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Etymology (/etəmɒləʤi/) is the study of the historic origins of words.

Some of the English's irregular spelling stem from the different languages of its root words.

For example, emphasise is spelt in American English as emphasize, whereas supervise does not become *supervize. In many cases, the ending ise/ize is a suffix forming a noun into a verb, much like the -ify in signify, but the -vise of supervise comes from the same Latin root as the Spanish ver, and so behaves differently.

Further complicating the situation is the prevalence of synonyms (or nearly so) with Germanic roots such as oversee alongside the Latin ones, in this case supervise.

Etymological fallacy

See main article Etymological fallacy.

A related issue is what David Crystal refers to as "etymological fallacy".[1] Often occurring when language pundits, objecting to a "new" or different meaning for a word, resort to what they claim is the older meaning, that is the "correct" meaning. Crystal objects to such practices, stating that there is literally no limit to how far back one goes and gives the example of the word nice which can be traced back to Old French, where it meant "silly", and from there to Latin, where it meant "ignorant".

Folk etymology

See main article Folk etymology.

Folk etymology refers to the supposed origin of words and expressions. Often on a par with urban myths, folk etymologies are widespread and oft-repeated by journalists and, especially, language pundits. Even English teachers have occasionally been known to put their foot in it.


  1. Crystal, David. The English Language. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-100396-0

See also

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