Etymology is that part of linguistics that studies word origins. By determining the origins of the morphemes that comprise English words, one is better able to determine and remember the dictionary definitions of words.
Let’s take a look at two English words, one that derives from Latin, and one from Greek, the two languages that gave English most of its vocabulary. The word incontrovertible, for instance, has the following Latin-based morphemes in it:
1. the prefix in- comes from the Latin word in, which in this case means “not.”
2. the prefix contro- comes from the Latin word contra, “against.”
3. the root or stem vert comes from the Latin verb verto, “turn.”
4. the suffix -ible comes from the Latin adjective habilis, meaning “handy” or “capable of.”
Hence, knowing the etymology or word origin of these four root words can give you insight into incontrovertible, which would etymologically mean “not capable of being turned against.” Since the dictionary definition of incontrovertible means “beyond dispute” or “unquestionable,” it is indeed “not capable of being turned against.”
Now let’s take a look at the word metamorphosis, which has its origin in three Greek words:
1. the prefix meta- comes from a Greek word meaning “beyond” or “change.”
2. the root morph comes from a Greek word meaning “shape.”
3. the suffix -osis comes from Greek as well, and means “state or process.”
So, the English word metamorphosis would etymologically have something to do with the “process of changing shape.” We can easily see how the definition of the word “metamorphosis,” which means “change in appearance, character, or shape” is derived from this.
By knowing a word’s etymology or word origin, one can more easily remember its dictionary definition.