Word Ways


Dennis M. Welch


The word etymology, taken from the Greek words etumos, meaning "true," and logia, meaning "one who speaks" -- the two words together referring to "the study of the true sense of a word ... according to its origin" (Klein 1966, I, 548) -- has become nearly a doggone lie when applied to English. Because of twistings, turnings, and out-right trickery (Swift was an arch-villain in this regard), it is difficult if not impossible to know "the true sense of a word ... according to its origin," without discovering the actual breeding papers of the particular term and without considering its usage. Indeed, the paternity of many words is unknown. The day of sensibly coupled words, as Old English once enjoyed, has passed into a night of abstractions for many modern English terms. The tradition of "throwing together" words from foreign languages has prevailed. Spelling alone illustrates what a mongrel language English is!