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The underlying meaning of etymology is “finding the underlying" or "true meaning of words." Its ultimate source is Greek etumos, “real, true.” From this was derived etumon, “true or literal sense of a word” (acquired by English in the 16th century as etymon). Post-classical grammarians came to use this in the sense “root from which a particular word was derived,” as a result of which modern etymology, the study of etymons, deals with their history rather than their meanings.

—John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins.Arcade Publishing; New York, 1990. 208.

Words are the fossils of language, and the DNA of history.

This is a blog about words, and language and rhetoric and meaning.

I'm a medievalist by training, and I write for a living.

If you want more than that, I have a Ph.D. in English with an extensive background in Old and Middle English, Old Norse, Old Irish and Medieval Welsh, smatterings of Anglo-Norman, Old French, Sanskrit, Latin and Greek. I'm conversant with the history of the English language, Indo-European philology and linguistics, and possess an otherwise useless expertise in medieval Celtic languages and literatures. You can find my academic materials here.

English, more than any other language, is adaptive and acquisitive. We have ransacked the vocabulary of every language we have come into contact with, taking the words and phrases that fulfill unmet gaps in our language, and making them our own. In an era when some foolish souls propose "English only" legislation, English as pilfered, filched and outright stolen great swathes of words from, well everyone, and everywhere. As James Nicholl noted twenty years ago:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

James D. Nicoll rec.arts.sf-lovers 1990-05-15

My customary disclaimers apply; all spelling errors, of which I'm sure there will be several despite my very best efforts, are in reality either lapses into dead languages, or errors introduced spontaneously by the Internet, and none of my doing. All opinions are mine (who else would want them?) and when you buy a book linked here or click on an ad, I receive a percentage. If enough people buy book and click on ads, I will in turn buy more books, and probably, review them.

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