Fabulous Adventures In Coding
Eric Lippert is a principal developer on the C# compiler team. Learn more about Eric.
No technology today -- but, hey, where does that word "technology" come from, anyway?
I'm on this politics/technology/etc. mailing list. A recent poster noted that Donald Rumsfeld, in an interview will Bill O'Reilly on the subject of, of all things, the Boy Scouts, used the word "phraseology". He was speaking in reference to "don't ask, don't tell".
Anyway, the poster noted that "phraseology" looks like it should mean "the study of phrases", but it doesn't, it means "the meanings of words in phrases". I was curious about that, so, I looked it up in the OED.
Turns out that there are two distinct camps of -logy words in English. There are those in which -logy means "the study of", like technology, psychology, entomology, geology, theology, astrology, and so on. And then there are those in which -logy means "the words", like eulogy (nice words), trilogy (three words), ideology (idea words), tautology (the same words), and so on.
Both come from the same Greek root, λογος meaning "saying", or "words" or "discourse". It's a natural progression from "theology" = "saying words about the gods" to "the study of the gods", so that clears up that.
"Astrology" and "theology" are Anglicizations of real ancient Greek words. Ideally, we'd form new -logies by using only Greek prefixes -- zoology, geology, and so on. But as we've discussed here before, English is a slatternly language; we cheerfully hook up Latin-derived (and otherwise!) prefixes to -logy all the frickin' time. (And any grammarian who complains about it can tell me the etymology of "grammarian" and then be quiet.)
Here's another interesting fact about -logies: you can guess how old an -logy word is in English by whether someone who studies it is a -logist (modern) or -logian (old), or -logue (quite old), -loger (realy very old indeed).
Try it! People who study religion are theologians, or, now obsolete, theologues, but never theologists. People who stick to a rigid ideology are sometimes ideologues, but these days more often ideologists. People who study insects are entomologists, not entomologians, entomologers, or entomologues; entomology is a relatively new -logy word. Doesn't "entomologian" sound a lot more archaic? People who study astrology are astrologers, a very old word indeed, entering English in the 14th century. New -logy words -- and we're getting new ones all the time -- practically always use -logist these days, and lots of the old ones are transmogrifying into -logist, if they haven't already.