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What Are the Applications of Etymology?

Marco Sumayao
Marco Sumayao

The most common application of etymology, the study of the history of words and their origins, lies in vocabulary improvement; knowledge of certain word roots allows individuals to decipher other terms without need for reference material. In addition, knowledge of etymology allows people to coin new words without being misunderstood, particularly in practices where jargon is commonplace. Word origins can also give insight into culture at the time the word was coined; many English words, for example, take their roots from Latin, which was once considered to be the world's universal language.

Many individuals use etymology to make their understanding of vocabulary more flexible, effectively increasing the number of words they comprehend. The word "theology," for example, takes its origins from the words "theo," which means "god," and "logos," which means study. "Theology" can then be correctly interpreted as the study of God, or more specifically, the study of belief in gods and, by extension, religions. The word "etymology" itself takes its root from the words "etymon," or "earlier forms of a word," and "logos." The word itself can, therefore, be interpreted as the study of the earlier forms of words.

The etymology of words can be found in certain dictionaries.
The etymology of words can be found in certain dictionaries.

Etymology also allows for the creation of new words without much need for added definition before being accepted into the vernacular. Many new words are created by compounding two easily-understood words, with the resulting combination being easily understood by individuals familiar with the root words. One of the most popular examples of this is the addition of the word "bootylicious" into the Oxford English Dictionary; the word "booty" is popularly used as a sexualized slang term for the buttocks, and "licious" is a derivative of the word "delicious." Combined, the two words formed a new term that came to be understood as a sexually-desirable quality, often connected to attractive posteriors.

Language is reflective of society and culture in general, and understanding the etymology of certain words can help provide a glimpse of people's behaviors and attitudes at the time they were coined. These can be universal, as illustrated by the existence of many Latin roots within English words, or culture-specific. Filipino, for example, has many words involving rice — bahaw, for example, refers to cold, uneaten rice —, likely as a result of rice being the Philippine's staple food. The addition of "LOL," an Internet term that abbreviates "Laugh Out Loud," was also added to the Oxford English Dictionary, reflecting how pervasive Internet culture was at the time of its inception.

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    • The etymology of words can be found in certain dictionaries.
      By: Sebastian Crocker
      The etymology of words can be found in certain dictionaries.