Etymology of Suffixes

by Tucker Sylvia

674 words, approx. 3 minute read

Tags: writing | random | etymology |

Learn Something New Everyday!

So my little tidbit for today will be about a random piece of knowledge I picked up while doing some more thesis work.

I am technically a geologist by training, and for some reason the etymology of the word geology has always been explained to me in one way that until now I never questioned: it is the combination of geo and logos. Now this seemed all well and good to me because those old greek words have relatively solid definitions (although my perspective on solids and fluids may be a bit skewed, but we will save that for another day). To me Geo- means of the earth, and -logos or -logia means study of.

Here is where the headache happened - for some reason in my mind I had it that -logy was somehow more related to the “hard sciences” and other suffixes like -graphy and -onomy could be reserved for what some may deem less rigorous fields. But that doesn’t make any sense at all. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, psychology, psychiatry, genomics, geography, topology, topography, astronomy, astrology, heck there could feasibly be an astrography. This is a futile attempt at conveying the endlessness of this list and the subtle semantic differences brought on by the changing suffixes.

Luckily I was not the first person to ask this question (I usually never am), and I found a few explanations. What I typed into Google, and the first result, from Stack English.

The general gist seems to be that logy is reserved for learning / explaining / studying a given subject.

nomy is supposedly related to rules, laws, or customs. I don’t really get this one because it could be seen as painting with a fairly broad bruch (economy, taxonomy, astronomy, etc.). Additionally it is not all too clear how nomy relates to its cousin nomics, because for some fields it is an easy bridge (economics is the study laws, rules, and customs of the economy), but I am unaware of any taxonomics (taxonomy is basically the naming and classification of species, not to be confused with taxidermy) or genonomy (genomics is the study and quantification of the genome, or the entire genetic makeup of a population/species).

graphy apparently generally refers to writing about a field of study, but geography is definitely not writing about geology, these are fundamentally two different subjects. Stegonography is also definitley not writing about covering things up, but rather the art of hiding secret information in plain sight or using a non secret carrier for your encrypted message (like hiding exploit code in a JPEG for example…).

metry seems relatively straight forward, relating to measurement, but still geometry is not the study of measuring the earth.

I am now going to try to “conjugate” geo- with as many suffixes as I can and see how many of them make sense or are correct.

Shit is clearly broken.

There are also a whole suite of subdisciplinies, even within the earth sciences, that do not adhere to the guidelines, for example lithostratigraphy, oceanography, oceanology, hydrography, hydrology, etc. I am not sure if I am any less confused, but there do seem to be some loose definitions as to which suffix properly belongs to each discipline. The problem now appears to be that people have latched on to the improper suffix for many disciplines and we just have to roll with it, e.g. astronomy and astrology are seemingly reversed. Medical subdisciplines also seem to have some variance from the “right” way. Whatever, I have now have wasted at least half an hour reading and writing about this so I will surely never forget…



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