et·​y·​mol·​o·​gy ˌe-tə-ˈmä-lə-jē How to pronounce etymology (audio)
plural etymologies
: the history of a linguistic form (such as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language
: a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies
etymological adjective
etymologically adverb

Did you know?

Commonly Confused: Etymology and Entomology

The etymology of etymology itself is relatively straightforward. Etymon means "origin of a word" in Latin, and comes from the Greek word etymon, meaning "literal meaning of a word according to its origin." Greek etymon in turn comes from etymos, which means "true." Be careful not to confuse etymology with the similar-sounding entomology. Entomon means "insect" in Greek, and entomology is the study of bugs.

Examples of etymology in a Sentence

Visible just beneath the entries are tantalizing glimpses of the lexicographer's craft: scouring periodicals for fresh coinages, poring over competing dictionaries in search of elusive etymologies and hounding writers and scholars in the service of … "ear candy" or plain old "duh." Margalit Fox, New York Times Book Review, 18 June 1995
Professionals have always tried to seal the borders of their trade and to snipe at any outsider with a pretense to amateur enthusiasm (although amateurs who truly love their subject, as the etymology of their status proclaims, often acquire far more expertise than the average time-clock-punching breadwinner). Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, February 1991
True etymology, if there is such a thing, seeks to displace our attention back in time, to roots, whereas the "popular" variety tries to update words, to familiarize them where the so-called science estranges them. Walter Redfern, Puns, 1984
Several different etymologies have been proposed.
Recent Examples on the Web The more likely etymology points to the root lag, or law. Erika Page, The Christian Science Monitor, 2 Feb. 2024 Lowery Sims said that the root of the word to curate is to care, and people love to talk about what that etymology means. Essence, 19 Jan. 2024 In my Oxford English Dictionary both words take up several pages each in all their iterations (etymology, evolution in use, noun, adjective, adverb, etc.). Lisa Z. Lindahl, Forbes, 29 Nov. 2023 Influence, it has been noted in this era of epidemics, shares a root word with influenza, an etymology that echoes the popular notion that ideas are free-floating pathogens that someone can catch without giving their conscious consent. Meghan O'Gieblyn, WIRED, 12 Oct. 2023 In rejecting the veto power of etymology, Indulgers return all language campaigns to the realm of civility and submission. S.c. Cornell, The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 2023 While other players were rounding the bases or waiting for their turn in the lineup, Berg entertained from the bench, telling stories about his travels, detailing the etymology of random words and chatting with the press in whatever language struck his fancy. Zachary Clary, Smithsonian Magazine, 31 Aug. 2023 Having warned us early on against the danger of overestimating etymology, Nuttall cheerfully does precisely that for much of the rest of the book. S.c. Cornell, The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 2023 The etymology of many of the words for interest derive from the offspring of livestock, reflecting an awareness that wealth well managed is fruitful. Adam Rowe, WSJ, 12 Aug. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'etymology.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English ethimologie, from Anglo-French, from Latin etymologia, from Greek, from etymon + -logia -logy

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of etymology was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near etymology

Cite this Entry

“Etymology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


et·​y·​mol·​o·​gy ˌet-ə-ˈmäl-ə-jē How to pronounce etymology (audio)
plural etymologies
: the history of a word shown by tracing it or its parts back to the earliest known forms and meanings both in its own language and any other language from which it or its parts may have been taken
etymological adjective
etymologically adverb

Latin etymologia "etymology," from Greek etymon "true meaning of a word" and Greek -logia "study, science," from etymos "true" and logos "word, reason"

More from Merriam-Webster on etymology

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!