The Etymology of English Words

The first century . . Most of the territory now, known to us as Europe is occupied by the Roman Empire. Among the inhabitants of the continent are Germanic tribes. By etymology of words is understood their origin. After a number of wars between the Germanic tribes and the Romans these two opposing peoples come into peaceful contact. Trade is carried on, and the Germanic people gain knowledge of new and useful things. The first among them are new things to eat. It has been mentioned that Germanic cattle-breeding was on a primitive scale. Its only products known to the Germanic tribes were meat and milk. It is also to the Romans that the Germanic tribes owe the knowledge of some new fruits and vegetables of which they had no idea before, and the Latin names of these fruits and vegetables enter their vocabularies reflecting this new knowledge: cherry (Lat. cerasum), pear (Lat. pirum), plum (Lat. prunus), pea (Lat. pisum), beet (Lat. beta), pepper (Lat. piper). It is interesting to note that the word plant is also a Latin borrowing1 of this period (Lat. planta).

By a borrowing or loan-word we mean a word which came into the vocabulary of one language from another and was assimilated by the new language

The fifth century A. D. The Celts borrowings. Especially numerous among the Celtic borrowings were place names, names of rivers. Some Latin words entered the Anglo-Saxon languages through Celtic, among them such widely-used words as street (Lat. strata via) and wall (Lat. vallum).

The seventh century A. D. This century was significant for the Christianisation of England. Latin was the official language of the Christian church, and consequently the spread of Christianity was accompanied by a new period of Latin borrowings. E. g. priest (Lai. presbyter), bishop (Lai. episcopus), monk (Lat. monachus), nun (Lai. nonna), candle (Lai. candela). Latin borrowings, for the first schools in England were church schools. So, the very word school is a Latin borrowing (Lat. schola, of Greek origin) and so are such words as scholar (Lai. scholar(-is) and magister (Lat. ma-gister).

From the end of the 8th c. to the middle of the 11th c. England underwent several Scandinavian invasions which inevitably left their trace on English vocabulary. Here are some examples of early Scandinavian borrowings: call, v., take, v., cast, v., die, v., law

1066. French words from the Norman dialect penetrated every aspect of social life. Here is a very brief list of examples of Norman French borrowings.

Administrative words: state, government, parliament, council, power.

Legal terms: court, judge, justice, crime, prison.

Military terms: army, war, soldier, officer, battle, enemy.

Educational terms: pupil, lesson, library, science, pen, pencil.

Numerous terms of everyday life were also borrowed from French in this period: e. g. table, plate, saucer, dinner, supper, river, autumn, uncle, etc.

The Renaissance Period. In England, as in all European countries, this period was marked by significant developments in science, art and culture. They were mostly abstract words (e. g. major, minor, filial, moderate, intelligent, permanent, to elect, to create)

By the Indo-European element are meant words of roots common to all or most languages of the Indo-European group

I.Family relations: father, mother, brother, son,daughter. II. Parts of the human body: foot (cf. R. ), nose, lip, heart. Animals: cow, swine, goose. 3 Plants: tree, birch (cf. R. ), corn (cf.R. ). V. Time of day: day, night. VI. Heavenly bodies: sun, moon, star. VII. Numerous adjectives: red (cf. Ukr. , R. ), new, glad (cf. R. ), sad (cf. R. ). VIII. The numerals from one to a hundred. IX. Pronouns personal (except they which is a Scandinavian borrowing); demonstrative. X. Numerous verbs: be (cf. R. ), stand (cf. R. ), sit (cf. R. ), eat (cf. R. ), know (cf. R. ,

The Germanic element represents words of roots common to all or most Germanic languages. I. Parts of the human body: head, hand, arm, finger, bone. II. Animals: bear, fox, calf. 3 Plants: oak, fir, grass. 4 Natural phenomena: rain, frost. V. Seasons of the year: winter, spring, summer.1 VI. Landscape features: sea, land. VII. Human dwellings and furniture: house, room,bench. VIII. Sea-going vessels: boat, ship. IX. Adjectives: green, blue, grey, white, small, thick, high, old, good.

X. Verbs: see, hear, speak, tell, say, answer, make, give, drink.

Reasons of borrowings:

To fill a gap in vocabulary when it is lacked for some new objects and notions. (Latin plum, butter)

To represent the same concept in some new aspect, to supply a new shade of meaning or emotional coloring and thus to enlarge group of synonyms.

