Etymology Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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Have you ever heard of the word etymology? It looks like a pretty complex word, and many people aren’t familiar with its definition. However, this is an incredibly important word, and knowing about it can expand your understanding of the English language. 

So, today’s word of the day is etymology. By the end of this quick guide, you’ll have a good understanding of the definition of etymology, where it came from, and how to use it. You might even learn a little more about other words, too. Let’s dive in!

What Is the Definition of Etymology?

Here’s a complete definition of the word etymology:

  • A branch of linguistics that focuses on the study of the origin and history of words and how they have changed over time

Any time you see the suffix “ology,” it likely refers to a particular field of study, and the word etymology is no exception. 

Essentially, etymology is the study of where words come from. Each word in the English language came from somewhere. Perhaps it came from another language, or perhaps it was created recently and became commonplace. Words have different histories, and their definitions change over time. Etymology is the study of that history. 

This might seem like an arbitrary field of study to some, but it is an incredibly important field. By studying the historical development of the word, the origin of a word, and the derivation of the word, we can better understand the true sense of that particular word.

Etymology, grammar, and philology help us understand our language better and bring clarity to the meanings of many of the words we use. Even though it is not an incredibly prominent field of study, it is incredibly important. 

Etymology and Religion

One context where we see etymology used a lot is in religion, particularly in the study of the Bible, the Quran, or other religious texts. Theologians, religious leaders, and the like often use etymology to determine what a religious text is actually trying to say. 

In the case of the Bible — a book written 2000 years ago — direct translations of words often don’t convey the complete meaning of a word or set of words. By studying the etymology of the word, its origin, and the context it was used, you can ascertain meanings that the modern reader could never gather, but the ancient reader would have inherently understood. 

Because of this, many etymologists focus on Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic as these were the languages in which many religious texts were written. For these languages, in particular for Biblical translation, there are etymological dictionaries, also called lexicons, that give context to the words found in the Bible. 

Common Confusions

The word etymology is commonly confused with a similar word: the word “entomology.” These words are completely unrelated, however. Entomology is a field of zoology that deals with the study of insects.

Where Did the Word Etymology Come From?

To help bring more clarity to the word etymology, let’s look into the etymology of the word etymology itself! 

The oldest root ancestor, or etymon, of the word etymology, comes from ancient Greek, specifically the Greek word etumos, which means “true.” Once the study of words and their meaning came into practice, the word the Greeks used for that study utilized that root. The Greek etumologia is the word for etymology. 

This word transferred into the Latin etymologia. From there, it evolved into French, specifically Old French. The French word ethimologie shares the same definition. 

It was not until the late Middle English period that this word finally made its way into English. During this period, the English language was becoming more formalized and unified. The word “etymology” finally entered the English language and it hasn’t changed since.

What Is the History of the Study of Etymology?

Humans have been studying language for millenia. The first people to make comprehensive studies about the history of a word was ancient India. The first etymologists were linguists and grammarians of Sanskrit and they began etymology in the 6th century BCE. 

The ancient Greco-Roman people also studied etymology. Plato and Socrates were among the philosophers to study the subject. 

More recently, the study of folk etymology has come about. A folk etymology is a change in the definition of individual words that was based on an incorrect assumption about where the word actually came from.

What Are Some Examples of Sentences That Use Etymology?

Seeing how the word etymology is used can help bring more clarity to its meaning. So here are some examples of the word etymology being used in a sentence. 

After I looked into the word’s etymology, I understood a lot more about what it actually means. 

My father is in the field of etymology, and his expertise is in Biblical Greek. 

I wish there was a more reliable resource to find the etymology of English words, but it can be tough to find one on the internet. 

I’m fascinated with semantics, so I study grammar, etymology, and various languages in my free time. 

I love finding out where new words come from, so I love looking into the study of etymology. 

The Word Etymology

Etymology is an incredibly important field in linguistics. It not only helps us understand the definitions of the words we use every day, but it also helps us keep a record of our language, create dictionaries, and, thus, it affects our daily lives. 


Ancient Sanskrit Online | University of Texas 

ETYMOLOGY | Cambridge English Dictionary 

Folk etymology | Universitat de Barcelona