etymology

noun
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 is the world that shaped us in ways that are continually being revealed. *** Time, evolution, history, genealogy, etymology. Carmel Mc Mahon, Longreads, "Brigid, Magdalene, My Mother, and Me," 13 Nov. 2019 Yet all around him the belief persisted that literature should be studied theoretically and reductively, for its structure and etymologies, as if genius could not appear and astonish out of a clear sky. The Economist, "Obituary: Harold Bloom died on October 14th," 24 Oct. 2019 From its first use in 15th century Venice to its echoes in cities such as New York and Chicago, Schwartz traces the word’s path to modernity while highlighting its Jewish past — etymology that is often overlooked. BostonGlobe.com, "Knowing the history of the word ghetto and also recognizing its rhetorical power, what can that history teach us for the future?," 14 Sep. 2019 In its etymology are the Greek verb misein, to hate, and gyne, women. The Economist, "How to change a word’s meaning," 22 June 2019 Steaks should be sold only on a pointed stick, on the grounds that most shoppers will rely on the proto-Indo-European etymology. The Economist, "Europe heroically defends itself against veggie burgers," 28 June 2019 Each one contains a few sentences of Nazi writing and the etymology of a specific German word, both its original meaning and its distorted one. Gal Beckerman, New York Times, "The Holocaust Survivor Who Deciphered Nazi Doublespeak," 24 June 2019 Λαων, λ αε: etymology obscure, semantic field dubious. Anne Carson, Harper's magazine, "From a manuscript in progress. Carson’s collection of performance pieces," 10 June 2019 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

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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Time Traveler for etymology

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

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Cite this Entry

“Etymology.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/etymology. Accessed 26 January 2020.

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More Definitions for etymology

etymology

noun
How to pronounce etymology (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of etymology

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

etymology

noun
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

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about etymology

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