The Importance of Etymology in Literacy, History, and Law

  • Etym derives from etymon, a Classical Greek adverb that means true, real, and actual.
  • + ology (olog + y) derives from the Medieval Latin and Greek word logia, meaning the study of. It comes from the root of the Latin word legein, which means to speak (think of the word lecture).
  1. We need to study etymology to determine the true meaning of words and their functions in a sentence. Although this sounds pretty basic, think about the confusions that take place due to the seemingly multiple meanings of words? The general public understands the word “color” (as a noun) to refer to the pigmentation of a person’s skin, which they also erroneously call “race”. There is also the understanding that color is a substance that imparts a hue (such as red, blue, purple, etc.…). However, by looking at the etymology of the word, we derive the meaning to be, that which is hidden (Old Latin colos, meaning “a covering”). The latter meaning is one that we see most often in the context of law. Thus, if we study etymology, we will be able to identify the meaning of words in various contexts.
  2. Etymology also provides knowledge of history and culture throughout the world. This comes studying the denotative vs. the connotative meaning.
  3. The denotative meaning is the complete meaning, where de means complete and note refers to a marking. The complete meaning was applied to the word at its inception; thus, its etymological meaning must be its denotative meaning. Denotative meanings are derived from etymological analysis.
  4. The connotative meaning is an additional or shaded meaning, where the prefix con indicates with (added, together). It is not based on the etymology of the word, but on a meaning that has been attached to the word over time. (Remember, whoever controls the definition controls the debate. Europeans co-opted meanings to words with their own original meanings, to causes distortion and confusion, for the purposes of trading places with us and take our culture and our land- our birthright. They did so to hide information about our history, culture, status, and most importantly, our estate.
  • Prefixes come at the beginning of a word. A prefix can identify
  • Number (bi/du= two; octo=eight, etc.…)
  • Direction (post=after; circum=around; pre=before, etc.…)
  • Negation (unlawful= not lawful; illegitimate= not legitimate)
  • The root of a word contains its basic meaning.
  • The root of a word is based on from where the word derived in another language (often Latin or Greek). One root can be can then trace a word back even farther by studying its Indo European roots. This can show you how the cognate is spelled, which is a cognate of the mother tongue of all European and Indus River Valley languages, which is Indo-European. Note that the root of the word etymology is log, which refers to study (from Latin and Greek, -logia, which means to the “study of”. If I trace the root back to its mother tongue and root, leg meaning to collect (a collection of knowledge that you speak on- thus, knowledge is classified as a study of a particular concept or field of knowledge).
  • The Indo-European root can be found at the end of the definition, [in brackets] in your American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (with Indo-European roots). This dictionary contains an appendix (see Appendix I) that gives the meaning and cognates (cousins) of the roots.
  • Suffixes help one to identify the part of speech of the word. (-tion signifies a noun; -ish signifies an adjective; -ly signifies an adverb; etc.…)
  • Identifying the meaning of the word by knowing its function in a sentence (is it naming something like a noun? Is it stating an action like a verb? Is it modifying a noun like an adjective? Or does it modify a verb or adjective as an adverb?).
  1. Witness
  2. Advisory
  3. Consider
  4. Disaster
  5. Spirit
  6. Nationality
  7. Black
  8. Color
  9. Orphan
  10. Allegiance

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