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Warning:  Long Entry!

Inspired by Erinstraza’s regular blog entry about proper word usage, I thought I would use my own word passion for etymology in a slightly similar fashion. What better word to begin with than the word itself, so as to make its meaning and origins particularly clear.  Then I’ll give you some background on why I’m passionate about it.  Before I begin, I want to warn you that I tend to be rather long-winded when I’m passionate about something.  That said, let’s begin.

Erinstraza likes to begin her analysis of words with a dictionary entry.  Here is the entry for “etymology” in the Online Etymology Dictionary (OLED).

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 of etymos “true, real, actual,” related to eteos “true”) + -logia “study of, a speaking of.” In classical times, of meanings; later, of histories. Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium. As a branch of linguistic science, from 1640s. Related: Etymological; etymologically.

As you see here, the entire history of the use of the word is given in the entry.  We begin with its original use in the late fourteenth century as “ethimolegia” meaning facts about where a word comes from and how it was developed.  However, the entry goes further back in saying that this word was “cannibalized” from the fourteenth century old French word “etimologie” with an “h” added to de-French-ize it.   We also learn that the modern French word is “étymologie.”  Most French both old and modern, has Latin origins and this word is no exception.  The Latin word given is “etymologia.”  Latin culture, in its turn, borrowed heavily from Greek culture.  Again, this word is no exception.  The Latin use of this word is borrowed almost completely from Greek, properly referring to the study of the true sense of a given word.  Now that the history of the word has been explored, we next turn to the root meanings.  The Greek root words are given in the entry as follows:

etymon “true sense” as the entry states, this is a more neutral form of the Greek etymos, which is a male gendered word (yes, some words do have gender.  in Greek –os = male and –a = female –on = neutral) meaning “true, real or actual.”  This, in its turn is related to the Greek eteos, another male word which means simply “true.”

-logia “study of, a speaking of”– most of us are aware of the more modern version of this suffix –logy.  Since this suffix also has regular use in the English language, we respectfully include its OLED entry below.

-logy “a speaking, discourse, treatise, doctrine, theory, science,” from Gk. -logia (often via Fr. -logie or M.L. -logia), from root of legein “to speak;” thus, “the character or department of one who speaks or treats of (a certain subject).”

As we see in this entry, –logy has its own roots in Greek (the word –logia).  However, its current meaning often comes by way of the French suffix –logie or the old Latin –logia.  This comes from the Greek root word legein meaning “to speak.”  So, the original meaning of the suffix –logy is basically (as given in the entry) some person or department that talks about or discusses a given subject, such as the true sense of a given word.

Returning to the OLED entry for etymology, we learn that the word was originally used to mean a study of the the original meanings of a word.  Later, the history of words was added.  Cicero, a Roman philosopher and linguist born in 106 BC, Latinized the word to “veriloquium.” This only means that he translated it to Latin, which was commonly done to distinguish the cultured Latin society and its language from the barbaric societies and languages beyond Rome.   In the 1640s it was recognized as a branch of linguistic science.

Thus, etymology is really the study of a word’s original meaning.  I find it particularly interesting to learn that the word defines a legitimate modern science.  According to Wikipedia, etymologists have many interesting methods for determining the history, origins and original meaning of a given word.  However, this is a subject for another time.

Now, for the background.  My own passion for etymology comes from my husband.  He has often thrilled me with his fascination for the history and origins of English words.  More often than not, he will call me over to his computer to view the etymology of a word on the OLED.  What’s funny about this is that sometimes people mistake the word “etymology” for an entirely different word “entomology” which I’ll delve into in a future entry.  Suffice it to say that people think my husband has a passion for bugs.  It’s not bugs, folks, it’s words.  Anyway, thanks to jaklumen, my husband, I’ve learned that the history and original uses of English words can be beautiful in a rather geeky way.  I hope I’ve managed to show this to you and not bore you to tears.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our look into the etymology of “etymology,” and that I’ve managed to expand your interests in the vocabulary department.  I note that Erinstraza often likes to end her word study blog entries with a question.  So, here’s my question: Have you ever wondered about the history and/or original use of a particular word?  If so, share it with us in the comments section below.