Ben Jamin

Senior Member
SEVEN CANONS of ETYMOLOGY modified and abbreviated from W.W. Skeat, 1879 (Source: etymonline):

1. Before attempting an etymology, ascertain the earliest form and use of the word; and observe chronology.

2. Observe history and geography; borrowings are due to actual contact.

3. Observe phonetic laws, especially those which regulate the mutual relation of consonants in the various Indo-European languages, at the same time comparing the vowel-sounds.

4. The whole of a word, and not a portion only, ought to be reasonably accounted for; and, in tracing changes of form, any infringement of phonetic laws is to be regarded with suspicion.

5. Mere resemblances of form and apparent connection in sense between languages which have different phonetic laws or no necessary connection are commonly a delusion, and are not to be regarded.

6. When words in two different languages are more nearly alike than the ordinary phonetic laws would allow, there is a strong probability that one language has borrowed the word from the other. Truly cognate words ought not to be too much alike.

7. It is useless to offer an explanation of a word which will not also explain all the cognate forms
  • Fabulous. :) Probably I should translate it for our forum too. Although we have quick punishments for any pseudo-science there, such a reminder might also prove useful.
    I remember reading many decades ago that the first rule of Etymology was that "Every word has its own etymology", i.e. that the cause of one word's development isn't necessarily the cause of a similar word's development.
    It may be true, but not necessarily so. The study of etymology routinely involves studying of the whole family of words and usually in many related languages.
    Yes indeed (wharf is from late Old English hwearf).

    Other examples I've encountered on TV and in published articles are:
    • gnome from "gardening naturally on mother earth" (Latin: gnomus, a dwarf)
    • drag from "dressed as a girl" (the verb to drag on the floor)
    • and of course the perennial posh from "port outward, starboard home" (Romany: posh, halfpenny, money)
    ...all wrong, totally wrong. There's an excellent book on the subject: Port out, starboard home and other language myths, Michael Quinion, Penguin Books, London 2004.