The meaning of history is clear. That which is in the past. Is the cultural use of the word ‘history’ a corrupted ‘yesterday/gisteren/gestern’ descriptive for ‘the day before the stars (compare Dutch Gesternte Dag (stars day)) Or is it a cognate of ‘yesterday’?

And how does the word ‘future’ relate to ‘tomorrow’? It seems cognate with a phrase ‘vue terre’ (earth view) as if relating to someone seeing coming towards* you. It seems both words relate to darkness (stars-history) and light on earth (vue-terre-future). *Dutch ‘toekomst’ (compounded toward-coming)

Just some ideas I have, but are there answers by historians, philosophers or linguists about this issue?

  • 7
    Made-up etymologies like this really makes me cringe, honestly. These are obviously words of Latin origin, and if it's not obvious, even a cursory look at Wiktionary can make it obvious in a second. Sometimes etymology is unclear enough that it has to be speculated about and researched in detail; sometimes, it's there on any dictionary. This is one of the latter cases, and that's why I downvoted this question.
    – LjL
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 2:34
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    @Ajagar You need to appreciate that word histories — which are termed “etymologies” — are not simple narratives or guesswork. One isn’t just as good or true as another. Words, like animals, leave a fossil record. We can see words evolve over time in the artifacts our predecessors left behind. Etymologies are based on this historical record. We can see “history” came to English from Greek via Latin. We can see its intermediate forms, each connected to the last. Any speculation about a word’s origins needs to be and is tested against the extant facts. Is this troublesome to you?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 16:25
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    We do not have any evidence of oral history. We only have written history, by definition. Any hypotheses based on "oral usage" or verbalization are pure, unadorned speculation, and their credibility is weighted by this inadequacy. Speculation based on anagramming is merely the first step into apologetics for numerology. That is not how words are formed and has no bearing on the word's, or any word's, etymology. Etymology is a science, and science is driven and judged by adduction of evidence. All the evidence we have concludes that the etymology of history is just how Draconis has it.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 19:20
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    If that speech is recorded so others many analyze it, it is evidence. If it is not recorded, and can't be independently analyzed, it is not evidence. It is anecdote at best, falsification at worst. It is not "people like me" who defending the evidence-based method of science. That is the definition of science. It is the very thing, the critical insight, that distinguishes science from its fuzzier and significantly less successful predecessors. Science recognizes reality as th ultimate filter. If you haven't already, it would more than repay your time to read Popper, or a summary of him
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 19:31
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    Ajagar, this and your other questions show a consistent preference for speculation that runs counter to well-established history and semantic and phonological methodology, then stonewalling when you're told this. You're free to entertain yourself this way, but it'll never receive a warm welcome on this site. You should find another forum if you want people to discuss it with you as a serious subject. Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


The word "history" comes (via French) from the Latin historia, from Greek historía, "narration". In Greek this goes back to the verb historé- "research", from the noun histōr "expert", from earlier wistōr, which probably goes back to PIE *w-yd- "see, know" (so cognate with German Wissen, English "wise", and Latin derivatives like "vision").

(The linguistic processes involved are quite well-attested: initial w tends to turn into h or disappear in Ancient Greek; the ending -st- is like English "-ist"; -ds- turns into -s-.)

"Yesterday" on the other hand seems to go all the way back to the PIE word for, well, "yesterday". Cognates include German Gestern and Latin hesternus.

(Again, the linguistic processes are well-attested: Old English turned g into y next to front vowels, for example, which is why we see English "eye" next to German Auge.)

"Future" comes from Latin futūr-, which is the future participle of the verb for "to be", from the PIE root for "to become". This PIE root also led to the forms of English "to be" that start with a letter B: be, been, being.

(And once again, the phonological processes here are quite solidly attested: the sound that PIE scholars call * turned into f at the beginning of words in Latin, but turned into b in Germanic languages like English.)

  • As for that German word Gestern, which has the prefix ge-. That prefix also was attested in Old and Middle English, and Chaucer uses y-. Obviously the modern English word has carried that forward. I'm just surprised that Latin hesternus is considered cognate here. Does Latin have some history of a (semi-)productive prefix he-? Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 8:52
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    @Wilson. No, "gestern, yesterday" do not have the prefix ge. Yes, these words are cognate with Latin hesternus. dwds.de/wb/gestern
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 11:38
  • The use of “historia” to mean “an account of past events” is probably on the basis of the first sentence of Herodotus’s book, where he refers to his “istoriē” (thus in Ionic), i.e. “investigation”. The h- of the Attic form is apparently secondary.
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 12:23
  • Indeed re gestern ... Seeing a ge- where there is none leads to the wrong pronunciation :) Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 23:08

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