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(ĕtĭmŏl`əjē), branch of linguistics that investigates the history, development, and origin of words. It was this study that chiefly revealed the regular relations of sounds in the Indo-European languages (as described in Grimm's lawGrimm's law,
principle of relationships in Indo-European languages, first formulated by Jakob Grimm in 1822 and a continuing subject of interest and investigation to 20th-century linguists.
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) and led to the historical investigation of language in the 19th cent. In the 20th cent. linguists continued to use etymology to learn how meanings change, but they came to consider that the meaning of a form at a given time must be understood without reference to its history if it is to be understood at all. The term etymology has been replaced by the term derivation for the creation of combinations in a language, such as new nouns formed with the ending -ness. See grammargrammar,
description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonology); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax.
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; dictionarydictionary,
published list, in alphabetical order, of the words of a language. In monolingual dictionaries the words are explained and defined in the same language; in bilingual dictionaries they are translated into another language.
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inquiry into and accounts of sources and development of words. In modern linguistics, a distinction is drawn between the diachronic study of language (etymology), and its synchronic study (structural analysis) (see SYNCHRONIC AND DIACHRONIC). Etymology 's concern is with the origins and changes in meaning of particular words, and also with the historical ancestry of groups or ‘families’ of languages, e.g. Indo-European, Amerindian, etc.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the branch of linguistics that investigates the origins of words, their original structures, and their semantic relationships.

The term “etymology” was introduced more than 2,000 years ago by the classical philosophers. In the broad sense, etymology is the reconstruction of the phonetic and derivational elements of a word. In addition to demonstrating relationships between sounds and identifying identical morphemes, it accounts for the selection of morpheme combinations in specific derivational patterns. The term “etymology” is also applied to an account of the derivation of a word.

Characterized by a multiplicity of possible solutions, etymological study makes extensive use of hypothesis and seldom arrives at definitive results. Etymology is a special case of the explanatory sciences, whose constructs, unlike those of the descriptive sciences, are markedly hypothetical in nature.

The basis for etymological research is provided by comparative-historical linguistics. Consequently, etymology has proved most successful in dealing with the languages that have undergone the most extensive comparative-historical study—for example, the Indo-European and Finno-Ugric languages. Cases of secondary etymological interpretation or the linking of words that do not come from the same source are called folk, or false, etymologies.


Pisani, V. Etimologiia. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from Italian.)
Toporov, V. N. “O nekotorykh teoreticheskikh osnovaniiakh etimologicheskogo analiza.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1960, no. 3.
Trubachev, O. N. “Zadacha etimologicheskikh issledovanii v oblasti slavianskikh iazykov.” Kratkie soobshcheniia lnstituta slavianovedeniia AN SSSR, 1961, issues 33–34.
Etymologic Edited by R. Schmitt. Darmstadt, 1977.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
These studies have excited genealogists and etymologists, for they indicate how many distinct origins a name is likely to have.
The etymologist's task then is to find arguments to persuade himself and others that the items "a," "b," "c" in related languages are, in spite of divergences in meaning, sufficiently similar to one another to warrant their being subsumed under the proto-meaning ascribed to the underlying reconstructed form.
It was, he points out, the forerunner of today's "stigma illness" Finally, Daniel Rosenberg examines the importance of language and its social background through one individual's work, English radical and etymologist John Horne Tooke.
The individual scholars could then draw upon this vast array at will and for various purposes, including the construction of diatopic and chronologically layered vocabularies -- an aid to the etymologist and the historical novelist alike.
The ingenious etymologist could concoct a derivation from the botanical or marine applications, but doubtless win little conviction.
My name is, pure Filipino, no trace of Spanish, no trace of Chinese, straight Tagalog, from the sound of it, though maybe not if a historian, an anthropologist, a genealogist, an etymologist, or an onomastician were to put it under close scrutiny.
BEING such a lover of words, I'm generally etymologically curious, and you'll be unsurprised to note that one of my favourite 'clever clever' jokes is 'what's the difference between an etymologist and an endomologist?
(Charlotte Schuchardt Read, who acquired that last name when she married famed etymologist and lexicographer Allen Walker Read in 1953, later delivered such workshops.) The Institute also unfurled its version of Group Dynamics, a newly developed field in experiential human relations.
* Sol Steinmetz, an etymologist whom William Safire once dubbed a "lexical supermaven," died at 80.
An etymologist is one who knows the difference between etymology and entomology.
Mencken explored that, too, and decided that Albert Walker Read, a noted etymologist, came closest when he said that it meant a swampy place.
(17) Isidore of Seville, the influential seventh-century encyclopedist and etymologist, supplies the information that the cuckoo, which he calls tucos but also ciculos, (18) travels not on its own but perched in the wings of a kite because of its weakness.