Etymology - The Origin Of Words.
Have you ever thought how words became words? If so, you should look into studying Etymology. Etymology is the study of from where words come. Looking at the origin of words, including breaking the word down into its root, looking at the sounds, the spellings and how the meaning of the word has changed is all part of the study of etymology.
There are various ways to study the origin of words and phases. There are some tools for finding the origin of words and ways to validate the findings. The most common way to research origins would be to come up with a hypothesis, and then test it by finding documentation of the use of the word.
The most common way to study etymologies would be to consult dictionaries, etymological dictionaries, slang and dialectical dictionaries, and then the popular press.
The standard dictionaries usually have some helpful information when looking at the origin of the word. Most of the common dictionaries have etymological information located in the beginning of the entry for each word. It is fun to follow the line and then read the definition common for today.
There are special etymological dictionaries that give the reader much more information on the origins. The etymological dictionaries give the time the word appears in the language and from what language the words come.
Slang and dialectical dictionaries are dictionaries that specialize in words and phases that are not usually found in standard or common dictionaries. These dictionaries take some skill to use because they usually do not include any etymological information but just give meanings. However, you can begin to trace the meanings back to the origin.
There are many popular press books written on etymologies. The books are written for the common person and usually are not as comprehensive as pure etymological dictionaries. At the same time, they are a good place to begin your study. The reader should try to judge the accuracy and the quality of the explanations given, as there are a wide variety of books available, some good and some not so good.
There are some common events that happen in the history of a word that could help you uncover the true origin of the word. For instance, many times a word becomes simplified over time; that is the spelling of the word changes over time and may take on an abbreviation or some other simplified spelling while still retaining the original meaning.
Words that come out of slang are often incorporated into the language. For instance, a word found in rap music, the word “bling,” has become a word that is accepted by the popular press. These verbal words that become actual words usually have to be seen in the written form and be used in newspapers and magazines frequently before they become accepted. If the use of the word is widespread enough over time, dictionaries may begin to include it.
Sometimes words enter the English language from very strange backgrounds, like when the boundaries between words change. That is the case with the boundary of the word “ a nuncle” became “an uncle”.
When studying etymologies there are a lot of common mistakes and assumptions made that tend to make the word’s origin seem like something that it is not. The most common errors are superficial resemblances, false eponyms, acronymic origins, and irresistible stories.
Just because two words look alike does not mean that they come from the same source. There are many similar words that do come from the same root, but that is not always the case. The words may enter the English language at different points and take on their own meaning. There are times when a borrowed word from a foreign language is similar to an English word. For example, a “ten-gallon hat” is thought to mean a hat large enough to hold 10 gallons of water. However, that is not true as the word “gallon” is derived from the Spanish word “galon” meaning braid.
False eponyms are another common mistake when looking at etymologies. Many words are ascribed to famous people. For example the word for “bloomers”, a type of undergarment, came from Amelia Bloomer. But, to assume the word “harlot” comes from Arlette, the mother of William the Conqueror, who was unmarried, would be wrong.
There are words that result from acronyms, but do not assume that unless you have researched the origin thoroughly. The word “posh” is thought to come from “Port Out; Starboard Home”, a phrase used to describe the best side of a passenger ship (and most expensive therefore) to get a stateroom when traveling to and from Asia in the old days. Closer study of the word shows that it did not stem from that phase. There are some words that are formed from acronyms, like the word “scuba” which comes from self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
So get out your dictionaries and start looking to the origin of words. It is fun and gives you a whole new perspective of the English language and it’s history. You will be amazed at the number of borrowed words there are and how words have changed over the centuries.