Phonetic, grammatical and semantic adaptation

The lasting nature of phonetic adaptation is best shown by comparing Norman French borrowings to later ones. The Norman borrowings have for a long time been fully adapted to the phonetic system of the English language: such words as table, plate, courage, chivalry bear no phonetic traces of their French origin. Some of the later (Parisian) borrowings, even the ones borrowed as early as the 15thc., still sound surprisingly French: regime, valise, matinee, cafe, ballet. In these cases phonetic adaptation is not completed. Grammatical adaptation consists in a complete change of the former paradigm of the borrowed word (i. e. system of the grammatical forms peculiar to it as a part of speech). If it is a noun, it is certain to adopt, sooner or later, a new system of declension; if it is a verb, it will be conjugated according to the rules of the recipient language. Yet, this is also a lasting process. The Russian noun was borrowed from French early in the 19th c. and has not yet acquired the Russian system of declension. The same can be said about such English Renaissance borrowings as datum (pl. data), phenomenon (pl. phenomena), criterion (pl. criteria) whereas earlier Latin borrowings such as cup, plum, street, wall were fully adapted to the grammatical system of the language long ago. By semantic adaptation is meant adjustment to the system of meanings of the vocabulary. It has been mentioned that borrowing is generally caused either by the necessity to fill a gap in the vocabulary or by a chance to add a synonym conveying an old concept in a new way. Yet, the process of borrowing is not always so purposeful, logical and efficient as it might seem at first sight. Sometimes a word may be borrowed "blindly", so to speak, for no obvious reason, to find that it is not wanted because there is no gap in the vocabulary nor in the group of synonyms which it could conveniently fill. 3 basic types: phonetical sounds are adopted; grammatical when a borrowed word occurs (); semantic connected with the meaning of the word.

From this point of view borrowings are divided into 1) completely assimilated

loan-words that are found in all layers of older borrowings, following all

morphological, phonetical and orthographic standards, taking an active part in word

formation (street, wall, wine, cheese (Latin); husband, fellow, gate, , take, ill, root,wing, wrong, etc. (Scandinavian); table, face, figure, chair, matter, finish, etc.

(French); 2) partially assimilated loan words (semantically: e.g. sombrero, toreador,

rickshaw, sherbet; grammatically: e.g. crisis crises, datum data; phonetically:

e.g. cartoon, police, machine; graphically: e.g. buffet, coup, debris); 3) unassimilated

loan words or barbarisms that are not assimilated in any way, for which there are

corresponding English equivalents (e.g. the Italian addio good-bye; Latin ad

libitum at pleasure, etc.)

It is often the case that a


International Words

These words are borrowed by several languages; they convey concepts which are significant in the field of communication. Among international words are names of sciences (phonetic, physics, political terms, sports, name of fruits, foods) French borrowings. Administrative words: state, government, parliament, council, power. Legal terms: court, judge, justice, crime, prison. Military terms: army, war, soldier, officer, battle, enemy. Educational terms: pupil, lesson, library, science, pen, pencil.

Many of them are of Latin and Greek origin. Most names of sciences are international, e. g. philosophy, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, linguistics, lexicology. The English language also contributed a considerable number of international words to world languages. Among them the sports terms occupy a prominent position: football, volley-ball, baseball, hockey, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, etc.


Express different notions and objects of different scenes: technology and so on.

They are known to many languages

They are one and the same language sores. They are one and the same meaning in all languages.They are easily recognizable in all languages by show some peculiar of a given language.

Etymological Doublets

The words shirt and skirt etymologically descend from the same root. Shirt is a native word, and skirt (as the initial sk suggests), is a Scandinavian borrowing. Such words as these two originating from the same etymological source, but differing in phonemic shape and in meaning are called etymological doublets.

Others are represented by two borrowings from different languages which are historically descended from the same root: senior (Lat.) sir (Fr.), canal (Lat.) channel (Fr.), captain (Lat.) chieftan (Fr.).

Etymological triplets (i. e. groups of three words of common root) occur rarer, but here are at least two examples: hospital (Lat.) hostel (Norm. Fr.) hotel (Par. Fr.), to capture (Lat.) to catch (Norm. Fr.) to chase (Par. Fr.).


