Quotes: Etymology, Etymologies

(word origins and affixes; ancestral associations with their histories)


Philologists who chase
A panting syllable through time and space,
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah’s Ark.
—William Cowper

Semanticists and linguistic scholars continue to remind us that words change in meaning according to time and place and circumstance. Their warnings are certainly not to be ignored. Yet, with all the changes that go on both in language and in the world described by language, there are remarkable elements of stability in a vocabulary with as rich a literary and cultural history as English.

—S. I. Hayakawa, Choose the Right Word: A Modern Guide to Synonyms

Television? No good will come of this device. The word is half Greek and half Latin.

—C. P. Scott

Biology was new when Lamarck first used it, but the pieces he used to construct it were not new: bio- is from the Greek bios, meaning “life”; and -ology was familiar in the endings of many other words (theology, for example). It is also Greek, connected with logos, which means “word”. The whole word biology may be translated as “words about life”, or “the study of living things”.

—John and Joan Levitt, The Spell of Words

The underlying meaning of etymology is “finding the underlying" or "true meaning of words". Its ultimate source is Greek etumos, “real, true”. From this was derived etumon, “true or literal sense of a word” (acquired by English in the 16th century as etymon).

Post-classical grammarians came to use this in the sense “root from which a particular word was derived”, as a result of which modern etymology, the study of etymons, deals with their history rather than their meanings.

—John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins;
Arcade Publishing; New York; 1990; page 208.

The Greek Stoics taught that words were inherent in nature, and that if the original meaning could be found, one could understand what the gods intended when they fixed a given name or label to a given thing.

What the Stoics were convinced of is that language is from the depths of some racial unconscious and that words have much to do with the ways in which we perceive and react.

—Compiled from A Second Browser's Dictionary by John Ciardi;
Harper & Row, Publishers; New York; 1983; pages 88-89.

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