Etymological Delights 1-10

When I want to understand something I often start by looking up the history of a word. Here is a small selection of words and their history. Quotes are taken straight from, a wonderful english etymology site. Selective interpretations follow; I'm just a layman, an amateur.

1. amateur (n.)

1784, "one who has a taste for (something)," from French amateur "lover of," from Latin amatorem (nominative amator) "lover," agent noun from amatus, past participle of amare "to love" (see Amy). Meaning "dabbler" (as opposed to professional) is from 1786. As an adjective, by 1838.

2. layman (n.)

"non-cleric," early 15c., from lay (adj.) + man (n.). Meaning "outsider, non-expert" (especially in regards to law or medicine) is from late 15c. Related: Laymen.

3. education (n.)

1530s, "childrearing," also "the training of animals," from Middle French education (14c.) and directly from Latin educationem (nominative educatio), from past participle stem ofeducare (see educate). Originally of education in social codes and manners; meaning "systematic schooling and training for work" is from 1610s.

4. erudition (n.)

c.1400, "instruction, education," from Latin eruditionem (nominative eruditio) "an instructing," noun of action from past participle stem of erudire (see erudite). Meaning "learning, scholarship" is from 1520s.

5. scholar (n.)

Old English scolere "student," from Medieval Latin scholaris, noun use of Late Latin scholaris "of a school," from Latin schola (see school (n.1)). Greek scholastes meant "one who lives at ease." The Medieval Latin word was widely borrowed (Old French escoler, French écolier, Old High German scuolari, German Schüler). The modern English word might be a Middle English reborrowing from French. Fowler points out that in British English it typically has been restricted to those who attend a school on a scholarship.

6. learn (v.)

Old English leornian "to get knowledge, be cultivated, study, read, think about," from Proto-Germanic *liznojan (cognates: Old Frisian lernia, Middle Dutch leeren, Dutch leren, Old High German lernen, German lernen "to learn," Gothic lais "I know"), with a base sense of "to follow or find the track," from PIE *leis- (1) "track, furrow." Related to German Gleis "track," and to Old English læst "sole of the foot" (see last (n.)).

7. focus (n.)

1640s, from Latin focus "hearth, fireplace" (also, figuratively, "home, family"), of unknown origin, used in post-classical times for "fire" itself, taken by Kepler (1604) in a mathematical sense for "point of convergence," perhaps on analogy of the burning point of a lens (the purely optical sense of the word may have existed before Kepler, but it is not recorded). Introduced into English 1650s by Hobbes. Sense transfer to "center of activity or energy" is first recorded 1796.

8. grok (v.)

"to understand empathically," 1961, arbitrary formation by U.S. science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) in his book "Stranger in a Strange Land." In popular use 1960s; perhaps obsolete now except in internet technology circles.

9. empathy (n.)

1903, from German Einfühlung (from ein "in" + Fühlung "feeling"), coined 1858 by German philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-1881) as a translation of Greek empatheia "passion, state of emotion," from en "in" (see en- (2)) + pathos "feeling" (see pathos).

10. metric (n.)

"science of versification," 1760, from Greek he metrike "prosody," plural of metron "meter, a verse; that by which anything is measured; measure, length, size, limit, proportion" (see meter (n.2)).