I like words, and I like stories. Ergo, it makes sense that I like stories about words.
I fancy myself an amateur etymologist (even though I’m not sure what it takes to be a professional etymologist). I get a charge out of finding out where words come from, trying to connect the dots between the origin of a word and its meaning.
Here’s one of my favorites examples of etymology: apparently, there once was a fairy tale about three princes from modern-day Sri Lanka; in this story, the heroes were always discovering fortunate things they were not seeking. Upon reading the story, English author Horace Walpole coined a term that means, basically, the experience of finding something wonderful completely by accident.
Now, I left out one critical piece of information: the former name of Sri Lanka is “Serendip.” And thus was born the word… “serendipity.” How cool is that?
(Incidentally, the etymology of “etymology” is also illuminating: it derives from the Greek words “etymos” meaning “true” and “logos” meaning “word.” So etymology helps one understand the “true sense” of a word.)
And now I present the etymologies of words related to school (and thank the Online Etymology Dictionary for its assistance):
- Cafeteria: from the Spanish “café,” meaning “coffee,” and “teria,” meaning “a place where something is done.” (“Pizzeria” probably uses the same ending; the “t” fell away over time.
- Education: From the Latin “e,” meaning “out,” and “ducare,” meaning “to lead.” Thus, “education” literally means to “lead out”—an empowering concept for teachers and students. As teachers, we are not shoving information in; we are leading out what they already know.
- Encyclopedia: The term comes from two Greek words for “circular” (“cyc”) and “education” (“pedia” ). Although “circular education” seems strange, replace “circular” with “well-rounded” and it makes more sense; studying the varied entries in the encyclopedia makes you a well-rounded student. (The root “cyc” is also found in “cycle,” “cyclone” and even “Cyclops,” while “pedia,” which has the connotation of educating children, is also found in the word pediatrician.)
- Essay: From the French word “essai,” meaning “a try, an attempt.” So an essay is an attempt to figure something out, to work through an idea.
- Gymnasium: For ancient Greeks and for modern English speakers, a gymnasium was a place to train or exercise, but the word comes from the Greek “gymnos,” which means “naked.” So, a “gymnasium” was a place for Greek men to train naked.
- Library: The Latin word “liber” (“book” or “parchment”) came from a word that meant “to peel off the bark of a tree.” The earliest books were created from the inner bark of trees. (The word “leprosy” also comes from the same original root.)
- Pedagogue: Although now the word means “teacher” or “schoolmaster,” the word originally referred to a person, usually a slave, who escorted the male children to school. The word “pedagogue” comes from the Greek words “ped,” meaning “child” (see “encyclopedia”), and “agogos,” meaning “to lead.”
- Wikipedia—This an example of a portmanteau, a word made by combining parts of other words. The “pedia” part is obviously borrowed from “encyclopedia” (see above). “Wiki,” on the other hand, was first used in 1994 by a man named Ward Cunningham, who heard the term while visiting the Honolulu International Airport. In Hawaiian, the word “wiki” means “quick”; in the airport, the “Wiki” shuttle bus brought travelers to the various terminals. Cunningham liked the sound of it, so he called his website, the first website that could be edited by anyone who accesses it, “WikiWikiWeb”; this was a forerunner to everyone’s favorite resource, Wikipedia.
Hope you learned something, If not… well, it was a good essai!