The clock quietly buzzes as the neon light tries to fade out. It’s 12:30AM or something like that and my eyes squint as I try to finish off my term paper. I am searching for a witty end to wrap up my discussion about the symbolic meaning of who knows what with Shakespeare and his shrew. I had been at it for a couple of hours but all I really wanted to work on was my semester project for my History of the English Language class. That’s right. History of the English Language. Or as most students affectionately coined “HEL.” And I was excited about writing this paper.
When you’re an English major you find your niche of literature and topics that resonate with you the most. One of mine was language. Etymology to be exact. And since I’m on this little journey of writing everyday on my blog, one of the topics came up about writing something that wouldn’t “fit” your blog. So I chose etymology. Because, well, I just told you. It is a secret guilty pleasure of mine to look up the etymology of words all the time.
So what is etymology? I’ll let o’l Webster sum it up easily and quickly:
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By extension, the term “the etymology (of a word)” means the origin of the particular word
You see, what’s kinda bizarre about the English language is that it’s one of the most impure languages out there. Meaning not a lot of our words originated from Old English. A lot of our words come from all sorts of different countries and their languages. Example: “salsa” or “souffle.” What’s even
nerdier cooler is that the more you know about how our language started in one part of the world and how all these countries kept invading this part of the world and forced their language onto Old English, which caused all sorts of meshing and merging and all sorts of craziness, then when you read etymologies, you’re like “Whoa, this word is of Scandanavian origin. Cool.” Just me? OK…
If you don’t know already, the Oxford English Dictionary is the mother of all etymologies. It is considered the rock source for word origins. At my college, the OED took up like a whole row of books on shelves in one complete aisle. Well, something like that. It’s pretty epic.
So, if you get this weird hankerin and wonder where that word came from–just me again?–then you totally need to look up the OED. I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in knowing that the word “booger” was recorded to be in the English language in 1890 and it’s always meant mucus gunk from your nose.
OK, so now you might be thinking of words you would like to know about. Let me give you a quick simple run down of how to read an etymology.
First, another easy site that is pretty reputable is www.etymonline.com And don’t worry, the way you read etymology on this site is how you would for the OED too.
Say you want to look up the phrase “tongue twister.” You would type it in the search box and you’ll get something that looks like this: (note this is from etymonline.com)
When you are reading etymologies, the first year that pops up in the explanation is typically assumed to be the first time it was found and/or recorded in history. So tongue twister came around 1875.
Second, you will typically find part of it’s definition or its story behind its usage in whatever language it came from.
Third, this one doesn’t have it, but sometimes it will say something like “from Old Norse” which means, simply put, that’s the language that word came from. And if you keep reading, sometimes you find that it was in all sorts of languages before it somehow came into English.
Fourth, if you want to know specifically the year it came about and the original language, you always go with the first year that comes up in the definition and the first language that gets listed.
If you really get into it, you’ll find LOTS of words have a Latin origin ultimately. Which if you know anything about history and the Roman empire, that’s not all that surprising.
That’s my secret (not so secret) guilty pleasure share with you today! OH and then there’s The Bachelor and Bachelorette, but that’s reserved for a glass of wine and another day.
Happy word searching!
What about you? Ever wonder about this? Every tried searching for word etymologies?? Am I the only one?!?!?! Please let me know I am not alone by commenting below. 🙂
(This post also appears on gloryannaboge.com.)
Some of us blogging buddies are committed to writing more weekly on our blogs! We have a variety of topics we’ll be writing about! To check out these lovely ladies and where their writing is taking them, click on their blog links below! And as always, tip your waters.
Aimme at mamacentric.com
Abbie at grumblinggrace.com
Emily at emilyfisk.com
Harmony at mywanderingheartsong.wordpress.com