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Introduction to Etymology and Why it is Important

Pooja Menon

Introduction to Etymology and Why it is Important

9 months, 3 weeks ago
Etymon (true sense) + -logia (study of) = etymology

Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. By an extension, the term "the etymology of [a word]" means the origin of the particular word.

Etymology can be very fascinating. It will help answer questions like “Why does this word mean this?” or “How did this come to mean this?”

For us, i.e., people not working with languages, etymology is not very important, but knowing to communicate effectively in English (written or verbal) is important, and I believe that a basic knowledge of etymology will help in understanding the meaning of words better.

Amitabh Bachchan had very correctly said in a movie, “English is a very funny language.” This is because English is a mixture of many different languages and has been evolving continuously over time. Words that were used 20 years back may not be used today or may have changed in meaning. New words are continuously being coined and used.

Etymological theory recognizes that words originate through a limited number of basic mechanisms, the most important of which are borrowing (i.e., the adoption of "loanwords" from other languages); word formation such as derivation and compounding; and onomatopoeia and sound symbolism, (i.e., the creation of imitative words such as "click").

Etymology can be a great tool to improve your English skills. It can be a little difficult in the beginning, but if you keep at it, it will pay off. What I am saying is that when you read or hear a word that you’re unfamiliar with, look it up in the dictionary and try to find its roots. For example,

Amphoterism: the ability to react in 2 ways. In chemistry, an amphoteric substance is something that can react as an acid and a base.

Derived from the Greek word “amphoteros,” . It is a variant of “amphi-,“ meaning “around, about, both, on both sides of, both kinds.”

The next time you come across a word starting with “amphi-,“ you will have an idea of what the word means (atleast you won’t be completely clueless, right?). Splitting words and looking for their roots is a habit that will take time to form. But, once formed, your command on English will improve by leaps and bounds. This is because it is not just the word that tells you its meaning. It is also the context in which it is used that tells you the meaning.

The next time you read, try to find the roots of the words you are reading and you will have started improving your English already!!!
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