Definition: Etymology

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From Middle English ethymologie, from Old French ethimologie, from Latin etymologia, from Ancient Greek ἐτυμολογία or etumología, from ἔτυμον or étumon (true sense) and -λογία or -logía (study of), from λόγος or lógos (word; explanation).


etymology (countable and uncountable, plural etymologies)

  1. (uncountable, linguistics) The study of the historical development of languages, particularly as manifested in individual words.
  2. (countable) The entire catalogue of meanings that a word, morpheme, or sign has carried throughout its history; the derivation.
    Although written the same, the words lead (the metal) and lead (the verb) have totally different etymologies.
  3. (countable) An account of the origin and historical development of a word as presented in a dictionary or the like.
  4. (countable) The direct origin of a name, as in who someone was named after.

Usage notes

Not to be confused with entomology (the study of insects) or etiology (the study of causes or origins). Not to be confused with the origin of the object or person the word refers to.

Derived terms

  • etymological
  • folk etymology
  • popular etymology
  • pseudoetymology
  • surface etymology


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