The Meaning of Etiology: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of etiology? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word etiology, including its definition, etymology, usage, examples, and more!12

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What does the word etiology mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary as well as other sources like Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English language, the word etiology is a noun that refers to the study of causes. Etiology can work within various scientific fields like biology, psychology, physics, theology, geography and more to determine things like the causes of disease or the causation of a medical diagnosis, the origin of a disease, the etymology or words, spatial analysis of natural phenomena, the origin of myths, and more. For example, the etiology of some disease or problem is the study of its source, origin, or cause. Etiology is five syllables – e-ti-ol-o-gy, and the pronunciation of etiology is ē′tē-ŏl′ə-jē. 

For example, myths, history and other philosophical theories might study the etiology, or set of causes, for different myths. The subject of investigation could be to find a mythical explanation or other historical factors or set of causes to figure out how a historical event occurred. A historical etiologist might study the origins of cult practices, the Aenid, look at myths from the amazon, study a deity like Zeus, Thisbe, Apollo, look at Virgil, the story of Prometheus and the sacrifice trick of the fat of the first sacrificial animal, or Hesiod’s theogony or the descent of Augustus Caesar to determine all of these causes. Etiologists might study things that seem wholly unrelated to try and paint a picture of the cause of a thing.

Another example of etiology could be looking at a constellation of symptoms in order to find abnormalities to determine the root cause of a disease. For example, people were wondering what was making sailors sick with scurvy. They were out at sea for long periods of time and the sailor’s diet had no access to fruit or vegetables. Therefore, they had low immunity. Captain James Cook suspected scurvy was caused by this. He fed his crew sauerkraut, a cabbage preparation, every day, and over the next two hundred years it was determined that the etiology of scurvy was a lack of vitamin c and lack of vegetables.

Someone could also perform the study of the causes of diseases like endocrine disease, hemophilia, neoplastic disorders, allergies, diabetes mellitus and more. They may find different results like an interaction between the cells of the body, high blood sugar, excessive bleeding, the overreaction of the immune system and more types of chemical signaling. The causation of diseases can lead to examples of intrinsic factors and the false attribution of the cause to external factors.

Another example of an etiological myth or origin myth is the name Delphi which is associated with the deity Apollon Delphinios. Per YouTube, these are both explained in what is known as the Homeric Hymn. This hymn tells the story of Apollo in the shape of a dolphin who propelled Cretans over the seas to make them his priests. While the word Delphi is also related to the word delphus meaning womb, many different myths are similarly based on the folk etymology of the area. In the Aeneid, Virgil claims that his his son Ascanius, also called Iulus is descended from Augustus Caesar’s Julian clan from the hero Aeneas.

Many different languages also contain words that mean etiology. You may notice that some of these words look very similar to one another. These are called cognates. Cognates are words and phrases that look and sound similar between languages while also meaning something similar. These are often formed when two words have the same language of origin or root. This list of translations of etiology is provided by Word Sense

  •  Norwegian: etiologi‎
  •  Hebrew: אטיולוגיה‎
  •  Catalan: etiologia‎ (fem.)
  •  Portuguese: etiologia‎ (fem.)
  •  Roman: etiologija‎ (fem.)
  •  Italian: eziologia‎ (fem.)
  •  Greek: αιτιολογία‎ (fem.)
  •  Galician: etioloxía‎ (fem.)
  •  Spanish: etiología‎ (fem.)
  •  Mandarin: 原因論‎, 原因论‎ (yuányīnlùn)
  •  Lithuanian: etiologija‎ (fem.)
  •  Dutch: etiologie‎ (fem.)
  •  Polish: etiologia‎ (fem.)
  •  German: Ätiologie‎ (fem.)
  •  Finnish: etiologia‎, syyoppi‎
  •  Esperanto: etiologio‎
  •  Khmer: សមុដ្ឋានវិទ្យា‎ (sa’muttʰaan vityie)
  •  Hungarian: etiológia‎
  •  Cyrillic: етиологија‎ (fem.)
  •  Czech: etiologie‎ (fem.)
  •  Asturian: etioloxía‎ (fem.)
  •  Russian: этиоло́гия‎ (fem.)
  •  Japanese: 原因論‎ (げんいんろん, gen’inron)
  •  French: étiologie‎ (fem.)
  •  Turkish: etiyoloji‎
  •  Swedish: etiologi‎ (common)
  •  Danish: ætiologi‎

What is the origin of the word etiology?

According to Etymonline, the word etiology – also spelled aetiology or aitiology – has been used since the 1550s to refer to the science of causes or causation. This comes from the Medieval Latin and Late Latin aetiologia, from the Greek aitiologia/Greek aitiologiā (Greek αἰτιολογία) meaning a statement of cause. These come from the Latin aitia/aitiā meaning cause or responsibility. These words are of Proto-Indo-European roots. Namely, ai-t-ya, from ai- meaning to give or allot and logia/logiā, meaning a speaking. One can add the suffixes ic, ally, and al to create the related words etiologic (adj.), etiological (adj.) and etiologically (adv.).

What are synonyms of the word etiology?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word etiology (ˌiːtɪˈɒlədʒɪ). These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another given word or phrase. Synonyms are a great way to expand your English language vocabulary and avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the word etiology is provided by Thesaurus

  •  inquiry
  •  deliberation
  •  examination
  •  separation
  •  test
  •  genetics
  •  analysis
  •  cramming
  •  subdivision
  •  academic work
  •  review
  •  thought
  •  subject
  •  pondering
  •  scrutiny
  •  questioning
  •  biology
  •  reading
  •  morphology
  •  trance
  •  weighing
  •  inspection
  •  resolution
  •  cytology
  •  debate
  •  exercise
  •  lesson
  •  study
  •  investigation
  •  analyzing
  •  concentration
  •  diagnosis
  •  reflection
  •  abstraction
  •  course
  •  survey
  •  dissection
  •  histology
  •  reasoning
  •  class
  •  musing
  •  embryology
  •  attention
  •  physiology
  •  schoolwork
  •  memorizing
  •  division
  •  comparison
  •  medicine
  •  application
  •  cogitation
  •  assay
  •  breakdown
  •  research
  •  partition
  •  muse
  •  dissolution
  •  rumination
  •  meditation
  •  consideration
  •  reverie
  •  search
  •  contemplation
  •  zoology

Overall, the word etiology means the study of causation. This can the be the causation of anything from proper names, to months like June, to myths like the story of the white berries and the origin of the color of mulberries, and more. Etiology covers both precise cause and mere suspicion, particularly because mythical etiology took place so long ago, long BC, like Hesiod’s Theogony, the story of Mecone, Ovid’s Pyramus and many more. Etiology can come with positive outcomes and negative outcomes. 


  1. Etiology: Meaning, Origin, Translations | Word Sense
  2. Etiology definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary 
  3. ETIOLOGY Synonyms: 17 Synonyms & Antonyms for ETIOLOGY | Thesaurus 
  4. etiology | Origin and meaning of etiology | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  5. What is ETIOLOGY? What does ETIOLOGY mean? ETIOLOGY meaning, definition & explanation | YouTube