine to form words and word
- i.e. There is logic behind words. They're not just
random sounds and spellings!
Knowing what the roots of words mean decreases the need for tedious
vocabulary memorization.
- i.e. You will be able to deduce the meaning of an
unfamiliar word just by knowing its roots!
Since English has commonalities with other languages, understanding English
roots exposes you to other languages that English is similar to.
How Etymology Helps With English and Vocabulary
(Part II)
Understanding English roots also helps you understand older English texts, which
typically incorporate unfamiliar words. (e.g. Shakespeare)
Etymology also makes you a better writer, since it increases your vocabulary and
makes you more linguistically aware.
How Etymology Helps with English and Vocabulary (Part III)
Helps people naturally interpret words they have not seen or heard before
Knowing etymology helps understand the usage of a word better by knowing
how it was commonly used and what the word literally means
After learning and knowing most roots, suffixes, and prefixes, one can guess the
meanings of words
Helps memorize new words easier since the etymology is already known. After
the etymology is learned, one only needs to link the word to the definition with
the etymology
The history of words and their pronunciations can help predict how words that
are currently used will be pronounced.
Etymology helps with communication across non-physical language barriers.
Etymology helps with inter-changeable cognates.
A new way of learning vocabulary (old methods of studying can be overused and
stop working)
Helps learn a foreign language (because many languages in the same language
family share their etymology)
Memory, language skills, and vocabulary are improved
Helps with creating new words and naming new ideas
Helps with word games or puzzles
Understanding reasons for slightly different meanings among dialects
Opens people up to other cultures and languages

. What is Etymology?
Etymology is not a rhetorical or literary device. Etymology is the
investigation of word histories. Every word in every language has a unique
origin and history; words can be born in many ways, and often their histories
are quite adventurous and informative. Etymology investigates and
documents the lives (mainly the origins) of words.
The etymology of a word may include many things. A words birthday is
usually given as the date of the first known usage of the word in print. If a
word, like selfie was created within historical times, its origin is described.
Most words developed over hundreds of years out of previous words, going
back into the ancient past, so an etymology tries to trace that development
back as far as it can, usually ending with the oldest dead language that we
actually have records of. Most words had slightly or very different meanings
in the ancient languages they came from, which is documented as well.

II. Examples of Etymology

Etymologies can be simple or complex. Much like the lives of people, it
depends upon how much a word has traveled and what adventures it has
had. Here are examples of each:

Example 1
The etymology of the word etymology is complex, as follows:

ethimolegia facts of the origin and development of a word,

from Old French etimologie, ethimologie (14c., Modern
French tymologie)
from Greek etymologia analysis of a word to find its true origin,
properly study of the true sense (of a word)

Example 2
The etymology of show-and-tell is much more simple:

show-and-tell (n.) elementary school teaching tool, 1948, American English.

III. Types of Etymology

Words are born and develop in many ways.

Many words begin with roots; a root is the central piece of most words, the
part of the word that carries most of the meaning.

The root of English is Engl which came from the ancient Germanic tribe,
the Angles, who spoke a language that later became English. The -ish is just
a suffix, that means language of in this case.
There are 1,000s of word-roots in English (or any language). About half of
English word-roots come from ancient Germanic languages, because those
languages evolved into English, however the other half of English word-roots
come from ancient Latin and French because England was conquered by the
Norman French 1,000 years ago and English speakers had to learn most of
their vocabulary, which became part of English. Contrary to what a lot of
people think, though, English is not descended from Latin. Its just that most
of our more educated-sounding words were borrowed from Norman French,
Latin, or Greek, because they were high-status languages.

As they grow, words can change physically and they can change in meaning.
They can also give birth to new words or be adopted from far places and
foreign languages. In an etymology, you will find the origins of a word and
see when, where and why these changes took place.

Words develop through many processes. Here are four of the most general

a. Modifications
Once people begin to use a word, they may change it, perhaps to make it
easier to say, or to make it sound more different from other words, or other
reasons. They may also form new words by modifying old words. Selfie is a
good example.

b. Semantic Changes
The meanings of words can change over time.

