“An etymologist is someone who studies the origins and development of words, phrases, and other linguistic forms.”

This is a Papillon.

I know how to say butterfly in three languages: English, French, and Italian. In Italian, it’s farfalla; you might know the plural of the word which is farfalle. If this looks familiar, it’s the name of a butterfly-shaped pasta. I’m not sure how I learned the French word for butterfly. I’ve never owned a Papillon or known anyone who has owned one. Maybe I learned it from watching a dog show on TV.

I never made a conscious decision to become an etymologist. It’s not exactly one of those hobbies that you include when you describe your interests: “Yeah, I love to knit, crochet, cook… and I also love to research the origins of words and phrases!” As a person who took Latin as her collegiate language requirement, works with English Language Learners (who primarily speak Spanish), and has an Italian-speaking future family-in-law, I know a thing or two about the origins of words. English is what I’d like to call a bastard child of languages: it belongs to the Germanic language family, but has adopted so many words and phrases from other languages that it can’t possibly be classified as strictly Germanic.

My interest in etymology brings us back to dog breeds. Breeds of any kind of domesticated animal are an easy introduction into etymology because animals are often named after their country/city/region of origin, after the job they perform, or after their appearance. Papillons, as mentioned before, are named for their resemblance to a butterfly. I own a Dachshund, which in German means “badger hound”. Their long, short bodies are perfectly suited for chasing after badgers who happen to live in tunnels underground. Chihuahuas are named for their Mexican state of origin. The Dalmatian is supposedly named for the Dalmatia coastal region in Croatia even though there is no evidence that traces their origins to that area. The Chinese Crested is best known for its lack of fur except for an obnoxious tuft of hair that grows on its head.

It’s fairly easy to trace the origins of any word. Dog breeds are just an easy example for me despite the fact that I’m not a dog breeder of any kind. My coworker, who got me on the subject of the Papillon, was somewhat confused as to how I knew what a Papillon was, let alone that its name was French for butterfly. Just another instance of my random trivia knowledge confounding a person.

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