If a scholar or layperson wanted to submit a discovery of the origin of some obscure word or phrase not previously known, what would be the criteria they should follow acceptable to the academic community?

I have heard of what is referred to as 'peer reviews' as part of the process. Where and how does one get started? To me such knowledge known to everyone can only bolster interest in our language and open the field to greater participation in the research process.

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    This only touches tangentially on linguistics, and it really about the mechanics of academic publication.
    – user6726
    Feb 19, 2015 at 17:09
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    Simply put, if one is reading the technical literature to verify one's discovery, one should contact the editors of one's favorite technical journals for procedures. If one is not searching the technical literature to verify one's discovery, then probably one has not discovered anything new. Feb 19, 2015 at 17:27
  • Good point. I have checked on-line just now and the Journal of Linguistics might be a good one to start with. Any other ideas? Feb 19, 2015 at 20:00
  • Just beware of journals that want you to pay for printing and also charge for the journal. BTW, "peer review" means that you send your paper to the editors and they pick out some independent scholars to read and review your paper. They report to the editors, and the editors decide, as editors do. The reviewers are the peers (= equals, like "Peer of the Realm") of the author; or at least this is the idea. Feb 19, 2015 at 20:23
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    No, the peer review process does not hunt for or verify claims of etymology or historical origin. It may falsify a proffered argument. Peer review does not lead to discovery, it evaluates a claim that there was a discovery. And that is true for word origins, phrase structure, trends in fertility, of claims about pion decay.
    – user6726
    Feb 22, 2015 at 6:00

1 Answer 1


The standard way of disseminating knowledge in the academic community is to write an article making whatever the claim is, and submitting it to a peer-reviewed journal. If you are simply interested in having people be aware of your claim without the critical review, you can do that with Facebook, Twitter, and a blog. I will disregard book chapters as probably inapplicable, since they involve a scholar inviting you to write a chapter and I presume you don't have the cred necessary for that.

Suppose you want to claim that the English word "chicken" derives historically from the Arabic word دجاج. You would write an article providing your argument, and would submit it to an appropriate journal. Before doing so, you should check what the journal is actually about, so for example, Linguistic Inquiry, Phonology, and Journal of Linguistics would not be appropriate, nor would Oceanic Linguistics. Having discovered the correct venue e.g. the fictitious Journal of Indo-Semitic Linguistics, you submit your article. The article might be quickly rejected by the editor as unsuitable, either in terms of topic or in terms of elementary academic standards (the latter is rare but not unknown), and otherwise, a few dozen weeks after submission, you will receive a decision, which usually includes two or three reviews on the merit of your argument, written by anonymous specialists who usually have publications in the relevant area, plus a cover letter by the editor summarizing the reason for his/her decision. Interpreting and coping with the editorial decision and the individual reviews is itself an arcane political art. It is not unusual to receive a trivial half-page review, an in-depth 5-10 page negative review, and a 3 page or so positive review. That is where you need to pay special attention to the editor's phrasing in the cover letter.

The job of the reviewers is to use their professional judgment to ascertain that you have used the appropriate research standards for supporting your claim, and that the claim is appropriate for / of interest to readers of the particular journal. The chicken-etymology claim would be rejected as off-topic for most journals, even those that do etymologies for East Asian or Austronesian languages. If the claim is internal to the history of English (e.g. the history of the term "politically correct" then there are English-centered journals for which the claim could be appropriate.

  • Thank you for answering my inquiry. I will follow-up using your guide in this matter. Feb 23, 2015 at 14:13

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