I have seen at least 10 (and counting) proposed edits on the review queue from the same lower-rep user. For the most part, they are deleting the [etymology] tag, as seen in this post:

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The reason for the change is noted only as

"More accurate?"

Is this user (name not included) doing this on their own initiative, or has there been a policy change I am not aware of that restricts the tag use?

Other reviewers are approving them, but I've been rejecting them...shouldn't I?

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    Well, strictly speaking etymology refers to the origin of a single word, while phrase-origin applies to expressions with more than one word. So “phrase origin” appears to be “more accurate” for the case in question. You, as well as other users, may disagree.
    – user 66974
    Jan 25, 2021 at 16:30
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    Hm... i noticed many edits from them but didn't see the pattern. But I agree with @user66974 that 'etymology' doesn't seem appropriate for phrases. I think the only difficulty here is that the time and effort that user is putting the approvers to could have been better spent on more egregious problems?
    – Mitch
    Jan 25, 2021 at 17:24
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    The tag for [etymology] says "The search for the origin of linguistic features: words, idioms, morphological elements, writing systems. Also consider the 'phrase-origin' tag. " Doesn't "idiom" include phrases? The tag for [idioms] says "a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words." Jan 25, 2021 at 18:28
  • ...and "origins are sub-sets of etymology" (english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/223/…) Jan 25, 2021 at 19:14
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    Google Books appears to confirm that “etymology” is generally used for words, while “origin” for phrases and idioms. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user 66974
    Jan 25, 2021 at 19:15
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    @user66974 This is meta... Jan 25, 2021 at 19:17
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    Yes, I am just trying to support the view of those who think that etymology should be used only for words and not for idioms or phrases (and there are quite a few out there). But as you show, the tag description includes phrases and idioms.
    – user 66974
    Jan 25, 2021 at 19:19
  • Here's the answer
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 25, 2021 at 22:54
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    I upvoted this discussion-question on the premise the upvote would signal that I think you should reject the edits. The user making the edits apparently doesn't want to weigh in here, but explains the activity in a comment elsewhere: "Well, this mod guy does wanna get rid of the Etymology overload, which is totally possible even if it were just me, but it would go faster if others were doing it too. ... If I start to get rejections instead of like 10+ strings of approvals, then that's a sign to stop, but that's not happening...". They then link to an answer, possibly ...
    – JEL
    Jan 26, 2021 at 5:43
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    intending explanation of who the "mod guy" is (but I'm not sure). The answer is Sven's. So, no, there has been no policy change prompting the tag change activity; the edits seem to have been prompted by what I consider a misreading of Sven's answer.
    – JEL
    Jan 26, 2021 at 5:46
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    My view is that as long as there is no "word-origin" tag comparable to "phrase-origin," we should probably continue to use the "etymology" tag in situations where either "word-origin" or "phrase-origin" would perhaps be more accurate. But I don't see any reason why we shouldn't also add the "phrase-origin" tag to "etymology" questions that are about the origins of phrases.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 26, 2021 at 6:23
  • @JEL - Well, I can't weigh in on this thread if I'm not told about it. lol. ... I only got here through a chance look at Linked Questions on the older thread. ... Following this Question now...
    – Malady
    Jan 27, 2021 at 1:41

2 Answers 2


Ever since this came up in a recent meta post, I've been thinking about it. Could we just end this once and for all?

Merge both into a new tag, (tm). Long, but fits within the 35 character tag limit.

Here's my reasoning:

  • More accurater. Maybe even most accuratest.
  • No more debate about whether or not "etymology" can cover something with hyphens or spaces or even both with (*gasp*) commas.
  • No need to retag anything. (Let's face it, a lot of questions asking about phrases use and there's no way they can all be retagged.)
  • Nobody has to lose their hard-earned tag badge (don't believe anyone has a gold badge).

I see etymology/phrase origin as requiring the same skills to answer. I don't see any real benefits to keeping them as separate tags, either. The fact that we already tag both word origin and phrase origin questions with makes me think that I'm not the only one who thinks that.

So I ask, in this answer, does anyone see a reason why we shouldn't merge these tags together and end all the discussion?

