How were subject names decided and why?



I'm not sure if this question is okay to be posted to, as I don't know if it is obvious for native speakers or not, that:

physics and mathematics both ends with '-ics', while sociology and psychology end with '-logy'.

definition from

-logy: a combining form used in the names of sciences or bodies of knowledge;

-ics: a suffix of nouns that denote a body of facts, knowledge, principles, etc.

My current conclusion is that '-ics' is for subjects that involve more practical works, whereas '-logy' is for those who deal with theoretical knowledges.

But 'biology', seemingly, doesn't fit in my conclusion.

Aaron Drake

Posted 2015-08-29T14:50:55.423

Reputation: 193

2Since the use of -logia and -ika (which eventually turned into -logy and -ics) goes back to Ancient Greek, ELL perhaps is not the best place to ask about the differences, but I am not sure which place I'd recommend, either. – Victor Bazarov – 2015-08-29T16:25:38.187

Note that cinematics, cinematology, and cinematography all seem to mean the same thing. Also note some curious pairs such as physics, physiology, phonetics, phonology, etc. – Damkerng T. – 2015-08-29T16:48:07.530

1I think that is a useful observation of a general trend (also consider -nomy, which suggests quantitative study, and -graphy, which suggests writing and recording), but many subject names are historical choices and do not really fit into the patterns. (Additional "curious pairs": astrology / astronomy; ecology / economy / economics) – Wim Lewis – 2015-08-29T19:14:32.127

I think this is a good question for ELU. – Dog Lover – 2015-08-30T07:01:03.680

@DogLover Maybe you could flag it for migration. – snailplane – 2015-09-30T07:47:28.693



One of the problems with this situation is that English simply does not have rules addressing what you seek to (empirically) define.

English is wrought with so many exceptions that the only way to understand the correct form is through experience.


Posted 2015-08-29T14:50:55.423

Reputation: 852


When discussing this question, you might find it helpful to search for lists of academic disciplines and fields of knowledge. For example, Wikipedia has a nice list.

Tom Hundt

Posted 2015-08-29T14:50:55.423

Reputation: 224


There is no system in the names of scientific disciplines and it is futile to try to find a system.


Posted 2015-08-29T14:50:55.423

Reputation: 8 304