Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Blog Conversation About Word Histories . . .

Etymology Blog Conversation

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Our last conversation was about Grammar—the final post, which had no comments, was, Further Conversation about Grammar, and has links to the two previous posts in the discussion…

The new conversation feature here (on Mondays & Wednesdays) continues the discussion when there’s at least one comment on any given post…


I get to start a new conversation :-)

Many of you who’re reading this will have come across the word “Etymology”—some of you will know what it means…

The easy definition for etymology is “word history”—a longer one, from the Oxford Dictionary, is:

“The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.”

My favorite source for studying etymologies is the Online Etymology Dictionary; and, here’s the etymology of “Etymology”:

{ hang on to your mind—it’s long… }

late 14c., ethimolegia “facts of the origin and development of a word,” from Old French etimologieethimologie (14c., Modern French étymologie), from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia“analysis of a word to find its true origin,” properly “study of the true sense (of a word),” with -logia“study of, a speaking of” (see -logy) + etymon “true sense, original meaning,” neuter of etymos “true, real, actual,” related to eteos “true,” which perhaps is cognate with Sanskrit satyah, Gothic sunjis, Old English soð “true,” from a PIE *set- “be stable.” Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium.

In classical times, with reference to meanings; later, to histories. Classical etymologists, Christian and pagan, based their explanations on allegory and guesswork, lacking historical records as well as the scientific method to analyze them, and the discipline fell into disrepute that lasted a millennium. Flaubert [“Dictionary of Received Ideas”] wrote that the general view was that etymology was “the easiest thing in the world with the help of Latin and a little ingenuity.”

As a modern branch of linguistic science treating of the origin and evolution of words, from 1640s. As “account of the particular history of a word” from mid-15c. Related: Etymologicaletymologically.

As practised by Socrates in the Cratylus, etymology involves a claim about the underlying semantic content of the name, what it really means or indicates. This content is taken to have been put there by the ancient namegivers: giving an etymology is thus a matter of unwrapping or decoding a name to find the message the namegivers have placed inside. [Rachel Barney, “Socrates Agonistes: The Case of the Cratylus Etymologies,” in “Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy,” vol. xvi, 1998]

I’m pretty sure some of you scanned that blockquote very quickly; and, I probably totally lost a couple folks…


For writers and publishers (and, even readers) etymologies can be invaluable…

Yes, while there certainly are people who will argue strongly that the historical origin of a word can have very little to do with current usage, let me share a personal philosophical consideration:

Consider the idea that words have “souls”—the “true inner meaning” of the word…

Just like human souls, that original inner meaning is still there when the word is very, very old—much has changed about that word’s “personality and habits”; but, the inner meaning of its soul is eternally the same…

I just happen to be a 72-year-old man—been around the block many, many times; yet, still, in spite of the mileage my body and personality have racked up, my “true inner meaning” as a soul is the same as when I was created…

It’s certainly grown; but, being a soul, it maintains its core Meaning; otherwise, the guy sitting in this chair typing these words would have been ridiculously confused every moment of his life—I’d have had no anchor to tie down and organize the multitudinous events that have tried to force me into their mold, rather than having my soul integrate them into the expanding scaffold of my growing personality (which can often be confused; but, is eternally comforted by the etymology of my soul)………

I didn’t expect I’d write that last paragraph; but, I am a writer and, when my Muse grabs the wheel, she often takes me for some extremely surprising rides…


All it will take to continue this discussion is a single comment from a reader…


…that single comment is to suggest a different topic for conversation :-)
If you don’t see a way to comment, try the link at the upper right of this post…

For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
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6 responses to “Blog Conversation About Word Histories . . .

  1. courseofmirrors June 7, 2018 at 6:52 am

    And there’s the the pulse of attitude, or vibration, especially with repeated sounds – words, phrases, called mantras in some cultures. They are loaded with usage and can have powerful effects.
    The word ‘soul’ has suffered in modern times, too imprecise, not verifiable by scientific methods – a shame because it sums up the essence of life and being.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alexander M Zoltai June 7, 2018 at 7:30 am

    I completely agree, Ashen…

    Thank you for helping this discussion continue this coming Monday :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Blackcinder June 8, 2018 at 8:10 am

    I liked the part that words have souls, just as the 72 year old guy does, subjected to outside influences that continue long after the internal mechanisms for change and initial creation have succumbed to the resultant soul.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Alexander M Zoltai June 8, 2018 at 8:23 am

    Thank you, Barbara, for your confirmatory comment and for adding to the continuation of the discussion :-)


  5. Pingback: More Conversation about Word Histories . . . | Notes from An Alien

  6. Pingback: Blog Conversation Concerning “What Should I Write?” . . . | Notes from An Alien

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