late 14c., mutacioun, "action or process of changing," from Old French mutacion (13c.), and directly from Latin mutationem (nominative mutatio) "a changing, alteration, a turn for the worse," noun of action from past-participle stem of mutare "to change" (from PIE root *mei- (1) "to change, go, move"). The genetics sense "process whereby heritable changes in DNA arise" is from 1894. The linguist's i-mutation is attested from 1874; earlier was i-umlaut (1869), from German, for which mutation was Sweet's English substitute.
updated on March 27, 2019