The How of Etymology

The Logophilia Language Laboratory is designing studies to explore how Etymology Education influences our Cognitive  processes.For details, please see click on the Laboratory page.While we wait for results to come in, here’s a glimpse into our understanding of the matter.

How Etymology Works


Humans are known to be cognitive misers. In plain words, we do not like to think too much; we like  shortcuts. This behaviour can be seen commonly in the human habit of making stereotypes, heuristics, and categories (examples vary from profound forms of racism to stuff as basic as our taste in music).

Given our tendency to divide things into categories, it seems unnatural for students to have to learn words one-at-a-time. So, if a student has a target of learning 20,000 words, she/he would probably end up with something like:

  1. 20,000 uncategorised words
  2. 20,000 categories
  3. senseless categories, like alphabetic arrangement (“all words starting with ‘A’”) or phonetic arrangement (“all words that sound like ‘orange’”)

Etymology Education, in comparison, seems much more natural as a cognitive learning style. When a student learns vocabulary using Etymology Education, the words learnt get organised under roots.



Language of Origin





to write;
or written








For e.g., when a student learns the root “graph”, the entire morphological neighbourhood of “graph” becomes accessible to him. Which means, the student gets an intuitive understanding of other words derived from the “graph”. Therefore, the root become the a category, or a pigeon-hole, in which its derivatives get automatically placed, with no extra cognitive efforts from the student.

As the student gains a certain level of advancement in the Etymology Education style of learning, this process of pigeon-holing becomes rapid and to an extent default. When the Etymology student encounters a new word,  it becomes natural for him to try and break it up into constituent parts (prefix, root, suffix).
Hence, it would be highly unlikely for this student to feel the need to memorise word definitions.

Written on: Saturday, January 28th, 2012 at 5:28 pm
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  • Hugo Bustos

    I found the information on this website comforting, in part, because I have always believed in “understanding instead of memorizing”. I recall going through certain difficulties in school for standing by this principle (a system that benefitted the “status quo” of “memorizing” instead of understanding). All the same, I believe my knowledge was enriched much more than my classmates.

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