Archive for the Category: Greek

Market places

Last week the origins of the word agora came up in conversation and I thought I’d find out more. An agora was a place of gathering or marketplace in Ancient Greece. It comes from the Ancient Greek ἀγείρω [ageirō] (I gather, collect), from the Proto-Indo-European *ger- (to assemble, gather together), which is the root of […]

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Sun dogs, billygoat’s eyes and halos

The other day I discovered the wonderful word sun dog, which refers to coloured patches of light that appear beside the sun at certain times, particularly when the sun is low in the sky. The scientific name for this phenomenon is a parhelion, from the παρήλιον (parēlion – beside the sun); from παρά (para – […]

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Knowledge and seeing

I discovered today that there is a connection between the Gaelic word for knowledge, information, news – fios in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, fys in Manx – and the English words video and wit. Their roots can all be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root woid-/wid- (to see/to know), which, according to the OED, is […]

Also posted in English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases 7 Comments

Water lilies, nymphs and blue lotuses

There was talk of ponds and water lilies last night at the French conversation group and I discovered that one French word for water lily is nymphéa [nɛ̃.fe.a], which comes from nymphaea the Latin name for this genus of plants. The Latin word comes from the Ancient Greek word νύμφη (nymphe), which means girl, and […]

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It’s very sticky

I discovered (via Inky Fool) an alternative word for tennis today – sphairistike [sfɛəˈrɪstɪkɪ], which sounds a bit like the phrase ‘it’s very sticky’. This was the name coined by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield (pictured right), who invented (lawn) tennis in 1873, and it comes from the Greek σϕαιριστική (sfairistiké), or ‘(skill) in playing at […]

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Archerien

An interesting word that came up in my Breton lesson today is archerien, which means police. It caught my attention because it has no obvious connection to the word police, and because it is completely different to the equivalent words in other Celtic languages: – Welsh: heddlu (“peace force”) – Cornish: kreslu (“peace host”) – […]

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Apocope

I learned a new word today – apocope [əˈpɒkəpiː], which is the loss of phonemes from the ends of words, particularly unstressed vowels. It comes from the Greek word ἀποκόπτω (apokoptein), which means ‘cutting off’ and comes from ἀπό (apo-), ‘away’ and κόπτω (koptein), ‘to cut’. Apocope is a mechanism which erodes some inflections and […]

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Cellar door words

The term cellar door has, according to J. R. R. Tolkien and a number of other writers, a particularly pleasing sound, even though its meaning isn’t anything special. An article in the New York Times discusses the origins of this idea, an example of phonaesthetics*, and cites a 1903 novel by Cyrus Lauron Hooper, Gee-Boy, […]

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Omphaloskepsis

Omphaloskepsis /ˈɒmfələʊˈskɛpsɪs/ is an interesting word I came across today that refers to the practice of contemplating one’s navel as an aid to meditation. It comes from the Ancient Greek ὀμϕαλός (omphalos – navel) and σκέψις (skepsis -inquiry). Apparently omphaloskepsis is used in yoga and sometimes in the Eastern Orthodox Church and it helps in […]

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Gendarmes et policiers

Yesterday there was some discussion of the police at the French Conversation Group – one of the members is a former policeman. We use the word policier, but later I remembered that another French word for policeman is gendarme, and it suddenly dawned on me that gendarme probably comes from gens d’armes (armed man). I […]

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