Y’all, I’m not sure there’s anything I love more than etymology. I’m super stoked to dig into word histories with you today! I wouldn’t be doing it properly if I didn’t tell you about my favorite word resource. All the word histories in this post comes straight from the Online Etymological Dictionary. It has been a frequent resource of mine since my linguistics professor mentioned it in class the first time.
Why is this important? As I mentioned yesterday, God is still going to use you and your words regardless of whether or not you meet pundits’ exacting standards. (Note: you won’t, and neither will I, because language is fluid and therefore always changing. And pundits can’t agree anyway. Politics demonstrates that well enough!)
However, the more you know about language, the more skillfully you’ll be able to use it. Knowing where words come from and what roots and affixes they’re comprised of will help you decipher words you’re unfamiliar with, even without consulting a dictionary. A greater grasp is greater flexibility.
When I was a kid, I did gymnastics, and even if you’ve only ever watched it during the Olympics, you probably know gymnasts use chalk on their hands when they perform. It keeps your hands dry so you can grip the apparatuses firmly; if you don’t have a firm grip on the apparatus, you will not be able to execute your intended movement. Nastia Liukin can’t swing around the high bar like a winding spring unless she’s got a firm grip on it. Losing her grip would mean losing her ability to flex her body to swing around and over the bar. And so it is with language, which is the bedrock of human communication, written or otherwise.
We broke five words down yesterday into their roots and affixes. For the sake of simplicity and familiarity, I’m going to use the same words to break down etymologically:
Entered English in the late fourteenth century. From Latin expellere, “to drive out, to drive away”
Prefix: ex-, “out”
Root: pellere, “to drive”
Entered English in the early fifteenth century. From Latin incredibilis, “not to be believed”
Prefix: in-, “not”
Root/suffix: credibilis, “worthy to be believed,” from credere, “to believe”
Entered English in the late fourteenth century. (Presumably from Old English; related to Old Norse.)
Prefix: un-, “not”
Suffix: –ly, adverbial suffix
Entered English c. 1500
Root: serious, “expressing earnest purpose or thought,” from Middle French sérieux
Suffix: -ly, adverbial suffix
Entered English in 1856
Prefix: in-, “not”
Root: operate, “to be in effect,” from Latin either directly or via Middle French
Suffix: –able, suffix expressing ability, capacity, or fitness
What are some of your favorite words? Head over to the Online Etymological Dictionary, see where they come from and when they entered English, and come back to comment so I can learn with you. I’m giving away another $10 gift card to Starbucks if you do!
Here are three of mine:
confetti: Entered English in 1815, from Italian plural of confetto, “sweetmeat,” via Old French from Latin confectum, “a thing made”
tureen: Entered English in 1706, from French terrine, “earthen vessel,” from Old French therine, from Latin terrenus, “of the earth”
stoked: The verb to stoke entered English in the 1680s, coming from Dutch stoken, “to stoke,” from Middle Dutch stoken, “to poke or thrust.” Stoked as surfer slang, meaning “enthusiastic,” was recorded by 1963.