Etymology of Physics

Physics, according to Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory (what? he’s a reliable source), comes from the ancient Greek word physika. According to the best character on all of T.V., physika means the science of natural things. That’s where this entire story begins—in ancient Greece.

Any good old random dictionary will tell you that physics is a branch of science that deals with energy and matter.


Physics is a term coined in the 1580s. The word comes from the Ancient Greek φυσικός, or phusikos, which means natural. Also, the Greek ta physika means natural things. Phusikos is a combination of the words phusis (φύσις) and ikos (ικός‎).

Phusis means nature. Ikos is a suffix that is used to form adjectives; it means pertaining to.

Physics, therefore, is the science of nature, or natural science.

Physics in Other Languages

Albanian: fizikë

Basque: fisika

Bosnian: fizika

Catalan: física

Croatian: fizika

Danish: fysik

Dutch: fysica

French: physique

Galician: física

German: Physik

Hungarian: fizika

Irish: fisic

Italian: fisica

Norwegian: fysikk

Polish: fizyka

Portuguese: física

Spanish: física

Swedish: fysik

Welsh: ffiseg


Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.

de Vaan, Michiel. Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Brill, 2008.

Durkin, Philip. The Oxford Guide To Etymology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.,. “Physics – Online Etymology Dictionary“. N.p., 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.

Murray, John. An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. 1921.

Wedgwood, Hensleigh. A Dictionary of English Etymology, Volume 2. London, 1862.