Etymology • The study of the origin and development of a word. Word
Borrowing • Borrowing is the act of taking words from other languages to use as English words. • For example, tobacco was borrowedfrom Spanish to name a plant and a product for which there was no English word.
Perish was borrowed from French to use as a synonym for the word die. • Through invasions, trade, exploration, and colonization, the people of England came in contact with virtually every language in the world. Thus English borrowed thousands of words, including gas from Dutch, etiquette from French, shampoo from Hindi, balcony from Italian, tattoo from Polynesian, and moccasin from Northern American Indian.
Many words passed through two or more languages before they entered English. The following etymology states that English borrowed assassin from French, French borrowed it from Medieval Latin, and Medieval Latin borrowed it from an Arabic word that means “hashish addict.” • In the dictionary we read: as-sas-sin 1. Capital A. A member of a secret order of Moslem fanatics who terrorized and killed Christian Crusaders. 2. A murderer, especially one who carries out a plot to kill a public official or other prominent person. [French, from Medieval Latin assassinus, from Arabic hashshashin, plural of hashshash, “hashish addict,” from hashish, HASHISH.] When an etymology lists more than one language, English borrowed the word from the language listed first.
Over the long course of its development, English has borrowed more words and phrases from Latin and French than from any other languages. • Examine the twenty Latin phrases on pg. 52 and 53 of “Understanding Word Origin.” Notice the examples of foreign expressions that you are likely to encounter.
People and Places • Among the most interesting word origins are those that come from the names of people and places. • The etymology for derrick explains that the word derives from a man named Derick, who was a famous hangman at Tyburn, England, about four hundred years ago. • In the dictionary we read: der-rick 1. A large crane for hoisting and moving heavy objects…[Originally. A gallows, after Derick, noted hangman at Tyburn, England, circa 1600.]
Other words derived from people’s names include nicotine and dunce. The word jeans has its origin in the name of a place. • In the Dictionary we read: Jean 1. A heavy, strong, twilled cotton, used in making uniforms and work clothes…[Earlier iene fustian, geane fustian, from Middle English Jene, Gene, Genoa, where it was first made.] The etymology for jean states that the word derives from Genoa, Italy, where the fabric from which jeans are made was first manufactured.
Fictitious People and Places • Some words have their origins in the names of fictitious people and places. For example, quixotic, which means “romantic but impractical,” is derived from the name of a fictitious character. • In the Dictionary we read: Quix-ot-ic…Caught up in the romance of noble deeds, or unreachable ideals: romantic without regard to practicality. [After Don Quixote.]
The words DON QUIXOTE printed in capital letters in this etymology for quixotic are a cross-reference to the entry for Don Quixote. • In the Dictionary we read: Don Qui-xo-te …An impractical idealist bent on righting incorrigible wrongs. [After Don Quixote, hero of a satirical chivalric romance by Miguel de Cervantes, published 1605-15.] This etymology explains that Don Quixote is a character in a book.
Shortening • Shortenings are shortened forms of words, such as phone for telephone, plane for airplane, and exam for examination. The etymology for fan, meaning “admirer,” states that the word was derived by shortening a longer word. The following etymology states that fan is short for fanatic. • In the Dictionary we read: Fan…An ardent devotee or admirer, as of a sport, athletic team, or famous person. [Short for FANATIC.] The dozens of shortenings include ad (advertisement), burger (hamburger), ref (referee), tux (tuxedo), and flu (influenza).
Coinage • Coinages are words such as Jell-O, Vaseline, zipper, Kleenex, and nylon that were invented to name products. • In the dictionary we read: ny-lon…1. Any of a family of high-strength, resilient, synthetic materials…[Coined by the inventors, E. I. duPont de Nemours & Co., Inc.] The etymology for nylon states that the word was coined by the company that invented the material.
Blending • A blend is a word formed by combining a part of one word with a part of another word, or a part of one word with a complete other word. Motel was formed by combining the first two letters of motor and the last three letters of hotel: [MO(TOR) + (HO) TEL]. • In this etymology, the letters tor and ho are enclosed in parentheses to indicate that they are not included in motel.
Medicare was formed by combining a part of one word with a complete other word. • In the Dictionary we read: Med-i-care A program under the Social Security Administration… [MEDI(CAL) + CARE.] In this etymology the letters cal are enclosed in parenthese to indicate that they are not included in the word Medicare. Other blends include smog [SM(OKE) +(F)OG],twirl [TW(IST) + (WH)IRL], hassle [HA(GGLE) + (TU)SSLE], and dumfound [DUM(B) + (CON)FOUND].
Acronym • An acronym is a word made from the initial letters of other words. The etymology for scuba illustrates how the acronymic origins of words are indicated in dictionaries. • In the Dictionary we read: scu-ba …An apparatus containing compressed air and used for free-swimming underwater breathing. [S(ELF) C(ONTAINED) U(NDERWATER) B(REATHING) A(PPARATUS).] In the etymology, the letters elf in self and other letters are enclosed in parentheses to indicate that they are not included in the word scuba.
Imitation • Imitation is the formation of a word by imitating a sound that is associated with an animal, action or object. Examples of imitation include cock-a-doodle-doo, gargle, and zing. • In the Dictionary we read: zing … A brief high-pitched humming or buzzing sound…[Imitative.] Etymologies usually state when words are imitative. Other imitative words include bump, boom, bash, wham, crunch, bang, and pow.
Reduplication • Reduplication is the formation of a word by repeating either the word itself or a sound in it. Tom-tom, chitchat, shilly-shally, and mish-mash are examples of reduplication. • In the Dictionary we read: mish-mash…A collection or mixture of unrelated things;… [Reduplication of MASH.] Etymologies usually state when words are formed by reduplication.
Derivation • Derivatives are words formed by joining prefixes or suffixes to bases. For example, unkind and kindness are derivates formed by joining the prefix un- and the suffix –ness to the base word of kind. • Derivatives may have bases that are not English words. For instance, object is a derivative formed by joining the Latin prefix ob-, which means “toward,” to the Latin word jacere, which means “to throw” and is spelled ject in the word object.
Compounding • Compounds are words formed by joining two or more words. There are thousands of compounds, including drugstore, shortstop, brainwash, hitchhike, and earring. Compounds of more than two words include mother-in-law, hand-me-down, and merry-go-round. Desk dictionaries usually do not state the etymologies of compounds.
Other Etymologies • These types of etymologies explain the origins of at least 99 percent of all English words. However, there are other types of etymologies. For instance, a few words and expressions have their origins in customs that are no longer observed, such as the custom explained in the etymology for baker’s dozen. • In the Dictionary we read: baker’s dozen. A group of 13; one dozen plus one. [From the former custom among bakers of adding an extra roll to every dozen purchased as a safeguard against the possibility that 12 rolls might weigh light.] The punishment for giving customers less bread than they were supposed to receive was so severe that bakers added a roll to make certain that customers received full measure.