How Can I Determine The Origin Of A Word?


2 Answers

Oscar De La Huerte Profile
A whole science is dedicated to determining the origin of words and how they developed, and is known as etymology.

There are a number of dictionaries that provide etymological information, so they're probably the kind of source you'll want to check out when trying to determine the meaning of a word.

Where can I find the origin of a word?

If you're looking for the origin of a word, then I'd recommend the following site: It is fairly straightforward to use, and has a large database of words and their origins.

Alternatively, many dictionaries might also provide some information about the etymology of an entry.

What is etymology?

Etymology is simply the study of the origin of words. The field looks at the history of a word, its original context, and how the word's form and meaning develops over time.

For example, if you're interested in the etymology of a word like Helium, you'd be interested to find that it originates from the Greek word Helios meaning 'sun'.

This was because the element was first discovered in the solar spectrum by Sir Joseph Lockyer and Sir Edward Frankland. The -ium suffix (word ending) related to the fact that the element was originally thought to be an alkali metal (thetype of element denoted by the suffix -ium).
Steve Theunissen Profile
The first part of a word, often called the "prefix" may give a clue to its origin. The prefix "tele-," for example, may indicate that the word has been formed from Greek. So we have "telegram," meaning "something written from a distance," and "telescope," which means "looking from a distance."

The word "television" is a hybrid, the first part being from Greek and the final part from Latin. Basically, it means "seeing from a distance," which is exactly what we are doing when we look at a TV set.

"Pan-" is another Greek prefix. We have it in the word "pantheon," meaning "all gods." We also have it in the word "pandemonium." Do you know what this word means literally? "All demons"; and that is what it seems like when there is pandemonium.

The final part of a word, or "suffix," as linguists call it, often helps us to identify the word's origin. You are sure to have noticed that many words end in "-logy," such as "archaeology," "anthropology," "biology" and "geology."

Since the Greeks used the word logia to mean "speaking," "discussion" or "study," we can see that "archaeology" means "study of ancient things," "anthropology" means "study of man," "biology" means "study of life," and "geology" means "study of the earth."

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