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Where can I learn everything about etymology? How does one become an etymologist?
Great efforts have been made to reconstruct the history of words, especially in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, New York: Oxford University Press [2nd ed.], 1989). The historical study of word origins - historical morphology - is called etymology. Words change gradually over the centuries and a critical part of the task of establishing correct relations between languages consists of following those changes in detail. For many words, the historical origins are incomplete or totally unknown. It is possible to trace many other words all the way back to their hypothetical origins in Proto-Indo-European. The Indo-European roots became parents to cognate words in Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, and Latin - and, much later, in German, French, English, etcetera. But it is also true that most of today's vocabulary is the outcome of a series of small, inadvertent blunders that have accumulated over thousands of years. You can read good basic writings about etymology and find out, first of all, that a certain part of English comes from Anglo-Saxon and a certain part derives from Latin and Greek. The etymon is regarded as the true first form of a word. An etymologist is a linguist who focuses on the origins of words. Today, etymologists concern themselves with both fact and hypothesis. Through old texts and comparisons with other languages, etymologists try to reconstruct the history of words - when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning changed. It is a matter of chance, being able to trace a word back to when it was first recorded in writing. On top of that, historical changes in meaning do not follow patterns because derivations are usually idiomatic - and the meaning of the whole is not simply the sum of the meanings of its parts. The etymologies of very common words often show origins that are very unlike the modern form, meanings, or both. Etymological study works at the level of the individual word, but with reference to more general rules of language change. Etymologists also try to reconstruct information about languages that are too old for any direct information (such as writing) to be known. By comparing words in related languages, they hope to learn about a shared parent language. By the way, the word etymology itself comes from Greek etumologia from étumon 'true meaning of a word' and -logia 'study'. A great bibliography for etymology books and dictionaries can be found at http://www.takeourword.com/bibliography.html.