Definition of etymology in English:



mass noun
  • 1The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

    ‘the decline of etymology as a linguistic discipline’
    • ‘It is difficult to explain why well-bred people avoid certain words and expressions that are admitted by etymology and grammar.’
    • ‘He studied at the Polytechnic College and graduated with a degree in etymology, the study of words, and now claims to have a vocabulary of around 22,000 words.’
    • ‘But that would be to stray into fields of etymology and philology.’
    • ‘He is also a big fan of rugby league, a bird watcher and is interested in etymology - the origin of words.’
    • ‘I share with Boshoff an interest in etymology, taxonomy and language (I don't claim to have anywhere near his kind of knowledge on the subjects though), but I didn't feel as fascinated by the work in reality as in theory.’
    • ‘As a consequence of their work, 20th-century etymology is part of historical linguistics.’
    • ‘Based on a rough study of etymology, these words for big numbers were popularized in 17th-century France and were based on the 14th-century coinage of ‘million.’’
    • ‘I am certain I'm not the only lover of words and etymology around here.’
    • ‘The bill included the fees of a firm of lawyers specialising in copyright law whose research took them into the world of etymology, the study of the sources and development of words.’
    • ‘His university lectures on etymology and linguistics were standing room only, and he invariably stayed late to answer a barrage of questions.’
    • ‘On the one hand, he is saying that what he considers correct is determined ultimately by usage, not by etymology.’
    • ‘From this comes new ideas on sociology, on etymology, on history, poetry, on the nature of early religion, the impact of nature and geography on society, on divine intervention and a whole host of others topics.’
    • ‘Certainly, in terms of understanding etymology, syntax and grammar, a classical education is a useful qualification for a lexicographer - a job that's a combination of logic, aesthetics and problem-solving.’
    • ‘So words carry memories which can be traced through etymology.’
    1. 1.1count noun The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.
      ‘the etymology of the word ‘devil’’
      • ‘They insist that Egyptian etymologies cannot be found for most Greek words, unless all known rules of vocabulary acquisition are disregarded.’
      • ‘Different etymologies have been suggested for the word, but the one that seems most probable to us is that addicts often claim that they are leaving the house to go ‘walking the dog’.’
      • ‘One must pay attention to their origins, their etymology.’
      • ‘But the eminent Samoan chief and scholar Napoleone Tuiteleleapaga finds none of these etymologies convincing.’
      • ‘I was curious about the history and etymology of the word mosh.’
      • ‘I believe that some of the etymologies need more consideration.’
      • ‘The card file to the left of where my father sat has definitions and etymologies of frequently used words, such as pleasure and play.’
      • ‘These scholars were unanimous in dismissing the suggested etymologies for ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ.’’
      • ‘I came to think about these words and dig up their etymologies after visiting prospective colleges with my daughter.’
      • ‘Historians and linguists argue about its etymology, but it was possibly used as a folk name referring to northern territories.’
      • ‘He never learnt Irish and his philological arguments tended to invoke specious homophones and improbable etymologies.’
      • ‘Mark cites specific qualitative facts about the meanings and etymologies of particular Somali words, and speculates on what they mean for the view of the world you get through Somali lexicon and metaphoric imagery.’
      • ‘On the other hand, the etymologies of very many words are still disputed.’
      • ‘All words have etymologies and all ideas have pedigrees.’
      • ‘Some suggested wildly imaginative similes, while others had questions about word origins and etymology.’
      • ‘The etymologies they traced demonstrate what really happens with words, which is not what certain grammarians, structural theorists and purists assert.’
      derivation, word history, development, origin, source
      View synonyms


Late Middle English: from Old French ethimologie, via Latin from Greek etumologia, from etumologos ‘student of etymology’, from etumon, neuter singular of etumos ‘true’.