The study of the tracks left behind as words and meanings develop and evolve. Sometimes, this can lead to interesting perspectives that can loosen assumptions, expecially when applied to words of common usage. For example, when we say that something "exists" we often mean that something is solid and certain. But the roots of the Latin "exsistere" are "ex" ("out") and "sistere" which means "to stand up". So what we are saying can also simply means that there is a "standing out", a "vividness".

Etymology also makes for great made up words like sanguage. A well-written etymology will lend credibility to the most stupid theories; and a good pseudoetymology is a joy to the heart.
Another thing etymologies are good for is explaining ununderstandable grammar rules, like irregular past tenses and participles in English, or bizarre pluralization rules in French.

I will now digress: my mother, being a university professor of Latin and Greek has a natural obsession for etymologies, and the rest of the family happily shares it.
A constant companion at dinner was a big, slightly greasy, dictionary with word histories, later replaced with a vastly more complete five-volumes etymological dictionary.
The moment I had some money from teaching, I immediately went out and bought a copy of the compact edition of the OED: and therein lies madness.

Et`y*mol"o*gy (?), n.; pl. Etymologies (#). [L.etymologia, Gr. ; etymon + discourse, description: cf. F. 'etymologie. See Etymon, and -logy.]

1.

That branch of philological science which treats of the history of words, tracing out their origin, primitive significance, and changes of form and meaning.

2.

That part of grammar which relates to the changes in the form of the words in a language; inflection.

 

© Webster 1913.

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