The Study of the Origin of Words

What is Etymology?

The etymologies of words are not definitions of the words but rather where the word came from and what it may have originally meant. In other words, etymology the historical study of the origin of words. Contributions to the English language started thousands of years ago and still occur today from other languages and cultural influences.

English Language Influences

Words can change their meaning and sometimes their spelling gradually over time. Etymologists identify and follow those changes in detail. It is possible to trace certain words all the way to their known or hypothetical origins in the Proto-Indo-European language, prior to the 3rd millennium BC. It may surprise you to know that the origins of many words are incomplete or actually totally unknown.

The Indo-European roots became parents to words in Persian, Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, all of which fed into the German, English, French and other European languages. Some of today's vocabulary is the outcome of a series of small, inadvertent mixing of words and stems that have accumulated over thousands of years and had led, for example, to words with both Anglo-Saxon and Greek roots.

Where can I find out a Word's Origin?

To find out where a word came from, you can use the Oxford English Dictionary, considered to be the last word in such references, or you can try an online etymology dictionary. If you like words, it is fun to discover the oft-surprising origin of words, particularly ones that you have been using for years and take for granted. One online reference that we have enjoyed is

How do I Become an Etymologist?

Etymology is not a profession per se but can be a significant part of occupations that are deeply involved with words, such as being an English (or other language) teacher, a college professor, a writer or an editor. To be considered an "etymologist," one needs to study the development of one or more languages, including historical phonetics, grammar and lexicology. Generally, schools do not teach etymology as a separate discipline, but you will find it as an element of language study courses.

Go to the word root search engine.

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