The term “word” has its origins in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root “werdʰ-,” meaning “to speak” or “to say.” This root evolved into the Proto-Germanic term “wurdan,” which maintained the meaning related to speech or utterance. By the 1st millennium BCE, “*wurdan” was established in Proto-Germanic, laying the foundation for its further development.

In Old English, around the 5th century CE, the term became “word,” pronounced as [word], retaining its meaning of “speech” or “utterance.” Throughout the Middle English period, around the 11th century CE, “word” continued to be used with a similar pronunciation [ˈwɔrd] and meaning. Finally, in Modern English, starting from the 15th century CE to the present, the term “word” evolved into its current form and pronunciation [wɜːrd] or [wɝːd], signifying a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing used to convey ideas, emotions, or actions.

Interestingly, the concept of “word” can be compared to the term “logos” in Greek. “Logos” originates from the PIE root “leg-” or “leǵ-,” meaning “to gather” or “to speak,” and appears in Ancient Greek literature and philosophy as early as the 8th century BCE. “Logos” means “word,” “speech,” “reason,” or “principle.” It was a fundamental concept in Greek thought, prominently used by philosophers like Heraclitus in the 6th century BCE to describe the underlying order and reason of the universe. The term continued to evolve, gaining significant theological importance in early Christian writings, particularly in the Gospel of John, where it referred to Christ as the divine Word.

Thus, while “word” developed within the Germanic language family, “logos” has a much earlier and broader conceptual history within Greek thought and language. This highlights how different linguistic traditions have explored and expressed the concept of speech and reason, with “logos” predating and influencing the understanding of “word” in various contexts.