The Importance of Etymology



In the year 2010, I was introduced to the science of etymology by a man by the name of Dr. Clifford Black. He taught me that there is a difference between a meaning and a definition. Definitions change over time and a word can be defined in many different ways. But the meaning of a word never changes, it stays the same. The root intent is the root.

The word “define” means “to limit, set a boundary or outline.”

“De-“ means “to take away, from, down or out” and “-fine” means “to finish or make finite.”

So when you define a word, you’re taking away from the meaning. Whenever you’re reading a lexicographer’s definition, you are reading their commentary word. You are reading how they define a word from its the meaning. A definition is a reduction or derivative. The concept has devolved from its inception based on reception and perception. And, if you are not careful, there may be some deception. As in the definition of black and white. Black being bad, wicked and evil and white being pure, honest and innocent. That is how Noah Webster defined those terms. You must learn how to define for yourself. You must learn how to do what the lexicographer’s do. When you think and act with another person’s definition in your mind, you are now viewing, thinking and acting through their eyes.

The word “mean” (in this context as a verb) means to “intend or have in mind.

It is very important to learn how to find the root meanings or original sense of a word in order to gain understanding and put concepts into the proper context.

“Etymon-” means ” the true sense” + “-logy” means “the study of” = the study of the true sense.

Etymology is the study of the true sense or meaning of a word.

As we grow older in years, we learn hundreds of words. We learn those words from listening and watching the people interact around us. So our natural way of learning words are through context.

For instance: Imagine yourself at the tender age of 2-year-old. Every day you hear your mother or father saying the words… Stop! No! Don’t!

You hear these words over and over again. (In fact, these 3 words are so commonly spoken to the child’s ear, that often times the child will start saying “You Stop!” and “No!” back at the parent. That’s because they hear these words so very often.)

After hearing the words “Stop! No and Don’t” on a daily basis, eventually you start to figure out;

What they mean by “Stop” is… quit jumping in the bed.
What they mean by “No” is to… not to touch that stove.
What they mean by “Don’t” is… do not run in the living room.

So the words “Stop, No and Don’t” are command words, and after time you figure out the action of not doing or having something. Learning words in this manner is called learning in context or context-based learning.

Context-Based Learning refers to the use of real-life and fictitious examples in teaching environments in order to learn through the actual, practical experience with a subject rather than just its mere theoretical parts.”

As you grow older, you learn more and more words through context. Each word is a conception or idea that is now stored in your mind or memory bank. You learn about these words or concepts from many different sources like; the people around you, television, radio, book, magazines, newspapers, church, school, web sites, etc.

All of these concepts have an inception, or beginning, or root meaning. And the meaning or initial intent of that concept may have changed from its inception.

It’s like telling a story to one person and that person tells another and then another. Well by the third or forth-telling, the story will have most likely changed a bit. The same is applied to words or concepts. As they are passed down throughout history, sometimes the true essence of a word becomes lost.

So back to etymology. I was not taught how to use a dictionary at school or at home. When I did ask what a word meant. I do remember being told the following… “Look at definition number one and use that. Those were my instructions on how to use a dictionary.

When you look up certain words, you will sometimes see ten and twenty definitions. Why is that? It is because one small word can be defined numerous of ways. One word can be looked at from many different aspects and different parts of speech.


If you’re reading a book written in 2015 and the author is using present day definitions. Then etymology is not as important and should not be applied. But when you are reading these so-called holy books and records from the past, one must know and apply the science of etymology.

For example: If you’re reading a book that was translated in the early 1600’s (King James Version of the bible) it would behoove you to know the meaning of the words in the early 1600’s. You have a very limited understanding of the scripture if you do not take the time to put the words back into their proper context. You are taking your present day definitions, that you learned through context, and applying them to archaic writings. You are selling yourself short and not getting more understanding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Wonder Wombman