The U.S. Copyright Office has a very good page for describing the
basics of what is, and is not available for Copyright
That link will take you to the section of one of the pages which
describes what is "Not" available for copyright, and the etymology
section of a dictionary could fall under this rule set.
can't use anything without their express permission.
Instead of trying to walk the tight-rope here and hoping to dodge a
law-suit or go un-noticed, I would suggest using a public domain
source. There are dictionary versions which are now in the public
domain, which you can use, and are available on the Internet.
For example, The Gutenberg Project has the Webster's Dictionary
And of course there is the Wiktionary Project
The content of Wiktionary is covered by the GNU Free Documentation
License; And you can see a copy of their copyright license on this
Both of these would be a much safer source, and citing these in your
booklet would keep anyone from the question of whether or not to send
their lawyers after you.
As far as the phrases you were talking about, ... yeah... that is
pushing it, as those phrases were created by someone for examples, and
copying them directly would be a copyright violation. They don't fall
anywhere near the list of things which would not be copyright
When you are looking at the etymology of a word, you are looking at
something that has been in public domain for several decades. The
etymology phrase could be seen as "public knowledge" and it is also
something that hasn't changed. Descriptive phrases are definitely
something that falls under the category of creative design. A good
example is the books for Dummy's (Computer's for Dummies, Cooking for
Dummies). These books don't provide information which can not be
obtained from several other sources, but they do provide an original
means of description for the information. The usage phrases are
exactly that sort of thing, and took a professional writer time and
effort to come up with, and add value to the dictionary they are on
(or take away from value if they are not effective for the reader).
Copyright laws are based on the idea of value, and what effects value
of a body of work. Hundreds of papers can be written on the same
subject, all of then producing the same set of facts, but the value of
the papers come from the various means of description (or confusion as
the case may be).
For more information on the Copyright Laws you can see the Wikipedia page at: