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Word Origins And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone by Anatoly Liberman (Oxford University Press, 2005)


(1) The origin or derivation of a word (also known as lexical change). Adjective: etymological.

(2) The branch of linguistics concerned with the history of the forms and meanings of words.

See also:

How Words Are Made


From the Greek, "true sense of a word"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Ours is a mongrel language which started with a child's vocabulary of 300 words, and now consists of 225,000; the whole lot, with the exception of the original and legitimate 300, borrowed, stolen, smooched from every unwatched language under the sun, the spelling of each individual word of the lot locating the source of the theft and preserving the memory of the revered crime."
    (Mark Twain, Autobiography)

  • "As early as the 15th century, scribes and early printers performed cosmetic surgery on the lexicon. Their goal was to highlight the roots of words, whether for aesthetic pizzazz, homage to etymology, or both. The result was a slew of new silent letters. Whereas debt was spelled det, dett, or dette in the Middle Ages, the 'tamperers,' as one writer calls them, added the b as a nod to the word's Latin origin, debitum. The same goes for changes like the b in doubt (dubium), the o in people (populous), the c in victuals (victus), and the ch in school (scholar)."
    (David Wolman, Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling. Harper, 2010)

  • "The origin of words that reproduce natural sounds is self-explanatory. French or English, cockoo and miaow are unquestionably onomatopoeias. If we assume that growl belongs with gaggle, cackle, croak, and creak and reproduces the sound it designates, we will be able to go a bit further. Quite a few words in the languages in the world begin with gr- and refer to things threatening or discordant. From Scandanavian, English has grue, the root of gruesome (an adjective popularized by Walter Scott), but Old Engl. gryre (horror) existed long before the emergence of grue-. The epic hero Beowulf fought Grendel, an almost invincible monster. Whatever the origin of the name, it must have been frightening even to pronounce it."
    (Anatoly Liberman, Word Origins And How We Know Them: Etymology for Everyone. Oxford Univ. Press, 2005)

  • Etymology of the Word God:
    The root-meaning of the name (from Gothic root gheu; Sanskrit hub or emu, "to invoke or to sacrifice to") is either "the one invoked" or "the one sacrificed to." From different Indo-Germanic roots (div, "to shine" or "give light"; thes in thessasthai "to implore") come the Indo-Iranian deva, Sanskrit dyaus (gen. divas), Latin deus, Greek theos, Irish and Gaelic dia, all of which are generic names; also Greek Zeus (gen. Dios, Latin Jupiter (jovpater), Old Teutonic Tiu or Tiw (surviving in Tuesday), Latin Janus, Diana, and other proper names of pagan deities. The common name most widely used in Semitic occurs as 'el in Hebrew, 'ilu in Babylonian, 'ilah in Arabic, etc.; and though scholars are not agreed on the point, the root-meaning most probably is "the strong or mighty one."
    (The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)
Pronunciation: ET-i-MOL-ah-gee
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