Wedgwood On English Etymology -- By: Eugene Schuyler
BSac 19:76 (Oct 1862) p. 726
Wedgwood On English Etymology1
Philology, or the science of language, is almost wholly the growth of the last fifty years; and in that time it has made rapid progress. Nearly all the known languages have been to some extent explored, and their sources and mutual relations pointed out. But philosophical research into the English language, by English scholars, has not kept pace with the advance in other directions. There has been produced no good and reliable work on English etymology, — not from lack of a rich field to work in, but from the incompetency of the laborers. Skinner and Junius lived before language was scientifically studied, and their works have been long out of date. Richardson and Webster, though still in use, are too inaccurate and incomplete to be of much service. They not only lacked the results worked out by investigators in other languages to aid their own researches, but they were both deficient in the genius and the capacities suitable for such studies. While Germany has become a nation of scholars, the age of English scholarship, even in the classics, seems to be past. The student of English has therefore
BSac 19:76 (Oct 1862) p. 727
been forced to have recourse to the labors of foreign scholars in foreign languages, and draw what assistance he could from those sources. With regard to the Latin side of the language, Diez has covered most of the ground in his “Etymological Dictionary of the Romanic Languages;”2 while Grimm3 and Diefenbach4 are authorities for the Teutonic and Celtic elements.
When, therefore, a new attempt in this line was announced by Mr. Wedgwood, under the auspices of the Philological Society of London, it was thought that the great want was about to be supplied. But on a careful examination of the work, we are obliged to say that the want is as great as ever, and that we must still wait, until some English scholar arises fully competent to perform the work.
A good etymological dictionary should be complete, scientific, and accurate. It should be complete in two respects. Not only should it contain all the words in the language, but all that is known about each word should be set forth. When a derivation is not certainly known, there should be a digest of the leading opinions on the word. All the cognate words, too, should be given, so that we may have before us all the steps necessary in ascending to its source.
A scientific treatment demands method; and a method based on true critical principles. No p...
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