The etymology of etymology


I sometimes wonder where certain words come from. Where do we get the word for this or that? But what I wonder more about is how one would even go about tracking back the history of a word. It is always fascinating to me that there really is a study of quite a few more things than I had thought about. Etymology, or the study of the history of words, is one such study that before discovering it, I never would have considered.

We have long wondered where the words that we use on a day to day basis originate from, even before we developed an understanding of complex links between the languages of other places and people in the 18th century. People would often use etymology to add meaning to the words that they were using as if they were using wordplay, even before people had begun to trace the origins of such words back to where they came from, from antiquity to the 17th century. Greek poet, Pindar, even used etymology to flatter his patrons by being inventive with the origins of the words he chose to use. Some such as Plutarch used etymologies based on the similarity of the sounds of the syllables of the words, which is not an entirely accurate method of determining the origin of a word, as there may be many other words that sound similar and therefore the meaning could become muddled and confused. Many ancient cultures even acknowledge etymology in their texts, such as Ancient Greek work, Cratylus. 

Even the word etymology has its own etymology. The word can be divided into two segments, with two different words that this one word originates from. Like many other fields of study, this word ends in ‘logy’, which can be seen to be derived from the Greek word ‘logia’ which translates to mean ‘the study of’. This explains why it is on the end of the words for so many fields of study; psychology, biology, herbology, and so on and so forth. As with all of these words, etymology has an o between the two suffixes. This is because the O is combining vowel, which combines the two parts of the word, making them into an entirely new word, with which the two parts of the word contribute to the meaning through their own personal meaning. The first half of the word etymology comes from the prefix ‘etumon’ which means the true sense of a thing or a sense of the truth. Together, the Greek word for etymology was etumologia, which developed over time into the word for the study of the history of words that we know today.

We often do not know where the words that are coming out of our mouths have come from. As we speak them aloud, we spare no thought to where they could possibly have come to us from. Within one sentence, you could be showing influence from Greek, Latin, Germanic or even French languages. Our whole world is a melting pot of inspiration. I often wonder what it will inspire next.


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