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Their result for The Definitive Etymology Test ...


56% Etymology Knowledge!

56% right, not bad, not bad. You have at least some understanding of the fundamentals and specifics of etymology as it relates to English. Who knows, with a few more semesters, you may be the next great philologist. Hit the books, and don't drop out when the going gets tough!





#1: First things first: What is etymology?

Answer: B) The study of words' evolution over time.


Etymology is a social science which concerns itself mostly with what words mean diachronically (over time), how they came to that meaning, from where they entered the language, etc.


#2: Which of the following is not an etymology term?


D) Grammar


Etymology is mostly concerned with individual words. Grammar is the system by which words relate to one another in use, and is not focused on by etymology.

#3: When did etymology begin?

Answer: A) 500-600 BCE, Sanskrit Linguists.


Amazing, but true.


#4: What are cognates?

Answer: C) Words in different languages sharing a common ancestor or origin.


Partial credit was given on this one for answering "A, B, and C," as that is the more common definition found outside of etymological materials, but the term specifically refers to two sibling or cousin words, regardless of meaning shift or pronunciation shift.


#5: Ok, now, what is an etymon?

Answer: B) An ancestor of a word.


#6: And a reflex?

Answer: C) A descendant of a word


#7: From which base language do English's grammar and original vocabulary derive?

Answer: B) Anglo-Saxon


In Great Britain, the northernmost region was ruled by the Angles. This region, called Angleland, would eventually come to be known as England. The original basic sentence structures and common vocabulary still in use today has its origins there.


#8: In 1066 CE, William the Conqueror invaded England. His invasion was successful, and as a result, his native language became the source for upper-class English vocabulary. What language was that, again?

Answer: A) French


This shouldn't be a huge surprise, given that William the Conqueror was actually "Guillame le Conquerant" and he came from Normandy. English's noble vernacular, and many of the "five dollar words" today, stem from French origins.


#9: During the Renaissance, scholars across Europe all published their work in the same language. Its use was considered to be a hallmark of education. Many words were adopted into English, and it is still used to form neologisms in modern English. What language is it?

Answer: A) Latin


Newton, Descartes, all the great minds of the Renaissance wrote in Latin. English has absorbed no few words from this, particularly in math and science. Species nomenclature borrows heavily from neoclassicism, for example.


#10: Despite all the seeming disparity, current linguistic theories trace all of the above-mentioned source languages for English to a single root language. What do they call it?

Answer: B) Proto-Indo-European


Sanskrit actually descends from PIE as well, interestingly enough. There are enough cognates between Old English, Proto-Germanic, and Ancient Latin/Greek that a common source language is almost certain.


#11: Last general history question: While the above languages form the majority of English's word base, English is famous for adopting words from other languages. From which of the following languages has English not adopted significantly?

Answer: D) Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese)


A large amount of Greek came in with Latin neoclassicism, while immigrants have brought a fair amount of Japanese and Spanish words. For reasons linguists have been unable to discern for certain, English has strongly resisted assimilating much in the way of Chinese vocabulary.


#12: "Intelligence"

Answer: B) Latin.


Partial credit for marking D) French, as the word most likely came to English through French, but its origin is firmly Latinate.


#13: "Press"

Answer: D) French


Fairly direct importation here, the origin verb "presser" means "to squeeze or press flat" in French. Partial credit for Latin, as some linguists trace "presser" to Latin "premare," meaning "to crush or flatten." Other linguists claim both French and Latin words are reflexes of a source word in an earlier language, and there is evidence to support that view.


#14: "Lend"

Answer: A) Anglo-Saxon


This is one of the oldest known English words, traceable to one of the oldest source documents in Old English (Anglo-Saxon). It has not changed much in pronunciation, and it was already established in use and consistent in meaning from around 900 CE.


#15: "Cycle"

Answer: C) Greek


Comes, with much mutation, from the Greek "kuklos" meaning circle. Partial credit for marking Latin, as it passed through Latin on its way to English.


#16: "Night"

Answer: A) Anglo-Saxon


This is a bit of a trick question. This word's old form can be found in the same age documents as "lend," above, placing it firmly in Anglo-Saxon vocabulary; however, it does have cognates in all three of the other languages, indicating it to have an even older origin in Proto-Indo-European.


#17: "Helicopter"

Answer: B) "Spiral-Wing"


This is a modern neoclassical construction from Greek roots. "Helico" is from "helix," "a spiral shape," while "pter" is a clipped form of "pteron," meaning "wing(s)."


#18: "Prescription"

Answer: B) "To write at the beginning"


This one can be fairly easily gotten by breaking it down into components. "Pre-" is an affix for "before." "Script" is the Latin root for "write," and "-ion" makes a generic form into a noun. The source for this was a small block of text written at the beginning of a document which set forth limitations on what was to be discussed within it. The meaning has changed over time, but "prescribe" is still essentially "to set limits on." Partial credit given for C) "Written order."


#19: "Career"

Answer: C) "Vehicle"


This one has obviously changed a lot. The origin word was the Latin "car," which oddly enough had nearly the same meaning as it does in English today. As it passed through Old French, it was modified to become "Carrieure," and meant a road for cars (partial credit for A) "A road"), before mutating metaphorically in English to mean the track along which one's life moves forward.


#20: "Task"

Answer: A) "To tax."


This one goes all the way back to Latin as well. The verb "to tax" was modified in feudal societies so that a lord could demand a service from a peasant as his or her tax payment (partial credit given for D) "A small service"), which became our "task."


#21: "Homily"

Answer: D) "A crowd"


This one is a fascinating story. It originates in Greek as "homilos," a crowd, an assembly, similar to the root "homo-" for same. Within Greek, it became the verb "homilein," which meant "to consort with, to address." It moved into Latin as "homilia," meaning conversation or discourse (Partial credit for C) "Conversation, to converse"), and from there into French and then English, where it acquired its current meaning, a short sermon or address to a congregation.

Their Analysis (Vertical line = Average)

  • Knowledge Distribution

    They scored 56% on Knowledge, higher than 47% of your peers.

All possible test results


Excellent work! You got a $(Knowledge)%! You clearly know your words, and you know where they came from, too! If you didn't major in English, you sure studied it a... Read more

Graduate Student

Very well-done! You got $(Knowledge)% correct! You have a firm grasp on the fundamentals of etymology. Your vocabulary most likely has the precision and refinement of a rarefied sc... Read more

English Major

Nice job! You got $(Knowledge)% correct! Your etymology knowledge, while not perfect, is above average! You probably read a lot of text, and have a good intuitive grasp of the principles of linguis... Read more

College Graduate

$(Knowledge)%, a very acceptable performance! You probably hold a degree in one field or another. You may read a lot, you may have taken some English courses in your college career; regardless, you... Read more


$(Knowledge)% right, not bad, not bad. You have at least some understanding of the fundamentals and specifics of etymology as it relates to English. Who knows, with a few more semesters, you may be... Read more


You got $(Knowledge)% correct.This level of knowledge slightly bemuses me. You clearly know at least a few things about etymology and English, but not enough to have studied it at all in-depth. Did... Read more


You got $(Knowledge)% correct, and my thanks for your time. It's pretty clear you don't know very much about etymology, so I appreciate your having even tried this little test out. For whatever rea... Read more


Hrm. You only got $(Knowledge)% correct. *makes a note, "Needs remedial classes."* You don't know much about etymology, and what you do know is unfocused or only partially true. Check out your loca... Read more


Wow! You got a $(Knowledge)%! I'm not quite sure how you managed to click next on each of the pages. Some of those buttons had polysyllabic words, after all. On th... Read more

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