A knowledge of etymology helps with vocabulary and spelling, but only if you take an active interest. The Origin of Words and Names has some delightful tidbits of information that should pique your interest. If you need a little background, SparkNotes offers A Very Brief History of English, aimed at students studying vocabulary for the SAT.
Note: some sites may have incorrect information. See this article on Common Errors in Popular Etymology.
References and Lists of Word Origins
Greek and Latin Roots
- Wordorigins.org - searchable list of about 400 words and phrases, also has a discussion forum and more.
- Etymologically Speaking - alphabetical list of interesting word origins.
- A Dictionary of Prefixes, Suffixes, and Combining Forms (large PDF file) - includes meanings and language of origin.
Ask the Etymology Experts
These guys know what they’re talking about, and they’re happy to answer your questions.
- World Wide Words - seemingly endless pages on the history of words and phrases, plus many other language-related articles.
- The Word Detective - monthly web column on words and language.
- Take Our Word For It - "the bi-weekly Word-Origin webzine" includes several regular columns.
- AskOxford: Word Origins FAQ - see the FAQ and ask your own question.
- Wordwizard - forums for discussing word origins and English in general.
The makers of these podcasts also welcome your questions.
- Podictionary - covers one word's history every day.
- Word for the Wise - podcast about words, published every week day.
- The Word Nerds - a weekly, 30 or 40 minute podcast all about language.
- A Way With Words - a weekly, hour-long KPBS radio show about English. Listen to many older shows on Odeo.
- Etymologic - claims to be "the toughest word game on the web".
- Funtrivia's Etymology Quizzes and Trivia - 64 quizzes of varying difficulties. Also see their quizzes on Borrowed Words and Phrases and Linguistics.