Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, May 16, 2016

Origin of the Word "Genealogy"

Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall, published in 1604, was the first single-language English dictionary ever published.
One advantage is sitting in a very large university library is that when I have question, I can find an answer rather easily and quickly. I saw a reference to the date of the earliest use of the word "genealogy" in the 14th  Century and with my interest piqued, I began researching the etymology of the word. Of course, if you are interested in etymology, you are familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary. One additional advantage of my almost constant residence in the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of Brigham Young University is the availability of a huge number of online references, including, the online version of the OED.

It does turn out that the word "genealogy" has a number of different forms. As genealogists should all be aware, spelling was only relatively recently codified. Dictionaries were originally created to define words not force us all to spell them the same way. Quoting from the online edition of the OED, here are the variations in the spelling of the word "genealogy."

Forms: ME genialogi, geneologi, genelogi, ME genologi, (ME genolagye, 15 genologe, genology, Sc. genol(l)igie), ME–15 genelogie, (ME genelogy), 15 genalogey, ME–16 genealogie, (ME–15 genealogye), ME– genealogy.

By the way, the abbreviation "ME" refers to Middle English. You may have had some exposure to this language if you studied Chaucer in high school or college. The etymology of the word is also given and indicates that the word originated a considerable time before its first recorded instance in Middle English.

Etymology: < Old French gene(a)logie (French généalogie ), < late Latin geneālogia , < Greek γενεᾱλογία tracing of descent, < γενεᾱλόγος (whence Latin geneālogus ) genealogist, < γενεά race, generation + -λόγος that treats of: see -logy comb. form. earlier written -logie, an ending occurring originally in words adapted from Greek words in -λογία (the earliest examples, e.g. theology, having come through French -logie, medieval Latin -logia). These Greek words for the most part are parasynthetic derivatives; in some instances the terminal element is λόγος word, discourse (e.g. in τετραλογία tetralogy, τριλογία trilogy); more commonly it is the root λογ- (ablaut-variant of λεγ-,λέγειν to speak: cf. Logos n.).

In any event, the earliest recorded use of the word in Middle English dates to the following:

1382 Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) 1 Tim. i. 4 Nethir ȝyue tent to fablis and genologies withouten endes.

You will, of course, recognize this verse as Timothy 1:4 from the King James Bible which reads:
4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
The verse is further rendered thus;
4 nether yyue tent to fablis and genologies that ben vncerteyn, whiche yyuen questiouns, more than edificacioun of God, that is in the feith. See John Wycliffe's Translation.
And of course, Timothy had no idea what endless genealogies and fables would show up on the Internet in our own day.

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