// quoted by oAnth - source URL -- http://www.etymonline.com/abbr.php?
This project began after I looked for a free dictionary of word origins online and found none. You could subscribe to the Oxford English Dictionary for $550 a year. [As of January 2004, OED Online is now available by annual subscription to individuals for $295 a year, and has recently introduced monthly subscriptions for $29.95.] There were free dictionaries with definitions, some lists of slang words and their supposed sources, and some sites that listed a few dozen of the strangest etymologies. There were message boards where you could submit a question and wait a few days or weeks for an expert to answer. Or not. But there was no comprehensive public dictionary of the histories of words we use every day -- words like the and day.
No university had seen fit to shackle its graduate students to the cyber-mill, grinding out an online etymology dictionary. I had time on my hands then, and I decided to do it. I also did this to increase my understanding of the language, and its ancestors and relatives. As a writer and editor with an amateur's passion for linguistics, I took this as a joy ride more than drudgery. And I know so much more useless trivia than I did when I started (applaud is related to explode; three people can have a dialogue; and if anyone calls you feisty, slug him).
Etymologies are not definitions; they're explanations of what our words meant 600 or 2,000 years ago. Think of it as looking at pictures of your friends' parents when they were your age. People will continue to use words as they will, finding wider meanings for old words and coining new ones to fit new situations. In fact, this list is a testimony to that process.
These are histories of words only, not things or ideas. The modern word for something might have replaced old, forgotten words for the same object or concept. (Where possible, I've tried to indicate that.)