  • Naw, just blacklist etymology since nobody knows what it means and everybody insists on abusing it, and get them all to use secret-origins instead like it is in all the superhero comics so they can relate better. Then we can reserve tτᾰ̀-ἔτῠμᾰ for the linguists. :)
    – tchrist Mod
    Jan 25, 2021 at 23:58
  • I don't see a reason why we shouldn't merge the tags. I do hesitate about the possibility of unintended consequences related to fringe etymology questions, but dammed if I'm going to go check the thousands for fringe cases, so my hesitation shouldn't be taken as a "reason why we shouldn't".
    – JEL
    Jan 26, 2021 at 5:51
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    Re "I see etymology/phrase origin as requiring the same skills to answer" - I disagree. Etymology uses skills like phonology, linguistic sound changes, lexical knowledge of multiple languages, and ability to use dictionaries - single words have a continuous history into prehistory. Phrase origin uses skills like cultural history and literature and quotations - phrases are often invented by a particular person in a particular work. I consider these to be very distinct skills. I consider it a solecism to use etymology for phrase origin (but origin can work fine for etymology).
    – Mitch
    Jan 26, 2021 at 16:09

For what it’s worth, I’ve just trimmed the burgeoning tag wiki down considerably. This should make it much simpler and less confusing and controversial.

The abstract now reads:

Questions about tracing out and describing the elements of an individual word, as well as the historical changes in form and sense which that word has experienced over its history.

And the main body now reads:

Not to be confused with the buggy entomology, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word etymology means:

1a. The process of tracing out and describing the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense.

1b. An instance of this process; an account of the formation and radical signification of a word.

1c. The facts relating to the formation or derivation (of a word).

2. That branch of linguistic science which is concerned with determining the origin of words.

3. Gram. That part of grammar which treats of individual words, the parts of speech separately, their formation and inflexions.

English borrowed the word from Medieval French ethimologie (now etymologie in Modern French), which had in turn adopted it from Latin etymologia, who themselves pinched it from the Greek ἑτυμολογία, from ἑτυμολόγ-ος.

Etymology therefore concerns the process of tracing out and describing the elements of an individual word, as well as the changes in form and sense of that word over time.

This should help.

  • 1
    I upvoted this answer because I think the updated tag wiki is a step forward. However, it concerns me that we still don't have a tag that squarely addresses the notion of "word origin" (corresponding to "phrase origin"—that is where, when, and under what circumstances a word first appeared in English writing). As I've noted elsewhere, EL&U is not very hospitable to questions about the "the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense" or about "the facts relate to the formation or derivation (of a word)." Arguably "the facts relating to the formation or...
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 26, 2021 at 6:16
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    ...derivation of a word" might provide some cover for questions about where, when, and under what circumstances a word first appeared in English (as more than a foreign borrowing) or where, when, and under what circumstances an existing word was first used in a new sense that subsequently became generally accepted in English. These types of questions are the most readily answerable by amateurs like me through original research, and they have long appeared under the tag "etymology." I would hate to see them rejected as off-topic because the tag wiki doesn't explicitly embrace them as on-topic.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 26, 2021 at 6:16
  • @SvenYargs When you say “word origin”, do you therefore mean something more related to its publication history in English than to its distant etymon? For example, handiwork comes from Old English hondgeweorc, a compound word derived from OE honda meaning “hand” and geweorc, a past-participle inflection comprising the Germanic participial morpheme ge- + OE weorc meaning “work”? Etymology does include tracing the history not just of a word’s changing forms but also that of its changing meanings over time. But maybe that isn’t quite what you meant, either, so I thought I’d ask.
    – tchrist Mod
    Jan 26, 2021 at 18:42
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    Yes that's right. There is very little we can add to the linguistic understanding of the etymological components of handiwork, but we might be able to contribute some concrete information about early appearances of the word in print and perhaps turn up evidence about whether it initially appeared in print as "hand work" or "handy work," for example. This is one sort of information that the OED tries to cover—but access to book and periodical databases enables non-experts to find earlier instances (and sometimes variants) than the OED lists.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 26, 2021 at 19:16

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