ABSTRACT

Etymology is concerned with the origins and development of the meanings of words. It is not a fashionable topic and is sometimes described as ‘dry’, but it is useful in that it can bring out or remind language-users of senses and meanings that words once had but which are now half-forgotten and only dimly perceived. Etymology is important in that it is useful to know what the words one is using mean and how they have come to have those meanings (see the section on fashion, clothing, power and ideology in the next chapter). An idea of the situation that can arise if one uses words without concentrating upon their different meanings can be gained from Breward (1995). On the first page of his Introduction, he uses ‘adornment’, ‘clothing’, ‘fashion’, ‘dress’, ‘costume’, ‘style’ and ‘decoration’ as synonyms or near synonyms for the phenomenon he is to deal with. Some will say that this does not matter, that we all know what the author means, but the use of seven different words with different meanings and associations in an opening paragraph cannot go unremarked. There is no doubt that these words are near synonyms; the purpose of the present chapter is to bring out their similarities and dissimilarities and to show how and why they are near synonyms. Etymology will show the background of words and leave users feeling that they know the word a little better because they know its background.