The idea for this post hit me while shopping with my best friend just this morning (yes, I know I need to do more planning).  We were walking around the Wise Owl Bookstore; I was pondering words that start with the letter E, desperately trying to think of what to write about today.  Out of nowhere, the word “Etymology” threw itself at me.  Maybe the sheer amount of words and paper and ink surrounding me had my sub-conscious-self wondering where all the words come from or something; I don’t know.  So I let the idea percolate in my soon-to-be chocolate-and caffeine-filled brain for a while.  I took the stewing ideas with me to the library and nerded out.  People always say “if you’re going to have a heart attack, what better place than in the hospital;” well, those same people should say “if you’re going to nerd out about words, what better place than in a library?”  Despite the almost-full moon, tonight was a quiet evening with only a couple of crazies.  So there I sat, two dictionaries open, another on my computer screen, Inventing English propped open by my phone, and using my sonic screwdriver pen to jot down notes and quotes relating to the word “etymology.”

So here it is, because today is brought to you by the letter E:

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines etymology as

  1. The history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language.
  2. A branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies.

The word cognates in that definition had me scratching my head, so here’s that definition as well:

  1. Of the same or similar nature.
  2. Related by blood. [obviously not relevant here]
  3. Related by descent from the same ancestral language.

Now back to the actual etymology of etymology:
Etymology comes from the Middle English which in turn comes from the Old French ethimologie.  That comes from the Latin etymologia.  Can you guess where that comes from?  Etymologia comes from the Greek etumologia.  The second part of the word, logia, is relatively familiar.  It’s found in many common words like biology, astrology, cardiology, etc.  It means “the study of.”  Logia comes from logos, which means “word, speech, discourse.”  The first part of the word, etumon, is not as common.  It means “true sense” and comes from etumos, meaning “true, real, actual.”

Taking that information, we can determine that the meaning of etymology has not changed much or at all since first recorded in the 14th century.  The literal definition, taken from its original Greek parts, means “the true sense of the word.”

With the resources I have available to me (as much as I desperately want a subscription to the OED website, I sadly can’t afford it), the earliest quote using the word etymology came from Nathan Bailey, the compiler of The Universal Etymological Dictionary: “[Etymology is] a Part of the Grammar, shewing the Original of words, in order to fix their true Meaning and Signification.”

Here’s a few links to more quotes about Etymology:
Goodreads quotes
English Word Information

I hope to bring more etymological tidbits to the blog in the future.  Let me know in the comments what words you’d  be interested in dissecting with me.

  1. Nikki says:

    Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog 🙂 This was a great post! I like your descriptions of being a nerd and especially like the fact that you have a sonic screwdriver pen!!

    Nikki – inspire nordic

  2. Damyanti says:

    Etymology has always fascinated me— they take us on such fascinating historical journeys.

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