et·​y·​mol·​o·​gy | \ ˌe-tə-ˈmä-lə-jē How to pronounce etymology (audio) \
plural etymologies

Definition of etymology

1 : 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
2 : a branch of linguistics concerned with etymologies

Other Words from etymology

etymological \ ˌe-​tə-​mə-​ˈlä-​ji-​kəl How to pronounce etymology (audio) \ adjective
etymologically \ ˌe-​tə-​mə-​ˈlä-​ji-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce etymology (audio) \ adverb

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 Folk etymology holds that these two idioms, which in different ways imply inattention to more important tasks, arose from the same situation – someone assigning busywork to others, to prevent them from being idle. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, 11 July 2022 Contestants are allotted two minutes to spell their word and may ask for the meaning, the etymology, and alternate pronunciations. Tara Bahrampour, Washington Post, 2 June 2022 The etymology of the word dogged, in the positive, literally defines the loyalty and determination, the steadfast companionship, the always-see-the-best-in-you adoration that makes dogs such beloved creatures to many of us mere mortals. Liza Lentini, SPIN, 16 June 2022 Contestants are allotted two minutes to spell their word and may ask for the meaning, the etymology, and alternative pronunciations. Tara Bahrampour, Anchorage Daily News, 2 June 2022 Its etymology -- from the Old English -- has to do with shed blood. Dave Lucas, CNN, 15 Apr. 2022 If Villanueva doesn’t get reelected, maybe there’s a career in etymology for him? Los Angeles Times, 24 Mar. 2022 Floyd’s explanation is indeed considered one possible etymology for the term. Caroline Tien, San Antonio Express-News, 28 Feb. 2022 An ideology of #Prada becomes an etymology of beauty, a history of women. Natasha Dado,, 24 Feb. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of etymology

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for etymology

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

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

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Last Updated

5 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Etymology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for etymology


et·​y·​mol·​o·​gy | \ ˌe-tə-ˈmä-lə-jē How to pronounce etymology (audio) \
plural etymologies

Kids Definition of etymology

: 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 may have been taken

More from Merriam-Webster on etymology

Nglish: Translation of etymology for Spanish Speakers

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


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