6 Reasons Why Etymology Is A Great Tool For Education

Learning the makeup of a word can light a spark of interest that leads us down a path of greater learning

Etymology is made up of two words the greek word Etymos meaning "true, real, or actual" and the Greek word Logia which was used to describe a "discourse, treatise, doctrine, theory, science," put them together and you have Etymology, or simply put the study of the true meaning of our words.

Studying the makeup of words and the history behind them can lead you down some amazing paths for further learning. By examining the source of a word, breaking it down into its parts and even the origins it came from it gives us clues of the past. 

the makeup of words. image source: pexels

The importance of Language and Words to Culture 

The language contains thousands of years of history specific to the culture that creates them and is embedded in their very identity.  Just look at the damage done to the Indigenous cultures of the world over in many instances being forced to leave their language behind. The essence of who the people are is only passed down from one generation to the next, very little was actually recorded.

The way their language is created is encoded with clues as to how a society relates to one another, raises their families, relates to the world around them, their arts and traditional crafts, their spirituality, their sense of humor, and all over the way of life and daily operations. The loss of their language was integral in the consequent loss of their way of life and cultural identity.

Language is created by using human-created vibrational sounds into what we call syllables and stringing these syllables together to create words. These words are symbols of their thoughts, beliefs, and actions.  All this adds up to words being a very powerful container of human expression and experience. Exploring the makeup of words is an incredibly insightful learning tool.

Words carry Power

 “Only if words are felt, bodily presences, like echoes or waterfalls, can we understand the power of spoken language to influence, alter, and transform the perceptual world”

- David Abram

We don't refer to having sworn in anger as dropping "F" bombs because they tickle. Words carry power, they have connotations and intentions behind them and when we use them in conjunction with tools like intonation and body language to boost that power, they can be healing or downright lethal if you know how to harness it. We can all feel the power of words. Once something is said, it can't be unsaid, there is this residual energy left in the wake when something carries a lot of energy and feeling behind it. 

Words carry Meaning 

Words are indeed magical conjurings that carry meaning, they hold knowledge in their very nature. At their very conception words were created to hold specific meaning. Let's just imagine for a minute how words were created. We all know that image of the caveman who did little more than grunt. That grunting was a depiction of early ways to communicate.

That grunt was in essence a vibration of sound created by using our bodies. So over time we created symbols, ancient cultures used pictographs (Think ancient Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyphs) and eventually we created abstract symbols (letters of the alphabet)  to match specific sounds.  Intentionally we strung these letters together to form our words.

Words are dynamic and through time morphed along with society gaining prefixes and suffixes along the way. Spelling and meanings often contorted into slang or other variants depicting more modern times and way of life or worldly events.  

Words carry Emotion

Language affects our emotion, and our emotion affects our language the two are irreversibly intertwined. Neurophysiologic research has proven language and emotion processing has an effect on each other by researching the effects on the body. Words have emotional connotations in their very makeup. A word is created with the purpose of communication in mind. Emotions are imbedded in words at their invention and they can gain or change the emotions they carry over time. You can't tell me the very mention of the words Holocaust or massacre doesn't evoke emotion inside you when you hear them.

Exploring the makeup of words is an incredibly insightful learning tool

We learn by making connections and one can definitely see the benefits Etymology can have because we can draw so many connections from it into other areas of study.  It can help us link together our knowledge of history, science, our understandings of ourselves, how we fit in this world, and can just be a lot of fun.

Here is why Etymology is a great tool for education:

1. Words teach us History

Words are clues into our past and tell stories of our present. They are storylines leading to the past connecting us to a different time and place. To decode a word is like solving a mystery following the clues back into the early times of recorded history. It's so juicy. It is as if words hold memories within their DNA.

Once we decode that word it is like we have opened a box that contains the memory of a time, place, feeling and belief system of when it was first created. It can tell us a story of how it changed over its time of existence. By learning the Etymology of one word, it can spark an interest in fields such as anthropology, linguistics, Archeology, anything under the social science umbrella, and of course History at any level. 

2. Words give us insights into other cultures

Most English words are a combination of words in other languages from other times. Words portray our interpretation of events, what we see and hear. It communicates our thoughts which are attached to our believes and understandings of the world. It tells of our actions our moral codes and behaviors. We may look at an English word and if we follow it along the Etymology path we may discover the intermingling of cultures over time. How those cultures influenced and shaped us. 

English is spoken in many places with many different dialects and understandings. New words, that aren't derived from Greek or Latin antiquity. Anyone taking a crack at a Dickens or Austen novel, anything is written from the 1800s knows that language changes over time. 