The term loan-word is equivalent to borrowing. 24. Translation loans.

They are borrowings of a special kind.


They are not taken into voc. of another language in the same phonetic shape in which they have been functioning in their own lang., but undergo the process of translation.

They are only compound words.

E.g.: wonder child (German Wunderkind), first dancer (Italian prima-ballerina), collective farm (Russian ).

masterpiece (from Germ. Meisterstück), wonder child (from Germ. Wunderkind), first dancer (from Ital. prima-ballerina), collective farm (from R. ), five-year plan (from R. ).




Word-building is one of the main ways of enriching vocabulary. There are four main ways of word-building in modern English: affixation, composition, conversion, shortening. There are also secondary ways of word-building: sound interchange, stress interchange, sound imitation, blends, back formation.


Affixation is one of the most productive ways of word-building throughout the history of English. It consists in adding an affix to the stem of a definite part of speech. Affixation is divided into suffixation and prefixation.


The main function of suffixes in Modern English is to form one part of speech from another, the secondary function is to change the lexical meaning of the same part of speech. ( e.g. educate is a verb, educatee is a noun, and music is a noun, musicdom is also a noun) .

There are different classifications of suffixes :

1. Part-of-speech classification. Suffixes which can form different parts of speech are given here :

a) noun-forming suffixes, such as : -er (criticizer), -dom (officialdom), -ism (ageism),

b) adjective-forming suffixes, such as : -able (breathable), less (symptomless), -ous (prestigious),

c) verb-forming suffixes, such as -ize (computerize) , -ify (micrify),

d) adverb-forming suffixes , such as : -ly (singly), -ward (tableward),

e) numeral-forming suffixes, such as -teen (sixteen), -ty (seventy).


2. Semantic classification . Suffixes changing the lexical meaning of the stem can be subdivided into groups, e.g. noun-forming suffixes can denote:

a) the agent of the action, e.g. -er (experimenter), -ist (taxist), -ent (student),

b) nationality, e.g. -ian (Russian), -ese (Japanese), -ish (English),

c) collectivity, e.g. -dom (moviedom), -ry (peasantry, -ship (readership), -ati ( literati),

d) diminutiveness, e.g. -ie (horsie), -let (booklet), -ling (gooseling), -ette (kitchenette),

e) quality, e.g. -ness (copelessness), -ity (answerability).


3. Lexico-grammatical character of the stem. Suffixes which can be added to certain groups of stems are subdivided into:

a) suffixes added to verbal stems, such as : -er (commuter), -ing (suffering), - able (flyable), -ment (involvement), -ation (computerization),

b) suffixes added to noun stems, such as : -less (smogless), ful (roomful), -ism (adventurism), -ster (pollster), -nik (filmnik), -ish (childish),

c) suffixes added to adjective stems, such as : -en (weaken), -ly (pinkly), -ish (longish), -ness (clannishness).


4. Origin of suffixes. Here we can point out the following groups:

a) native (Germanic), such as -er,-ful, -less, -ly.

b) Romanic, such as : -tion, -ment, -able, -eer.

c) Greek, such as : -ist, -ism, -ize.

d) Russian, such as -nik.


5. Productivity. Here we can point out the following groups:

a) productive, such as : -er, -ize, --ly, -ness.

b) semi-productive, such as : -eer, -ette, -ward.

c) non-productive , such as : -ard (drunkard), -th (length).


Suffixes can be polysemantic, such as : -er can form nouns with the following meanings : agent,doer of the action expressed by the stem (speaker), profession, occupation (teacher), a device, a tool (transmitter). While speaking about suffixes we should also mention compound suffixes which are added to the stem at the same time, such as -ably, -ibly, (terribly, reasonably), -ation (adaptation from adapt).

There are also disputable cases whether we have a suffix or a root morpheme in the structure of a word, in such cases we call such morphemes semi-suffixes, and words with such suffixes can be classified either as derived words or as compound words, e.g. -gate (Irangate), -burger (cheeseburger), -aholic (workaholic) etc.



