1. Etymology is the study of the history and derivation of words, and an etymology is the history of a particular word. Most dictionaries of concise size and larger give detailed accounts of a word's sources, which can be from other English words (e.g. newspaper) or from other languages (e.g. kiosk via French from Persian). Some words borrowed from other languages have been assimilated to English-looking forms; for example Spanish cucaracha has given us cockroach by assimilation with the English words cock and roach (see assimilation).
2. The vast majority of English words (apart from those made from existing English words) are derived from Old English (Anglo-Saxon), from Norse languages, or from a late form of Latin via French words that came into English after the Norman Conquest in 1066. A succinct account of the main sources of English words is given in the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995), ix-xii, to which the reader is referred for further information. It is disappointing for many people that the origins of some quite familiar and important words remain obscure or unknown. The histories of boy and girl are unknown before Middle English, dog has no identified Germanic cognates, many informal or slang words, such as bamboozle, caboodle, cagey, clobber, gimmick, jiff, and posh, have no verified origins, despite spurious claims made for some of them (such as the supposed ‘port outward starboard home’ origin of posh), and some words that appear to be made up of distinctive elements, for example contraption and theodolite, are also doubtful or unknown in origin.
3. Certain words, possibly including some of those in the last paragraph, are onomatopoeic, i.e. they represent a sound with which their meanings are associated, such as clang, plonk, and thwack; and a few words that are less obviously connected with sounds, such as blizzard and jumble, also belong to this class.
4. The word etymology itself comes from a Greek word etymon meaning ‘true’. However, the etymology of a word represents its original meaning rather than its true meaning in any judgemental sense. Appeals to etymology to defend the use of words against change in meaning (as for example with decimate), though commonly made, are usually futile, since few words in the core vocabulary of English now mean what they used to mean, as the complex history of nice demonstrates.

Modern English usage. 2014.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • etymology — (n.) late 14c., ethimolegia facts of the origin and development of a word, from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly study of the true sense (of a word), from etymon true sense (neuter… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Etymology — Et y*mol o*gy ( j[y^]), n.; pl. {Etymologies} ( j[i^]z). [L.etymologia, Gr. etymologi a; e tymon etymon + lo gos discourse, description: cf. F. [ e]tymologie. See {Etymon}, and { logy}.] 1. That branch of philological science which treats of the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • etymology — index origination Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • etymology — [n] word history derivation, development, etymon, origin, phrase history, phrase origin, root, source; concept 275 …   New thesaurus

  • etymology — ► NOUN (pl. etymologies) ▪ an account of the origins and the developments in meaning of a word. DERIVATIVES etymological adjective etymologically adverb etymologist noun. ORIGIN Greek etumologia, from etumos true …   English terms dictionary

  • etymology — [et΄ə mäl′əjē] n. pl. etymologies [ME & OFr ethimologie < L etymologia < Gr: see ETYMON & LOGY] 1. the origin and development of a word, affix, phrase, etc.; the tracing of a word or other form back as far as possible in its own language… …   English World dictionary

  • Etymology — Etymologies redirects here. For the encyclopedia, see Etymologiae. For the Elvish dictionary, see The Etymologies (Tolkien). Not to be confused with Entomology or Etiology. For help writing an etymology on Wikipedia, see Template:Etymology …   Wikipedia

  • etymology — n. 1) to ascertain, determine, trace an etymology 2) folk etymology (the professor explained the origin of a word by folk etymology) * * * determine trace an etymology to ascertain folk etymology (the professor explained the origin of a word by… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • etymology — etymological /et euh meuh loj i keuhl/, etymologic, adj. etymologically, adv. etymologist, n. /et euh mol euh jee/, n., pl. etymologies. 1. the derivation of a word. 2. an account of the history of a particular word or element of a word. 3. t …   Universalium

  • etymology — [14] The underlying meaning of etymology is ‘finding the underlying or ‘true’ meaning of words’. Its ultimate source is Greek étumos ‘real, true’. From this was derived étumon ‘true or literal sense of a word’ (acquired by English in the 16th… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.