Writing Right: The Blog

New Words, New Worlds

October 23, 2016

Tags: Etymology

Have you ever stopped to wonder why words mean what they mean--and when they came into use? Take this word for example:

Hostile (adj.). Late 15c., from Middle French hostile: "of or belonging to an enemy" (15c.) or directly from Latin hostilis: "of an enemy, belonging to or characteristic of the enemy; inimical," from hostis: "enemy" (see guest (n.)). The noun meaning "hostile person" is recorded from 1838, American English, a word from the Indian wars. Related: Hostilely.

Interesting? Only if you're fascinated by the development of the English language. The study of how words evolved--usually from foreign words, sometimes from slang--is called etymology. Look up a word in Webster's Dictionary and you'll likely get very little of a word's parental background. Look up that same word in an etymological dictionary, and you'll see it all, from earliest usage right up to the present. (more…)