PLACING A TOPIC
Today, the word topic can refer to any kind of subject, whether in text or conversation, casual or formal. However, when it was first being used in English during the sixteenth century, the term had the more rhetorical sense of "a class of considerations from which arguments are drawn". This comes from Aristotle's book Topics (or Topica in Latin or Ta Topika in Greek), which was a work on logic explaining how to create arguments. Its name comes from the Ancient Greek word for "place", topos, because Aristotle described topics as "places from which arguments could be made". This is the same topos that shows up in words like topology, isotope, and dystopia; it has historically been very difficult to etymologize because it covered a broad range of meanings, but might be of pre-Greek origin.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.