eti·​ol·​o·​gy | \ ˌē-tē-ˈä-lə-jē How to pronounce etiology (audio) \
plural etiologies

Definition of etiology

1 : cause, origin specifically : the cause of a disease or abnormal condition
2 : a branch of knowledge concerned with causes specifically : a branch of medical science concerned with the causes and origins of diseases

Examples of etiology in a Sentence

The scarf had been purchased in one of those tiny, exquisitely organized stores that can seduce you into thinking it matters less what you wear than how you accessorize what you wear, and the scarf came in just the noncolor colors that I like: mustard and khaki and taupe, shades of dun, nothing too vivid, yet subtly enlivening. I have traced the etiology of this object the better to convey the irrational significance of its loss. — Daphne Merkin, New York Times Magazine, 5 May 1991 In social terms, regardless of its etiology, memory loss may be a way of coping with harsh reality. — Elizabeth W. Markson, Growing Old in America, (1985) 1987 I have Freud in my novel as a doctor someone has heard about somewhere, perhaps in Vindobo-na in Pannonia (Vienna in Austria to you), who thinks, though not in so many words, that neuroses have no somatic etiology. I call him Sameach, which is Hebrew for Freud. I also call him Efcharistimenos, which is Greek for Freud. Damn it, I couldn't spell it out more if I tried. — Anthony Burgess, Times Literary Supplement, 2 Aug. 1985
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Recent Examples on the Web At autopsy, researchers have reported the presence of viral protein in the actual heart muscle of deceased patients—so viral involvement is possible, though the true etiology may be multifactorial. Carolyn Barber, Fortune, "With COVID raging, why are we even still playing college basketball?," 14 Dec. 2020 Chronic kidney disease has swept Central America; again, the etiology of the epidemic has been described as mysterious. Vann R. Newkirk Ii, The Atlantic, "The Heat Gap," 15 Oct. 2020 These pathological limelight-seekers all agree that the etiology of the affliction is simple: the patient’s gross recklessness and irresponsible behavior. Gerard Baker, WSJ, "Outside Walter Reed, a Misinformation Epidemic," 5 Oct. 2020 Part two treats of abstractions: memory, self-consciousness, the etiology of physical and emotional pain. Stefan Beck, National Review, "How to Think about Existential Threats," 3 Sep. 2020 Any important disease, whose physical etiology is not understood, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, "Will Facebook ever learn?," 18 Mar. 2020 The dominant theory holds that C.F.S. may not have a single etiology but may instead be a dysfunctional state of the immune system triggered by one of several ailments. Mike Mariani, The New Yorker, "A Town for People with Chronic Fatigue," 3 Sep. 2019 The etiology of the crime, and the punishment that may follow, stretch past the experiences of two men in the 10th arrondissement. Jason Farago, The New York Review of Books, "J’Accuse!," 18 Apr. 2019 The goal of One Health is to develop policies and interventions that account for social, political and economic realities, not just disease etiology. Daniel Fernandez, Smithsonian, "How Globalization Changed the Way We Fight Disease," 4 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'etiology.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of etiology

circa 1555, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for etiology

Medieval Latin aetiologia statement of causes, from Greek aitiologia, from aitia cause

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Time Traveler for etiology

Time Traveler

The first known use of etiology was circa 1555

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Statistics for etiology

Last Updated

19 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Etiology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for etiology


variants: or chiefly British aetiology \ ˌēt-​ē-​ˈäl-​ə-​jē How to pronounce etiology (audio) \
plural etiologies

Medical Definition of etiology

1 : the cause or causes of a disease or abnormal condition some types of cancer have a viral etiology a multiple etiology in which biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors all play a role— M. E. Jackson et al.
2 : a branch of medical science dealing with the causes and origin of diseases

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More from Merriam-Webster on etiology

Nglish: Translation of etiology for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of etiology for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about etiology

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