According to Etymonline, history comes from the same root as story. If they are from the same word, where does hi- come from? Is it just because of the English habit of taking names from other languages verbatim or is there something more to it?

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    This question is a tad backwards, because looking at the etymology, it's rather clear that it's not a prefix that was added to form "history", but rather a part of the word was lost to form "story". Why that happened, however, is not obvious, so it's still a fair question to ask. – RegDwigнt Dec 21 '12 at 23:20
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    Wait until we hear herstory. – Kris Dec 22 '12 at 7:37
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    @Kristory We deprecate constraining people to his/herstory on ELU. The consensus here is that theirstory is the natural expression. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 24 '12 at 23:22

If you look more closely you will see that the hi- was there originally, in Greek historia from which it was borrowed into Latin. The initial syllable was weakened and sometimes dropped in Late Latin, and reduced to e- in Old French, from which the word was borrowed into Middle English.

In ME it shows up as historie, istorie, estorie and histoire, all representing OF forms, probably influenced by Latin – for of course Latin was still a living written language of learning and scholarship. Alongside these a “native” version, with the initial syllable entirely dropped, began to show up; this appears as storie, stor, storri, with plurals stories, storise, storius, and storien.

All these forms were used indifferently for any narrative account, whether formal chronicle or patent romance. It was not until Early Modern English – the 16th century – that spellings and forms began to shake down– probably, again, influenced by the status of Latin as the principal language of learning – into the contrasting history = factual narrative and story = fictional narrative.

Note that to this day French histoire means both story and history – as does the corresponding term in German, Geschichte. I imagine this is true in many other European languages.

This simplified contrast is rightly challenged by Arlen Beiler and John Lawler: story embraces any narrative, not only fictional narratives, and the two terms have never completely separated. But by and large, history has come to mean the product of the academic discipline, while story has come to mean an engrossing narrative. OED 1 puts it rather neatly, I think, under Story 4 e [story of a life, institution, etc. ]:

Originally = HISTORY 4 b; but in modern use (from association with Sense 5) implying that the course of events referred to has the kind of interest which it is the aim of fiction to create.

I must also acknowledge that over the past two generations historiographers have grown skeptical of the Rankean eigentlich gewesen and are much more conscious of the element of mythopoesis in their work; so in a sense history is collapsing back into story.

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    Story = fictional narrative? According to Google, a story is an account of something (real, imagined, or false), whereas history is the events behind a story. War stories are history, but war history is not stories, it is hate, blood, and killing (with a few exceptions). – Arlen Beiler Dec 22 '12 at 0:04
  • Sorry, here's a link to the Google Dictionary. Story: goo.gl/60Nhl, History: goo.gl/uO8Nz – Arlen Beiler Dec 22 '12 at 0:11
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    Story means a narrative. Period. A bunch of utterances, mostly linked by "and then". History is a specialized version of the general story; they have different senses even though they come from the same root. But one can say the same for kind and gentle, or for skirt and shirt. Every word has a unique history. – John Lawler Dec 22 '12 at 0:17
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    @Kris Or ... History is the stories people believe. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 22 '12 at 7:54
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    @StoneyB It is an art and not a science. But it is more than "stories which people believe". A classic instance of that, in the news tonight, has been the Hillsborough inquiry (if you are familiar). The overwhelming public view, that the 96 Liverpool football fans died in (1989) as a result of hooligan activity was widely held in Britain, fuelled by tabloid newspaper headlines, and what is now known to have been a massive cover-up by the Sheffield police of their own inadequate crowd control measures. A public inquiry (using the sort of methods historians employ) has exposed the whole myth. – WS2 Jan 12 '17 at 18:43

In the grammar of the Greek language there are signs signifying either quantity or quality. These are two: the " Dhasia", which is pronounsed as the English letter "h" and the "psili". The word "istoria" -in Greek "ιστορία" takes Dhasia above the letter "I" and therefore is pronounced historia or history. An example: in the word Ellen (name) the letter "E" takes Dhasia and is pronounced Helen.

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  • This doesn't explain the "i" at all, and it only explains the "h" from the perspective of the Greek spelling system, which doesn't seem to be what the questioner was looking for. – herisson Jun 21 '16 at 9:21

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