E is for Etymology

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If you stumbled upon me through the A to Z Blog Challenge, welcome. If not, check out the challenge and all those participating at their site.

 

Etymology is one of those things that fascinates me and I don’t know nearly enough about.

It’s all about the history of words and how they develop and where they come from. I took a few classes on it in college, and I’ve read books about it since then too. I just love learning how a word changed over time. Like geek. Did you know that was originally a term for a circus performer who bit the heads of chickens? Such a different meaning nowadays, isn’t it?

There are two big ways that I use etymology in my writing.

One, I use it to create new words and terminologies. Take zooanthrope as a very basic example. Instead of using the common lycanthrope to reference a wereanimal or shapshifter, I wanted something more generic. Since the roots words of lycanthrope are wolf and man, I decided to use zooanthrope which comes from the roots animal and man instead so it could be a more broadly used term. I also use the principles of etymology to create the terms I use for other paranormal things. I created an old Gaelic inspired term for vampires based on the words for blood and drinker. I searched for Greek terms to combine and alter to create the terminology for the zooanthropes in my series too.

Another, is naming characters. I love to give my characters names that somehow harken back to a character trait of some kind or at the very least their personal heritage. For instance a German name for someone with German-born parents or a name that was popular in the year of their birth for a character that should be very generically American. Sometimes it’s more subtle. I have one character whose name means blue in another language, but it’s a word almost exclusively used in poetry. It makes sense for this character because her father picked it out, and he’s a well-known scholar who would know such a word and like it enough to name his daughter that. (Virtual cookies for anyone who knows what character I’m talking about!)

I use etymology and other languages, but how do you make up the terminology you need while you world build? And how do you pick the names for your characters?

E

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5 thoughts on “E is for Etymology

  1. Hi! Great post! I tend to write fantasy not based on Earth, or science fiction, so there’s a lot of worldbuilding for me to handle. I tend not to turn to classic languages for new words or names, because, really, the dwarfs on Roona never even heard of Classical Latin, so why would they base their language on it?

    I’m doing the A to Z Challenge, too. 🙂 Best of luck to you!

    • Thanks! Best of luck to you too. I have a system for completely fantastical names/words too. For one language that’s supposed to be vastly different from any other language, I start with a word (in Latin or Spanish in this case) and then I use a letter substitution rule to change it into something else entirely. It’s pretty fun.

  2. Hello, Heather. I’m visiting from A to Z. Words fascinate me, which is why I clicked on your E post. Making up words can be tricky. Usually, when people think they may have managed, the word turns up in a very big dictionary! (It happened to someone I know, anyway.) Sue

    • Making up words is very tricky. I tend to try to make words more real, by basing them in another language when I want them to be real words. When they need to be outlandish (Fae words or a witch specific language for instance) I often just make a system for translation instead by substituting another language or swapping letters or something like that.

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