Legal Dictionary


Definition of etymology


    From Middle English etimologie < Old French ethimologie < Latin etymologia < Ancient Greek ἐτυμολογία (etumologia) < ἔτυμον (etumon), "true sense") and -λογία (-logia), "study of") < λόγος (logos).


  • (RP) enPR: ĕt"ə-mŏl'ə-jē, IPA: /ˌɛt.ɪˈmɒl.ə.dʒi/, SAMPA: /%Et.I"mQl.@.dZi/
  • (GenAm) enPR: ĕt"ə-mŏl'ə-jē, IPA: /ˌɛtəˈmɑlədʒi/, SAMPA: /%Et@"mAl@dZi/


etymology (plural etymologies)

  1. (uncountable) The study of the historical development of languages, particularly as manifested in individual words.
  2. (countable) An account of the origin and historical development of a word.

Derived terms

  • etymological
  • etymologist
  • fake etymology
  • false etymology
  • folk etymology
  • popular etymology

Related terms

  • etymon
  • etymologist
  • etymologize

Further reading

Not to be confused with Entomology, the scientific study of insects.

Etymology is the study of the history of words and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages, and texts about the languages, to gather knowledge about how words were used at earlier stages, and when they entered the languages in question. Etymologists also apply the methods of comparative linguistics to reconstruct information about languages that are too old for any direct information to be available. By analyzing related languages with a technique known as the comparative method, linguists can make inferences about their shared parent language and its vocabulary. In this way, word roots have been found which can be traced all the way back to the origin of, for instance, the Indo-European language family.

Even though etymological research originally grew from the philological tradition, nowadays much etymological research is done on language families where little or no early documentation is available, such as Uralic and Austronesian.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     lex fori
2.     landed property
3.     lex situs
4.     respondent
5.     default judgment
6.     tort law
7.     living will
8.     lex causae
9.     law
10.     salacious