A Brief Note on Etymologizing

by Aug 22, 2012Linguistics2 comments

If the key to a word’s meaning is its etymology, then pacifier and peacemaker should mean exactly the same thing.

Paci- means “peace.” “Fier” means “maker.” Both are from Latin (pax and facere,* respectively).

But as I always say, it’s very important never to confuse what you put in your baby’s mouth with what you send to conflict-ridden regions of the globe.

A word’s etymology may be helpful if we don’t have better clues to its meaning. But all words, like sheep, have gone astray from their roots. And that’s okay. Really. You couldn’t use words in a way matching their etymologies even if you tried. First off, you don’t know the histories of most of the words you use. No one does. Second, no one else would understand you. Third, how could you use old words for new things? Computer, for example. Or even new combinations like air conditioner.

*It’s slightly more complicated than that according to the OED—see here and here.

Read More 

Did Evangelical Snowflakes Censor the Bible?

Did Evangelical Snowflakes Censor the Bible?

Salon.com recently published an interview with sociologist Samuel L. Perry titled, “When Evangelical Snowflakes Censor the Bible: The English Standard Version Goes PC.” And I got a reply to all this: Nuh-uh! Let me elaborate that answer, however, because “nuh-uh”...

THE INCREDI-NASB!!!! More Literal than a Speeding ESV!!!

THE INCREDI-NASB!!!! More Literal than a Speeding ESV!!!

In my other life, I am the editor of Faithlife’s Bible Study Magazine, and one of my first acts as editor was to give myself a column: “Word Nerd: Language and the Bible.” They said I could. I also turn all the columns—plus a few that aren’t in print—into YouTube...

Review: The Inclusive Language Debate by D.A. Carson

Review: The Inclusive Language Debate by D.A. Carson

The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism, by D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998). Don Carson's prose is elegant, and his pace is perfect. He briskly moves the reader through a narrative of the conflict among evangelical Christians over so-called...

Mark Driscoll Makes It into the OED

Look who I discovered being cited in the august OED… I wish I knew more about the work of OED lexicographers, my heroes. I don't know, for example, how OED editors find/choose their citation sources. It's just that beyond Shakespeare and various editions of the Bible,...

Leave a comment.

2 Comments
  1. Todd Jones

    For me the draw of etymology is not so much “the” key to meaning as it is “a” key to picturesqueness. If a word’s etymology gives even a good illustration of its point, isn’t that helpful?

    Reply
  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    Yes! You nailed it. It was Dr. Bell at BJ Seminary who taught that insight to me.

    Reply

Leave a Reply