Given the nature of this blog, it is probably appropriate to examine the word “etymology” itself, it being a key part of my purpose in writing.

Etymology is a noun, with its roots in Greek. From Etymonline, a source I will frequently reference in posts such as these, the word etymology comes from “etymologia,” which means the “‘study of the true sense (of a word),’ from etymon “true sense” (of etymos “true, real, actual,” related to eteos ‘true’) added to -logia ‘study of, a speaking of’.”

In a real way, etymology is the pursuit of truth and understanding, in one’s own communication, as well as others’. It’s basically a word that means what this blog is trying to be and do.

This word really speaks to my constant internal battle to accurately say what I intend to—the fight to actually convey what’s in my head. Or, sometimes, just to figure out what’s actually in my head. The mulling that sorts out bits and pieces into an understandable whole.

I had the great fortune to visit George Orwell’s longtime home in London at the end of june. During the visit, I decided to sit down on the pavement and finish reading his essay titled “Politics and the English Language”, largely viewed as an academic take on the debasement and over simplification of the English language he saw creeping in his time. This oversimplification can open the door to political oppression and manipulation, a subject he broaches in his famous novel “1984” with the creation of a fake political movement called INGSOC, or English Socialism.

From page 18 of my copy of the essay, Orwell sums it up thusly:

“What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing you can do with words is to surrender them.”

Too frequently I worry about falling into ruts which have the convenient moniker of “duckspeak” in 1984–quacking away, saying things for the sake of saying them, or because they are popular, or pleasant on the ears, rather than because I’m sure that’s the meaning I was trying to convey. (In the novel it also has a “doublethink” connotation—“duckspeak” is admired in one’s comrades, and ridiculed and mocked in one’s enemies.)

Interestingly, etymology is one of those words that can often be misused, or mistakenly skipped over in favor of another word. It is a funny complication, for me, that the word meaning the pursuit of truth, the ‘study of the true sense (of a word),’ could fail to be used because people might not know the true sense of the word. I hope I’m not alone that one of my first interactions with the word “etymology” instead sounded like “entomology” (“a branch of zoology that deals with insects”). I blame high school biology for likely biasing my tongue toward the added “n”.

With regard to this mix up, as almost always—one of the unwritten rules of the internet—Relevant XKCD comic: “Wrong Superhero”

Thanks for reading. Enjoy.


(Plural: etymologies)
-The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.
-The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.

-Etymological (Adjective)
-Etymologically (Adverb)
-Etymologist (Noun)

late Middle English: from Old French ethimologie, via Latin from Greek etumologia, from etumologos ‘student of etymology,’ from etumon, neuter singular of etumos ‘true.’

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Posted in Etymology, Foundations

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July 2013
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