Thursday, 5 April 2012

E is for ... Etymology

One of my Year 6 pupils last week asked why I was teaching them Latin since it was a "dead language". After pretending to have been physically wounded by the question - as you would - I calmly explained that Latin has influenced many modern languages, including our own, and that learning it helps us to understand the structure of ours, and lots of other languages that are still spoken today. She didn't seem convinced so we moved swiftly on.

The truth is (and it pains me to say it) that Latin is not essential to a child's education; some of my best friends are non-Latin-learners who function just fine in society. What it did for me, though, was to ignite a curiosity about language which has continued beyond my days in full-time education.

Etymology is basically the study of the origins of words and, although I'm no etymologist (I'm a Classicist), I bloody love learning about where our words come from. I also delight in telling other people about the origins of words as and when I discover them. People don't always delight in hearing about this ...

Now, because I've already written a bloglet about etymology (specifically words with origins in Ancient Greek), I'll try to avoid repeating myself. If you like what you see here, though, you might like to try this one.


Have you ever wondered why the English word for a female offspring looks so odd?


I mean, look at it. Ask a young child who has never seen the word written down to spell it and you might end up with 'dorter' or 'dauta' or any number of variations, but I doubt you'd get 'daughter' because the word just can't be spelt phonetically. So why the Dickens is it spelt like that? Well, we can thank the ancient Greeks. Their word for daughter was 'thugater'. Unlike us, they pronounced the 'g', but on looks alone, doesn't their word look spookily familiar to ours?

Don't you think that's amazing? That a word we use today so closely resembles one which people were using over 2000 years ago?

THAT, my friends, is why I like etymology so much. Words and languages are changing all the time but there's something rather exciting, and somewhat comforting, about knowing that humans were using words which sometimes looked and sounded like ones we're still using now.


  1. That is really interesting! I never learned Latin, but have always been fascinated by words and have lost count of the times I've looked up origins of different words. My curiosity gets peaked by words...well like daughter...which seemingly make no sense. Good post!

  2. Etymology is fascinating. Great post!

  3. Nice post! I wish I had learned Latin while I was in school (I had it for exactly 6 months). I lose many, many hours a week looking up word origins. It really is fascinating.