There are also slang and vernacular words in a language. The Etymology of vernacular denotes a more "common" variety of speech, and may even have connotations in classifying it as the language of slaves versus more lordly aristocratic ways of communicating.

Slang refers to new or adapted words that are specific to a group, context, and/or time period; regarded as less formal. The etymology of Slang is believed to be nordic in its origin and refers to abusing words.

I like to look at it as representative of people’s creative play with language. I love telling the story of when I was living in England and a friend of mine was cutting up a nice cheese platter for me. We were chatting and having a glass of wine and all of a sudden he yelled "Oh Pants!"  from the kitchen. I was thoroughly confused as I had never heard of the word pants used in this way. I asked my friend about it and he said "you know, like that's pants" As I'm laughing because I find this use of the word rather amusing I finally put an understanding of it being interchangeable for undesirable outcomes in some situations. So when I used to say expressions such as "that sucks" or "that's crappy" or "shoot" I can now substitute it with one slang word "Pants"

3. Words teach us about Spirituality

Etymology can lead us to uncover forgotten pieces of our language, it can lead us on a journey to connect to our heritage and to our ancestors. Words hold memory. It is as if once we decode that word it is like we have opened a box that contains the memory of a time, place, feeling, and belief system of when it was first created. It can tell us a story of how beliefs have changed over time.

" The French word for wanderlust or wandering is to 'errance. The etymology is the same as the error. So to wander is to make mistakes. In other words to make mistakes, to make errors is sort of the idea of learning through trial and error. Allowing mistakes to be a part of the process."

- Robyn Davidson 

In the very makeup of words, we have associations in how we use them to transform reality. We can find the spiritual meaning a culture held on to when we decode words. Learning a set of moral codes or cosmology and our higher purposes are often roads of discovery that we are led down when studying Etymology. 

There is magic in the make-up of words. We call the formation of words spell-ing. Which definition of spell do you think came first, a set of words intentionally strung together to create magic, or to put letters in order to form words?  We create sounds using the vibration of our voice, this voice carries a frequency. This idea itself opens the doorway into the magic of words.

For example; we use intonation to help convey our meaning and bring greater understanding to our speech. Incantation and intonation are spelled very similarly. Incantation is in reference to spell casting. Is this a coincidence or was it intentional?  And look at the definitions for Invocation; calling upon authority or justification or help, and formula for conjuring. Another linguistic science associated with the study of words is even called morphology.

Morphology is the study of how words are formed. It is a wonder-filled and fun theory to explore words as magical tools. 

4. Words can strengthen our relationships

"Words are my most humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it"

- Albus Dumbledore

Words are the tools we use to help us communicate our observations, thoughts, emotions, and needs. We use words to cultivate our relationships. Words have the power to bring us together or tear us apart. When you are trying to make sense of an experience many of us process this by talking through it. Expressing observations in a descriptive rather than evaluative way can lessen defensiveness, which facilitates competent use of language for the purpose of communication and connection. Etymology can expand our vocabulary and guide us to hone in on how to utilize it properly.  It can build our ability to communicate effectively and ultimately strengthen our relationships.

5. Words Can strengthen the connections in our brain

"The word Mortgage originates in French. It literally means Death Grip."

- Micheal McGirr 

By playing with words may spark an interest in writing or even get us more interested and involved in reading or literacy. At the very least you might become the next scrabble wizard by exercising that language part of the brain. There are many areas in our brains that are involved in the decoding, processing, and formulating of language. By studying etymology think of all the ways in which you are exercising your brain and strengthen your mind.

Word games have always been popular from Scrabble to crossword puzzles to mad libs. We, humans, are still fascinated by words and love to play with them. There are entire careers that are solely conducted with the use of words. Authors, poets, screenplay writers, even actors, and comedians are all paid by the way in which they weave words. 

Children love making puns and jokes using double entendre (a double understanding) and palindromes (A running back again). We use contranyms (turned against-name), acronyms (point-names), homonyms (same-names), and pseudonyms (fake names). The fun and frivolity of language have not ceased to entertain. Etymology is an underutilized tool for wordplay. 

Educators wishing to explore something new into their methods of teaching should think of integrating Etymology as a tool for learning and increasing connections with their students. It is a highly undervalued way of gathering information that leads to other areas of interest. The fun we can have by playing with this area of study is worth looking at.

Mother of four. Nature lover, Gardener, crafter, and certified soul coach.

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