STEM Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

STEM is one of the foremost groups of academic disciplines. This is what STEM means, and why it is important in the academic world!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

The English language has a few words with multiple real-world meanings. While a word’s definition in the dictionary may be one thing, it can take on an entirely different meaning in context. Real-world applications of the word STEM range from flowers to mechanical engineering, so it clearly has an extensive range of definitions. 

This is what the word means in its lexical and academic contexts, where the word comes from, and how to make sure you’re using it right. Of course, the actual definition of a word depends on the context in which it is being used. If you want to truly make the best of your communication, it’s wise to learn how to use this word clearly. 

What Does STEM Mean?

The first definition of the word stem deals with the main trunk of a plant. This is the slender part of a plant that supports the buds, leaves, and branches of the rest of the plant. The stem connects each section of the plant to provide nutrients and help it continue to grow. 

Stems are found on everything from cherries to roses to sequoias and can look like anything from a slender stalk to a petiole to a massive tree trunk. 

When used in education and academia, STEM is an acronym. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This is a broad group of disciplines with crucial similarities, and most STEM occupations require at least a basic knowledge of all four disciplines. The acronym STEM is used to easily and quickly group these interconnected academic areas into one easily identifiable category. 

In some cases, the word stem is used metaphorically to refer to the narrow part of something, like the shaft of a feather, a thin rod, the holding element of a goblet, or a person’s main line of descent. 

Where Does the Word Stem Come From?

When used in the context of plants, the word stem comes from a couple of Germanic languages over the past several thousand years. The first and most common origin of the word is the Old Norse stemma, which shares the word’s essential plant-based today. Etymology scholars have also seen the term used in the Old English semmen, the German stemmen, the Old English stefn, and the Middle English stemmen

All of these old languages had similar origins, and therefore all had reasonably identical etymological roots. The root of a word is commonly found within various languages in the past, and this is definitely the case for the word stem. 

As time went on, the suffix of the Old English stemn was removed, and the word became the stem that we know and use today. Understanding the historical form of a word is a great way to better understand language as a whole and make it easier to figure out new words. 

Which Fields Fall Into STEM?

STEM-related areas are typically found in physical sciences and include various kinds of natural sciences and social sciences. 

When most people think of STEM, they will refer to various high-level sciences and forms of mathematics. Studies like Algebra, Calculus, and Trigonometry are primary fields within the mathematical aspects of STEM education. These kinds of math are focused on intense problem solving, algorithms, and critical thinking that goes beyond our day-to-day mathematics. 

In terms of sciences, some of the most popular are Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Data Science. These are some of the deepest and most complex fields of science. Other social sciences like Psychology and Economics are also commonly incorporated into STEM. 

What Does STEM Do in the World? 

While STEM seems like a field primarily based on high-level sciences and studies that may not apply to the rest of the world, it is actually crucial to everyone’s daily lives. According to organizations like the National Science Foundation, STEM is involved in everything from information security to web development to the filament styles in light bulbs to designing ski lifts. It’s an incredibly versatile and valuable field of academia that increases the quality of life for countless people worldwide. 

STEM also explains various essential processes, like how the tides work, how electrodes function, and why a spoon is so valuable. Understanding these technologies makes the world a much easier place to be. Having even a small appreciation and understanding of what STEM does can open your eyes to see the world in a new way. 


The meanings of words in the English language are constantly changing — and thanks to the internet, this change is happening faster than ever before. Because of that, it’s essential to know how to use language in its most relevant and presently-accepted form. 

Here at The Word Counter, we want to make it easy for anyone to understand and use the English Language in the most effective way possible. If you are looking to increase your ability to communicate, take a look around our blog! We’re sure you’ll learn something new that you can incorporate into your everyday vocabulary.


  1. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, including Computer Science | US Department of Education
  2. Stem Definition & Meaning | 
  3. National Science Foundation | NSF