• etymology •
ed-ê-mah-lê-jee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: The history of words or the linguistic study of that history; the branch of linguistics dealing with the origins and historical development of words. (The same as our 'Word History' below.)
Notes: Today's Good Word is used widely in linguistics, especially historical linguistics, the study of the historical development of languages. A person who studies etymology is an etymologist who carries out etymological studies, etymologically speaking, that is.
In Play: We will see an actual etymology like this one in the next section. "If we study the etymology of pilgrim, we find out that English borrowed it from Old French peligrin, which developed over time from Latin peregrinus "foreign, strange". Don't read too much into the etymology of words, though, as did the person who uttered this: "Well, words may not tell us much about people but the etymology of Will Doolittle's name tells us a lot about him."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken over from Latin etymologia with only the usual minor adjustment. Latin borrowed the word from Greek etymologia with no change (except alphabets). The Greek word is made up of etymon "a word's true meaning" + log- "word, idea" + -ia, a noun suffix. Etymon is the neuter form of the adjective etymos "true", used as a noun. The root of logos is that fascinating Proto-Indo-European root leg-/log- which gave us Latin lex, legis "law" and Greek logos "speech, word, idea". The Greek root also gave us lexicon, lexical, and Lexiteria, our former parent company. The best guess as to how the meanings "word" and "law" crossed paths is that this root goes back to the day when a king's word was the law. (Even though the etymology of Jackie Strauss's last name leads to the German word for "ostrich", she certainly doesn't bury her head in the sand or she would miss Good Words like this one.)
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