Prefixation is the formation of words by means of adding a prefix to the stem. In English it is characteristic for forming verbs. Prefixes are more independent than suffixes. Prefixes can be classified according to the nature of words in which they are used : prefixes used in notional words and prefixes used in functional words. Prefixes used in notional words are proper prefixes which are bound morphemes, e.g. un- (unhappy). Prefixes used in functional words are semi-bound morphemes because they are met in the language as words, e.g. over- (overhead) ( cf over the table ).

The main function of prefixes in English is to change the lexical meaning of the same part of speech. But the recent research showed that about twenty-five prefixes in Modern English form one part of speech from another (bebutton, interfamily, postcollege etc).

Prefixes can be classified according to different principles :


1. Semantic classification :

a) prefixes of negative meaning, such as : in- (invaluable), non- (nonformals), un- (unfree) etc,

b) prefixes denoting repetition or reversal actions, such as: de- (decolonize), re- (revegetation), dis- (disconnect),

c) prefixes denoting time, space, degree relations, such as : inter- (interplanetary) , hyper- (hypertension), ex- (ex-student), pre- (pre-election), over- (overdrugging) etc.


2. Origin of prefixes:

a) native (Germanic), such as: un-, over-, under- etc.

b) Romanic, such as : in-, de-, ex-, re- etc.

c) Greek, such as : sym-, hyper- etc.


When we analyze such words as : adverb, accompany where we can find the root of the word (verb, company) we may treat ad-, ac- as prefixes though they were never used as prefixes to form new words in English and were borrowed from Romanic languages together with words. In such cases we can treat them as derived words. But some scientists treat them as simple words. Another group of words with a disputable structure are such as : contain, retain, detain and conceive, receive, deceive where we can see that re-, de-, con- act as prefixes and -tain, -ceive can be understood as roots. But in English these combinations of sounds have no lexical meaning and are called pseudo-morphemes. Some scientists treat such words as simple words, others as derived ones.

There are some prefixes which can be treated as root morphemes by some scientists, e.g. after- in the word afternoon. American lexicographers working on Webster dictionaries treat such words as compound words. British lexicographers treat such words as derived ones.

13. Conversion. Nature of Conversion. Synchronic and Diachronic Approaches to Conversion.
Conversionconsists in making a new word from some existing word by changing the category of a part of speech: the morphemic shape of the original word remains unchanged, e.g. work to work, paper to paper. The new word acquires a meaning, which differs from that of the original one though it can be easily associated with it. The converted word acquires also a new paradigm and a new syntactic function, which are peculiar to its new category as a part of speech, e.g. garden to garden.

Among the main varieties of conversion are: I) verbalization (the formation of verbs), to ape (from ape n.); 2) substantivation (the form-n of nouns), a private (from private adj.);adjectivation (the form-n of adjectives), down (adj) (from down adv.); 4) adverbalizalion (the f-n of adverbs), - home (adv.) (from home n.).

Verbs convened from nouns - denominal verbs. If the noun refers to some object of reality the converted verb may denote:-action characteristic of the object: ape n. > ape v. imitate in a foolish wav;

-instrumental use of the object: whip n. > whip v. strike with a w hip':

-location: n. pocket > pocket v. put into ones pocket.


The causes that made conversion so widely spread are to be approached diachronically. Nouns and verbs have become identical in form firstly as a result of the loss of endings. When endings had disappeared phonetic development resulted in the merging of sound forms for both elements of these pairs, e.g. carian (v). caru (n) > care (vt n): lufu (n). lufian (v) > love (n. v).

Thus, from the diachronic point of view distinction should be made between homonymous word-pairs, which appeared as a result of the loss of inflections, and those formed by conversion.

The diachronic semantic analysis of a conversion pair reveals that in the course of time the semantic structure of the base may acquire a new meaning or several meanings under the influence of the meanings of the convened word. This semantic process is called reconversion, e.g.smoke (n) smoke (v). The noun smoke acquired in 1715 the meaning of the act of smoke coming out into a room instead of passing up the chimney' under the influence of the meaning of the verb smoke to emit smoke as the result of imperfect draught or improper burning', acquired by this verb in 1663.



