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I created the tag origem-histórica (historical-origin) for this question about ter a ver com (literally to have to see with, meaning to have to do with). At the time by historical origin of the phrase I was thinking of how that particular word combination came to mean what it does. This didn’t seem to me to be captured in the etymology of the phrase. In the meantime I've found that there is the tag origem too.

These tags have become fairly popular: 33 questions were tagged origem-histórica, and 22, origem. But now I’m wondering whether they mean anything beyond etymology in any of these questions. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of etymology:

the history of a linguistic form (as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language

The shorter Aulete digital’s definition of the Portuguese cognate etimologia appears to mean the same. So, are the tags origem-histórica, origem, and etimologia synonyms?

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  • I wouldn't say they are same or that the tags should be merged. Sometimes all one wants to know is when a certain meaning began to be used. For example: imho, a question such as "when did esquisito begin to have the meaning it has today?" seems to be more about origin than etimology. – Centaurus Sep 18 '16 at 17:50
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Parece-me que não exatamente a mesma coisa. "Etimologia" está mais ligado aos étimos da palavra (outras palavras ou componentes que são a base da palavra em questão), enquanto "origem histórica" pode referir-se às cirunstâncias históricas (e.g. sociais) que rodearam o aparecimento da palavra.

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It is my understanding that the term “etymology” properly applies only to individual words alone. Priberam has for etimologia:

e·ti·mo·lo·gi·a

(latim etymologia, -ae, do grego etumología, -as)
substantivo feminino

  1. [Gramática] Parte da Gramática que trata da origem e formação das palavras.
  2. Origem de uma palavra. = ÉTIMO

Citation: "etimologia", in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [em linha], 2008-2013, http://www.priberam.pt/dlpo/etimologia [consultado em 05-09-2016].

And for étimo Priberam has:

é·ti·mo

(grego étumon, -ou, verdadeiro significado de uma palavra, de acordo com a sua origem, do grego étumos, -e, -on, verdadeiro)
substantivo masculino

  1. [Gramática] Vocábulo considerado como origem de outro.
  2. Origem de uma palavra. = ETIMOLOGIA

"étimo", in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [em linha], 2008-2013, http://www.priberam.pt/dlpo/%c3%a9timo [consultado em 05-09-2016].

And Wikipédia says:

Etimologia (do grego antigo ἐτυμολογία, composto de ἔτυμον "étymos" e -λογία "-logia") é a parte da gramática que trata da história ou origem das palavras e da explicação do significado de palavras através da análise dos elementos que as constituem. Por outras palavras, é o estudo da composição dos vocábulos e das regras de sua evolução histórica.

So etymology is more than just the historical origin of a term. It is an analysis of the previous forms of the word, including the evolutionary morphology, by which I mean the historical changes in the little pieces that make up the word.

Longer utterances, such as famous sayings and other idiomatic expressions, do of course have histories behind them, whether we know those or not. They may even have shifted in exact form and meaning over time.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t know that most visitors of our site are thinking of narrow distinctions like these when they ask for the etymology or origin of a word or a phrase. I doubt they are thinking “what are the previous forms of this word?” They likely just want to know how it has come to mean what it means or be written the way it is today written.

So although I in my own head distinguish the formal term etymology as applied to one single word in the language, a vocábulo, it may be asking more of our visitors than is entirely reasonable to expect them to use the term etimologia in only this very restricted way and for them to select some other, broader term when it applies to longer strings of words taken together.

However the Community here decides to handle this can be fixed up quickly and easily with the tags. Just remember that tag merges are destructive, and so if we merge everything there’s no sorting them out again later if we later decide otherwise.

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  • I agree. "Long utterances, such as famous sayings..." It's true, if one asks about the origin of "Long time no see" it would probably easy to trace, but the etymology would be a different matter. – Centaurus Sep 19 '16 at 13:28

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