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

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Other Words from etymology

etymological \ ˌe-​tə-​mə-​ˈlä-​ji-​kəl How to pronounce etymological (audio) \ adjective
etymologically \ ˌe-​tə-​mə-​ˈlä-​ji-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce etymologically (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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

This feat takes hours of repetition, coaching from a teacher or loved one, and study of etymology, or the origin of words. Madeline Holcombe, CNN, "A historic win. The National Spelling Bee has not one -- but 8 champions," 31 May 2019 Other essays provide deep conceptual etymologies of historical events, key figures and schools of thought. George Prochnik, New York Times, "The Philosopher in Dark Times," 12 Apr. 2018 Canvass, though, must be the campaign word with the strangest etymology. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, "So many words to talk about elections," 14 June 2018 To prepare for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Walters coached Nemmani on language patterns and etymologies — the roots and histories of words. Katie Reilly, Time, "Here's What It Takes to Win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, According to the Victor's 16-Year-Old Coach," 1 June 2018 In June of 1888, a man named Hugh McIntire was arrested for a minor heist that would become a major footnote in Boston etymology. Billy Baker,, "Can I have a tonic? No, not that tonic," 30 May 2018 The etymology suggests that disasters are destined, inevitable, like a Greek tragedy. Elisa Gabbert, New York Times, "What Separates Ordinary Bad News From True ‘Disaster’?," 10 Apr. 2018 Its mode of locomotion explains the etymology of kinorhynch, Greek for moveable snout. Adrienne Mason, Smithsonian, "King of The Mud Dragons," 2 Mar. 2018 The etymology of ghassoul originates from the Arabic verb ‘to wash’, where the accent on cleanliness and purification in this natural beauty product is highlighted. Jihane Hajby, Allure, "7 Moroccan Beauty Secrets You Need to Know," 29 Oct. 2017

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.

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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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Statistics for etymology

Last Updated

20 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for etymology

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

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More Definitions for etymology



English Language Learners Definition of etymology

: an explanation of where a word came from : the history of a word
: the study of word histories


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

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More from Merriam-Webster on etymology

Spanish Central: Translation of etymology

Nglish: Translation of etymology for Spanish Speakers

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

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