In This type of word-building new words are produced by combining two or more stems. Traditionally three types are distinguished: neutral, morphological and syntactic. In neutral compounds the process of compounding is realised without any linking elements, by a mere juxtaposition of two stems, as in blackbird, shop-window, sunflower. Compounds which have affixes in their structure are called derived or derivational compounds. E. g. absent-mindedness, blue-eyed. There are also contracted compounds. These words have a shortened (contracted) stem in their structure: TV-set (-program, -show, -canal, etc.). Morphological compounds are few in number. This type is non-productive. It is represented by words in which two compounding stems are combined by a linking vowel or consonant, e. g. Anglo-Saxon, Franko-Prussian, and handiwork. In syntactic compounds words are formed from segments of speech, preserving in their structure numerous traces of syntagmatic relations typical of speech: articles, prepositions, adverbs, as in the nouns lily-of-the-valley, Jack-of-all-trades, good-for-nothing, mother-in-law,


The question of correlations of the separate meanings of the constituent parts and the actual meaning of the compound. Classroom, bedroom, working-man, This group seems to represent compounds whose meanings can really be described as the sum of their constituent meanings. (2)Blackboard, blackbird, football, lady-killer, pick
pocket. In these compounds one of the components (or both) has changed its meaning: a blackboard is neither a board nor necessarily black. (3) In the third group of compounds the process of deducing the meaning of the whole from those of the constituents is impossible. The key to meaning seems to have been irretrievably lost: ladybird is not a bird, but an insect, tallboy not a boy but a piece of furniture. The compounds whose meanings do not correspond to the separate meanings of their constituent parts (2nd and 3rd group listed above) are called idiomatic compounds, in contrast to the first group known as non-idiomatic compounds.



Shortenings (or contracted/curtailed words) are produced in two different ways. The first is to make a new word from a syllable (rarer, two) of the original word. The latter may lose its beginning (as in phone made from telephone, fence from defence), its ending (as in hols from holidays, vac from vacation, props from properties, ad from advertisement) or both the beginning and ending (as in flu from influenza, fridge from refrigerator).

The second way of shortening is to make a new word from the initial letters of a word group: U.N.O. ['ju:neu] from the United Nations Organisation, B.B.C. from the British Broadcasting Corporation, M.P. from Member of Parliament. This type is called initial shortenings. They are found not only among formal words, such as the ones above, but also among colloquialisms and slang. So, g. f. is a shortened word made from the compound girl-friend.


the Minor Types of Modern Word-Building. Sound-Imitation (Onomatopoeia1)

Words coined by this interesting type of word-building are made by imitating different kinds of sounds that may be produced by animals, birds, insects, human beings and inanimate objects.

English dogs bark (cf. the R. ) or howl (cf. the R. ). The English cock cries cock-a-doodle-doo (cf. the R. ---). In England ducks quack and frogs croak (cf. the R. said about ducks and said about frogs). It is only English and Russian cats who seem capable of mutual understanding when they meet, for English cats mew or miaow (meow). The same can be said about cows: they moo (but also low).

Blendingis the formation of a new word by combining pans of two words. Blends may be of two types: 1) additive type that may be transformed into a phrase consisting of complete stems combined by the conjunction and, e.g. smog sm(oke) 2) restrictive type that can be transformed into a phrase, the first element of which serves as a modifier for the second, e.g.: telecast television broadcast.

Acronymy - is the formation of a word from the initial letters of a word combination. There are two basic types of acronyms: 1) acronyms which are read as ordinary English words, e.g. UNESCO the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization; 2) acronyms with the alphabetic reading, B the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Sound-interchangeis the formation of a word due to an alteration inthe phonemic composition of its root. 1) vowel-interchange: food to feed. 2) consonant-interchange: advice to advise.

Sound imitation(onomatopoeia)is the naming of an action or a thing by a more or less exact reproduction of the sound associated with it. cf.: cock-a-doodle-do (English) --- (Russian). chatter, babble,splash, clink. whip, swing.

Back-formationis the formation of a new word by subtracting a real or supposed suffix from the existing words. The process is based on analogy. For example, the word to butle to act or serve as a butler' is derived by subtraction of -er from a supposedly verbal stem in the noun butler.

Distinctive stressis the formation of a word by means of the shift of the stress in the source word, cf: increase (n) in'crease (v), absent (adj) ab'sent (v).

Reduplication - In reduplication new words are made by doubling a stem, either without any phonetic changes as in bye-bye (coll, for good-bye) or with a variation of the root-vowel or consonant as in ping-pong, chit-chat (this second type is called gradational reduplication).


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