We have a number of etymology-related questions that seem rather difficult to answer authoritatively. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about:

I'd like to know if authoritative resources exist that address these types of questions. The reason I am skeptical is that I have not found anything relevant for studere, pravus, or defallere in Michiel de Vaan's Etymological Dictionary of Latin, but of course many other resources may exist.

The reason I ask is that without sources, it seems like all we can do is make educated guesses (as I did in an answer to the last of these three). If such speculation is all that is available, I wonder if the questions are approaching "primarily opinion based" territory.


2 Answers 2


It seems to me that "We don't know, but my educated guess is" is a fine way to answer a question. First, there are a few folks on here whose educated guesses I'd put more faith in than a lot of published material one could refer to. Second, just because we don't know now doesn't mean we'll never know. Maybe tomorrow they'll let people go back to digging in the Villa dei Papiri and we'll find a trove of scrolls that completely revolutionize our understanding of défallere. (We should be so lucky!)


Good question. This is more of a comment than an answer, but it doesn't fit in the comment box.

In some cases there might be an authoritative answer or maybe someone can give insight to the problem via a word that others haven't thought of. Such answers would be valuable, and it's very hard to tell in advance whether or not such a question can ever come in.

Since it's not clear whether there is going to be a well supported answer, we should allow offering educated guesses. It is a small problem to have a kind of question that often goes unanswered, but I wouldn't count it as opinion based. I would only consider them opinion based if it's fairly clear that only opinions can be offered, but I'm not sure what that would exactly mean.

These questions sound like "Does anyone have an idea how this works?" and such questions can work well — if someone has a decent idea. I suspect that if such questions consistently fail to produce good answers, people will eventually stop asking them.

Summary: Some of them may be answered, so I think we should keep them. It's often hard to tell in advance whether the question is answerable. Those questions are not among our best (in my opinion), but such questions can have value. It's too early for me to form a strong opinion on the matter.

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