0

There are many words whose origin is traced through Middle English and/or French to Latin or Greek, and then it just stops there.

Case in point: the word "etymology" itself:

1350-1400; Middle English < Latin etymologia < Greek etymología, equivalent to etymológ (os) studying the true meanings and values of words ( étymo (s) true (see etymon ) + lógos word, reason) + -ia -y3

So it really means "true reason" (for being, I suppose).

I'm not saying that we should strive to trace everything back to Sanskrit. However, before Greece, there was ancient Egypt.

The Greeks and Egyptians knew each other well from very early on. ("O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are but children!" exclaims an Egyptian in one of Plato's dialogues). It would have only been natural for the inquisitive Greeks to borrow a few dozen words from their more advanced neighbors.

In their heyday, the Greeks documented everything they could, and the Romans documented and indexed everything they got their hands on, and then the medieval monks did a tremendous job preserving a huge portion of it all until finally Johannes Gutenberg invented his proverbial printing press, which quickly resulted in the creation of backup copies of everything pertaining to antiquity.

And yet nowhere in the dictionary do you see a word whose etymology is described as "from Middle English - from Latin - from Greek - from Egyptian."

Now why is that?

  • 6
    Why would everything be able to be traced to Sanskrit anyway? – emacsomancer Nov 26 '15 at 20:00
  • 2
    Considering Sanskrit the closest thing to PIE went out of fashion long ago. Finno-Ugric is not Indo-European, so I'm not sure what "linguists" have managed to work out about it. – emacsomancer Nov 26 '15 at 21:53
  • 3
    99% of dictionaries out there will not chase after Proto-Indo-European. It's simply beyond their scope. Also, not many Egyptian words got loaned in (and Egyptian was Afro-Asiatic, and meanwhile Latin, Sanskrit, and Greek were Indo-European.) – Nihilist_Frost Jan 21 '16 at 2:19
  • 1
    The number of Greek words derived from Egyptian is microscopic. – fdb May 1 '17 at 20:15
  • 1
    @Ricky It's not vague at all anymore. – Aryaman Jan 3 '18 at 2:34
10

You are essentially asking two questions:

  1. Why aren't there etymologies for an English word going back to Ancient Egyptian?

This question is easily answered: Because such words are rare beasts and you won't find many. Ancient Greek and Latin didn't borrow many words from Ancient Egyptian.

  1. Why do etymological dictionaries stop where they stop?

This is a pragmatic decision of the compilers and editors. Space matters, and the time to compile the dictionary matters, too. For compound words they usually stop with stating the components, for derived words with the derivation, and for basic words the deeper relations are noted. You will often find notes see this or that lemma for more information.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    For a counter example, consider oasis, which certainly comes via Latin from Greek, but Greek in turn borrowed it from ancient Egyptian wḫ'-ṭ (according to the OED). – Colin Fine Nov 25 '15 at 18:53
  • 4
    The majority of Greek and Latin words (and English, German, Hindi, and Russian words too) derive from the unrecorded language Proto Indo-european. Some dictionaries do give these roots where they are known. – Colin Fine Nov 25 '15 at 18:54
  • @Colin Fine: I was alluding to this fact with the formulation "deeper relations". Some dictionaries give PIE roots, other give comparable words from other IE languages. – jk - Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '15 at 20:09
  • I know; but it is not clear whether the OP understands this. – Colin Fine Nov 28 '15 at 0:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.