I just discovered I am a philologist!!!
At least, that’s what Daniel Webster would’ve called me back in 1828 when he wrote the American Dictionary of the English Language and defined a philologist as:
A person with a love of words and a desire to know their origin.
That describes me perfectly! I have a vigorous love for words and am especially enamored with where they came from.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve written about what time and world travelers words are. Most of our words are very, very old and have traveled far. Many go back thousands of years having trekked to America from the other side of the world.
The study of word origins or derivations is called etymology.
The word etymology comes from the Greek word etymon meaning “true source of a word”, and that grew out of the even older word eteos meaning true.
So, etymology is the study of the birth and first meanings of a word, chronologically following its trail as it spread from one language to another, gradually changing in form and meaning.
I have found that reading its history or derivation (which every good dictionary gives) enables me to discover the truth of a word. A truth I often find charming.
For example, I find it fascinating that the words friend and free both come from the same Indo-European root word which meant to love. It turned into the Old English word freod which meant affection, friendship, peace.
Love, freedom and friendship. Such a beautiful combination. So deeply ingrained in humanity’s genetic code.
It makes sense to me. A friend helps free you from pain, sorrow, worry, loss. A friend helps you be truly free in the fullest sense of the word.
Free to be yourself, free to laugh, free to say anything, free to tell everything, free to believe, free to grow, to try, to go for it.
A friend helps set you free.
Another is the word journey from the Old French journée which meant a day’s travel. That was considered quite a journey back then. It’s the same root as the word journal, which is where you wrote about your day’s travel.
A fun example is the word Sophomore, which currently means a 2nd year student in either high school or college. It comes from the Greek sophos “wise” + mōros “foolish”. Anyone can see these students are described well, as they are both wise and foolish at the same time.
Back in Socrates time they eagerly studied word origins. They believed the original meaning was put there by ancient name givers. Etymology was the way to find the message in a bottle the name givers had placed inside.
Whatever way you look at it, the derivation of a word takes you straight to its DNA.
If you’re interested, here are some blogs I’ve written on the history of several words I’m particularly fond of:
Philology came from ancient Greek where it meant love of the word.
And, you are not going to believe this! Today, May 25th,is Philologist Day!!!! A whole day dedicated to Philologists!!!!
Of course, it’s only celebrated in Russia, but nothing’s going to stop me here in California! I join them in spirit!
Wishing you not only a beautiful holiday Memorial Day weekend, but also a very Happy Philologist Day!!!