Argument from etymology

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For the record: This is untrue. The word "universe" more accurately translates to "all things into one," because it is where all things are found.[1]
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An argument from etymology is an informal logical fallacy typically used by fundamentalist Christians, which attempts to prove something through pointing out the etymology of the word being used as opposed to actually making the case based on substance.

Why it doesn't make sense[edit]

Being as generous as possible, modern English began around the sixteenth century.[2] Given how much science has advanced in that time, it is understandable that many of our phrases might come off as outdated as new scientific knowledge proves the assumptions that caused us to first use them incorrectly. However, many still keep using the factually incorrect expressions, whether because of tradition, because of convenience, or because it still expresses a metaphorical truth even if it fails to express a factual one.

A good example of this is the phrase "broken heart," which comes from the notion that the human heart is the center of all emotions.[3] In truth, all the heart actually does is circulate blood throughout one's body,[4] with one's emotions actually coming from the hypothalamus in the brain.[5] In the same regard, the etymology of "disaster" comes from the Italian disastro, meaning "ill-starred", because it used to be believed that natural disasters were the result of certain stars.[6] (This view actually got a mention in William Shakespeare's famous play Julius Caesar, specifically when Cassius tells Brutus "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings."[7] As one website notes "This line refers to the influence of destiny"[8] with Shakespeare using the belief that stars control the world around us as a rhetorical device to make his point.)


During one lecture, Kent Hovind attempted to prove that the universe was created by God through saying the word "universe" means "singular spoken sentence."[9] This was also used by creationist Joshua Feuerstein, who claimed the word "universe" means "a single spoken statement."[10] The Amazing Atheist parodied this argument in one video through claiming the word "galaxy" means God is real because when a woman is being murdered by an axe she screams "Oh God!"[11]

In September 2020, Michael Knowles spent an episode of his show saying that the concept of statistics was created by liberals to advance the interests of the state. His main reason for this is that the word in German comes from the same root as "statist" and therefore refers to collecting data on behalf of the state. Because of this, he feels that conservatives shouldn't use statistics — unless they help his cause.[12]

Use by Flat Earthers[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Flat Earth
Picture from Dubay's rap.[13]

For some reason, this fallacy is a favorite among those who believe that the Earth is flat. Given many of their ideas are on the ancient side, it's very tempting for them to act like they have uncovered some old truth which has been hidden from us, in this case the etymology of the words representing what the words actually mean today.

Flat Earthers often claim that NASA in Hebrew means "to deceive". They cite that transliteration of נָשָׁא being Nāšā. What they fail to realize is that it is pronounced "naw-shaw". A closer sounding word in Hebrew is נָשָׂא, which translates to either "lift, carry or to take" and is pronounced "naw-saw".[14] (One is also forced to wonder why an organization that aims "to deceive" would be so sloppy as to put their goal in their name, especially given that Hebrew is spoken by about nine million people,[15] meaning any of them could figure out the true intention of the agency rather easily.)

In a rap, the flat Earther/Holocaust denier Eric Dubay declared that the word "government" broken down means "control of the mind". However, the graphic he shows actually sees the word being broken down to mean "to guide" for "govern" and "mind" for "ment."[13] Given "guiding" and "controlling" are not the same thing, this argument is already on thin ice. However, it gets even sillier when you realize Dubay has his Latin all wrong, as "government" more accurately breaks down to "instrument used to direct or rule".[16]

Although not a work of Dubay, a book he has read out on his channel called 50 Scientific Facts for the Downfall of Modern Astronomy by Ebenezer Breach uses this exact point as early as its first example, which reads:

The word Astronomy is taken from the Greek words signifying the Laws of the Stars. Astron, a star, Nomos, a law. Nemo, to regulate a science that explains the regulation of the star. It is quite distinct from the science of Physical Geography, which belongs entirely to the Earth. For Astronomy we must look up; for George, look down.[17]

ODD Reality, a YouTube channel which promotes the flat earth, has also engaged in this before. In their video "The Case for Flat Earth," they argue the Earth can be flat despite all of the planets being round on the basis that the Earth is not a planet. Instead, they claim, the universe has seven planets (the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn) which represent the seven days of the week, because planets were known to the ancients as "wandering stars" and they did not consider the Earth to be a "wandering star."[18]

See also[edit]