Ask A Scientist

Where did the word science come from?

Asked by: Justin Dueber
School: Owego Apalachin Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Scott Snyder
Hobbies/Interests: Baseball, basketball, all sports and video games   
Career Interest: Professional baseball player or accountant

Answer from Alexsa Silva

Coordinator of Instructional Laboratories, Binghamton University

Ph.D. School: Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Post Doctoral Studies: Binghamton University
Research area: Education, photochemistry, organometallics.
Interests/hobbies: Music and travel

The word “science” has several accepted roots. The spelling “science” comes directly from the Old French language; we call “Old French” the French language written and spoken around the years 900-1400. This Old French was a combination of Vulgar Latin with Celtic and Germanic influences. We can go even further on the root of the word and get to “Scientia”, from the Classical Latin that means “knowledge”, and which itself comes from “sciens” that means to discern, to separate one thing from another. In the earlier centuries the word “science” in English referred only to the knowledge of how something works, described by specific laws. It did not mean what it means today. At that time, people that investigated natural phenomena were called “natural philosophers”. William Whenwell made one of the first references of the word “scientist” in 1833. By the end of the nineteenth century, the regulatory way of how the discoveries were made was called the “scientific method”. By the twentieth century, the meaning of the word “science” was broader, more like what we know today: “a body of regular or methodical observations or propositions concerning a particular branch of knowledge” for example: chemistry, sociology, anthropology and linguistic. Science as we know it today is a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge acquired by observation, experimentation and explanation of real natural phenomena. In other words, just like the origin of the word “science”, in order to be a good scientist, one has to seek the knowledge of the subject and be able to discern through the results of one’s experiments what is the regularity of the phenomena observed. The scientist then proposes a hypothesis, tests it and develops a theory.  

Last Updated: 3/1/17