etymon n (pl etyma) the word that gives rise to a derivative or a borrowed or later form. [L f. Gk etumon (neut. of etumos true), the literal sense or original form of a word]
- The Concise Oxford Dictionary.
We go in for etymology quite a lot around here, and our copies of the above-cited Concise Oxford Dictionary, along with Collins and a few others, are well-thumbed. They're especially useful in deep, heated, (usually political) debates in which increasingly long and obscure words are being employed and finally someone says: "I'll look that up, to prove you wrong!" and the origins and exact meanings of a particular word are poured over and considered upon.
I find it fascinating. Our choice of words says so much about us and our motives and with words it's possible to change people's thinking about their view of 'right' and 'wrong'. Whole, lucrative professions are of course built on this alone - politics, religion, teaching and writing being the ones that immediately spring to mind. In many respects it could indeed be said that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Modern day English politicians seem to be particularly aware of the power and meaning of words, choosing them carefully and cunningly in an attempt to skew the public's perception of what they're actually saying. "Offering help" or "support" instead of "coercing", for example (see my previous post for documented instances of this). Then we get into the nonsensical realm of trying to assert people's 'responsibility to make full use of the support offered' - which sentence appeared several times in a government policy document I was reading recently, and which, of course, is another convoluted way of saying 'coercion'. I could go further and say 'bully' and probably would, if I was also a word-crafty politician. Except that then I'd be on the other side and having to buy into such laughable concepts as asserting people's 'responsibility to make full use of the support offered'.
In this world of word-warfare, a good dictionary is our best defence. Ours have also been key learning tools in our home education. Our teens are all extremely adept in their use of dictionaries and Lyddie became interested when she was about three years old, wondering why all those letters were indented into the pages. The appendices and preceding chapters contain invaluable information too. We often refer to these to check points of syntax, amongst other things.
According to this Wikipedia page, the original Oxford English Dictionary was the life's work of four men, three of whom died before its completion! I plan to invest in a full copy of this before much longer. Online dictionaries can be useful I find, but not as versatile as the real thing. You can't feel the weight - physical and metaphorical - in your hand of an online dictionary.