By Natalia Fabisz, Jan. 23rd, 2007

Etymology is the branch of linguistics that studies the origin and development of words and other linguistic forms. The examples of the areas that are studied include the earliest origins of a word, how its meanings and connotations have changed, the meanings and origins of its component parts, whether or how it has spread to other languages, and how its meaning or use has been influenced by other words. The history of a word also is called its etymology.

Words’ origins have long been the subject of interest to people who readily speculate about the history of words. Particularly interesting are the pairs of words that at the first glance do not show any relationship, but historically happen to have common antecedents, which is the case with, for instance, glamour and grammar, salary and sausage (Crystal 1995).

Knowing the etymology of a word can provoke a speaker to use the old meaning of that word, which will result in so called etymological fallacy, a view based on the idea that the etymology of a word or phrase is its actual meaning (Crystal 1995). Commonly used example of this phenomenon is the adjective "dilapidated". Some argue that it can relate only to collapsing structures made of stone since its Latin root lapis means "stone" and a verb dilapidare means "to throw away, to scatter, as if scattering stones". Nowadays, however, the lexeme "dilapidated" has nothing to do with stones and is used to mean "broken down, fallen into decay or disrepair". Moreover, it can be related to any object, whatever it is made of.

A very important notion that ought to be taken into consideration during the examination of the etymology of a lexeme is semantic change, which deals with the development of sense. There are four main types of semantic change, namely extension, narrowing, amelioration and pejoration, all of which are dwelt on below:

  1. Extension relates to the widening of a lexeme’s meaning, e.g. virtue could only be applied to men, though today it may well be used with relation to women.
  2. Narrowing relates to the reduction of a lexeme’s meanings, e.g. girl once meant "a young child" and today it relates only to a young unmarried woman.
  3. Amelioration takes place when a lexeme loses its negative sense and/or acquires positive one, e.g. wicked used to mean "evil" but now it is used to mean "brilliant".
  4. Pejoration occurs when a lexeme loses its positive sense and/or acquires negative one, e.g. gay with its meaning "happy" now is used in relation to homosexuals.

Another interesting phenomenon within the domain of etymology is the so called folk or popular etymology, which term stands for erroneous understanding of the origin of the old lexeme, which results in the creation of a new lexeme (Crystal 1995). Hence, sparrow-grass has become a popular name for asparagus despite the fact that the latter word cannot anyhow be connected with sparrows. Some other examples include crayfish from French crevis or shame-faced from shamefast meaning "bound firmly by shame".

The history of names seems to be the most popular branch of etymology. Under the umbrella of onomastics (a term used to describe the study of names), there come two branches of research area, anthroponomastics which deals with personal names and toponomastics devoted to the study of the names of places. People give names to different things and such procedure serves as a means of identifying entities or for marketing purposes (e.g. brand names like Nourkin) or to preserve tradition. Both disciplines are also, to a certain extent, connected with social and psychological sciences since they lay ground for the explanation of why particular names turn out to be successful while others are not, or they explain the transitory nature of some names. But most importantly, the names for places are a source of knowledge about the history of a nation, its traditions and values (Crystal 1995).

shop (n.)
1297, perhaps from O.E. scoppa "booth or shed for trade or work" (rare), related to scypen "cowshed," from P.Gmc. *skoppan "small additional structure" (cf. O.H.G. scopf "building without walls, porch," Ger. dial. Scopf "porch, cart-shed, barn," Ger. Schuppen "a shed"), from base *skupp-. But it’s likely that the M.E. word was acquired from O.Fr. eschoppe "booth, stall," which is a Gmc. loan-word from the same root. Meaning "schoolroom equipped for teaching vocational arts" is from 1914, Amer.Eng. Sense of "matters pertaining to one’s trade" is from 1814 (as in to talk shop, 1860). Shopping cart is recorded from 1956; shopping list first attested 1913; transf. and fig. use is from 1959.

bearings (n.)
"carrying of oneself, deportment," c.1250, from bear (v.). Mechanical sense of "those parts of a machine that bear the friction" is from 1791.

direct (adj., v.)
c.1374, from L. directus "straight," pp. of dirigere "set straight," from dis- "apart" + regere "to guide" (see regal). The adj. is from c.1391. Director of films, plays, etc., is from 1911. Directory "alphabetical listing of inhabitants of a region" is from 1732, Latest directory "a website book of addresses known as url’s.

florist (n)

17c: from Latin flos, floris flower. Someone who sells or arranges flowers; sometimes someone who also grows flowers. Dutch bloemist, French fleuriste, German Floristt.
rim (n. v.)

The usually curved or circular border or edge of an object. See Synonyms at border. The circular outer part of a wheel, furthest from the axle.. A circular metal structure around which a wheel tire is fitted – car rims. tr.v. rimmed, rim·ming, rims. To furnish with a rim. Sports To roll around the rim of (a basket or golf cup, for example) without falling in.


Crystal David. 1995. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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