Technology gives us many new words through metaphor such
as keyboard, mouse, and desktop.
Euphemisms: what is socially acceptable changes and then, words
must, too.
Housecleaner instead of maid.
Server instead of waiter or waitress
Functional shift: how words get new parts of speech
A soldier > to soldier on
A load > to upload
To drive > a drive
Generalization: extending the particular to the general
Fanatic (religious zealot) to sports fanatic
Semantic shift: word meanings slide in meaning, as in . . .
Mood comes from Old English mod, which meant mind or spirit
Dream in Old English meant a festive atmosphere

c. Generation
As words are used, subtle differences become permanent changes and even
new words, themselves:

Baby talk
Jammies, bye-bye, tummy
Blends or portmanteau words
Spanglish, labradoodle
Coinages: purposely invented words
Combining forms
Mini, clipped from miniature and added to everything:
minicomputer, minivan
Do and Undo
Eponyms: words named after people
Alzheimers disease
Nonsense words
Onomatopoeia: words that sound like their meaning
Slam, crack, bump
Phrasal verbs: getting by, down, in, off, on, over, and out
Tune in, clean up, buzz off
Prefixing and suffixing
Pre-heat, legal-ize, re-educate-ion
Reduplication: the doubling of a syllable or word element to
strengthen or emphasize meaning

d. Borrowing
Words are frequently adopted from foreign languages, usually with some
changes in their sound:

Many borrowed words are names of things or foods that have been
brought into our culture from another: bar mitzvah, fengshui, yoga, taco,
There are also many words which you would not realize come from
foreign cultures, such as slogan (Gaelic), coyote (Nahuatl), and avatar

IV. The Importance of Using Etymology

Etymology is important because by knowing it you can become a better
wordsmith. If you understand where your words came from, you understand
them better and may be able to sue them more effectively, precisely and
beautifully. Knowing etymology will also often help you know the meanings
of words you have never seen before. If you look at two people who are
related, you can see their similar features and their family tree becomes
obvious. In the same way, if you are familiar with word roots and know the
etymologies of some words, you can infer the meanings of other words. In
this way, your vocabulary can begin to grow on its own.

V. Examples of Etymology in Literature

This section might be more accurately entitled, etymologists in literature.
The great literary writers created much of our language.

Example 1
No one has had quite the same influence on the English language as the
playwright and poet William Shakespeare. His works are extensive examples
of etymology at work. If you do a quick internet search, you will find pages
and pages of websites devoted to words he created or adapted to more
interesting purposes. It is said that he invented over 4,000 words! He could
only do this by understanding the words he was borrowing from. By
manipulating old words to new purposes and situations, he was able to
creatively entertain his audiences in continually new ways. Here are just a
few of the words he is credited with inventing:


Example 2
J.R.R. Tolkien was another of our languages great etymologists. He is best
known as the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, but he
was also a professor of linguistics and he used his knowledge of linguistics in
a very different way from Shakespeareto create realistic fictional
languages, names, poetry, and cultures; much of them were closely based
on Old English and Old Norse. He also worked on the staff of the Oxford
English Dictionary.

Those are only a few examples. If you look at the works of any great author,
you will find that they are masters of their language.

VI. Examples of Etymology in Popular Culture

Example 1
Journalism is a huge part of our popular culture, and the best journalists are
excellent etymologists. They must understand both culture and language to
do their jobs effectively. They must be able to communicate with people in all
areas of society and make themselves understood.

Example 2
The technological field is one of the greatest fields for etymological
development. New words are being invented every day to keep up with
changing technology and its uses. Simply think of your computer and you will
think of many new words and new ways words are being used: microchip,
data processor, iPod, metadata, bandwidth, defrag, interface.

Example 3
Acronyms are one way that words are invented, which is incredibly popular in
current culture. It seems that just about everything has to be shortened to fit
into a text message or a two-second sound-bite:LOL, ROFL, OMG. In
addition, every institution has its own acronym: UCLA, DOD, FDA. This trend
is important to etymology because things that start out as acronyms often
become normal words. The words scuba, laser, radar, awol and zip (zip code)
are all acronyms that have been accepted as words. Here we can see
etymology hard at work.

VII. Related Terms

There are a myriad of terms related to etymology. Go back to section III of
this article and you will find an extensive list of them. But, in order to be
thorough, here are a few more:

Linguistics the scientific study of language

Lexicostatistics the statistical study of the vocabulary of a
language, with special attention to the historical links with other
Derivation the process whereby new words are formed from
existing words or bases by affixation; singer from sing or undo from
do are examples of derivations
Folk etymology change in the form of a words or phrase resulting
from a mistaken assumption about its composition or meaning. For
example, cockroach did not come from cock+roach, but rather from the
Spanish cucaracha.