I just got a whole slew of word requests, so I'm just going to crunch them out in the next few posts. The word agnostic was first coined in 1870 by the grandfather of novelist Aldous Huxley, Thomas Huxley, who was quite active in the Darwinist debates of the day. Slow to accept the idea of evolution but disinclined to reject it, Huxley created agnosticism to describe that limbo of unknowing. Over time, as use of the term grew, it became more applied to religion than anything else, and now is almost exclusive used in reference to people who will neither believe nor disbelieve in God (as opposed to atheism, the disbelief). It is evident that Huxley used the prefix a- in agnostic, meaning "not"(and pretty common throughout all languages), and the root Gnostic, an Ancient Greek word meaning "having knowledge". So, "not having knowledge". Makes sense, considering the current definition. Gnostic eventually traces back to gignoskein, meaning "to learn", and that comes from Proto-Indo-European gno, or "to know".
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.