Ancient Greek words have had a profound influence on the evolution of the English language. English did not exist as a living language during the ancient Greek period but adopted Greek words through Hebrew, Latin and Arabic. Consequently, one in four words in English is of Greek origin, according to research by lexicographer Aristidis Konstantinidis. The language of ancient Greece has provided the foundation of international scientific concepts and still remains the language of science. Mathematical concepts are expressed through the Greek alphabet.
Anastomosis is the connection and merger or coalescence of two structures to produce a network. These structures could be vein branches on a leaf, blood vessel branches or river channel meanders. It derives from the Greek word of the same spelling in transliteration – “anastomosis” – that is a product of “ana,” meaning “mouth” or “opening,” and “stoma,” meaning “stomach.”
The Burden of Atlas
In the English language, an atlas is a collection of maps. The word derives from Greek mythology where "Atlas" means “Bearer of the Heavens.” Atlas, the son of Iapetus and Clymene was the scion of the Titans, a race of giants, who revolted against the Olympian gods. In punishment, Zeus, the king of the gods, condemned Atlas to carry the world on his shoulders forever. Atlas was also believed to be king of the mythical Atlantis, the “Land of Atlas.”
The Science of Geology
“Geo” is the Greek word for “earth.” The suffix “logy” comes from the Greek word “logia,” meaning “speaking.” or “log.” meaning “word.” However, the use of this suffix in English has evolved to mean “the study” or the “science” of any discipline. The combination of “geo” and “ology” gives the English for the study of the Earth.
The ancient Greeks discovered electricity as well as providing a name for it. In 600 B.C., the philosopher Thales, who came from Miletus on the western coast of modern Turkey, discovered that if amber is rubbed on fur, it will attract objects like hair and even produce sparks. According to modern science, electron movement creates electricity. The word, “electron” originates from the Greek for “amber,” itself deriving from the word “elek,” meaning “shine.”
The Origin of Genesis
“Genesis” is a word that is both the Greek for the first book of the Bible and the origin, formation or creation of anything living or inanimate. It derives from the Greek verb “gignesthai” that means ”to be born” or “to become.” Words such as “gene” and “genealogy” that have the “gen” prefix refer to the origin or beginning of something.
The word “laconic” describes terse or concise speech. It derives from the city of Laconia, a region in ancient Greece that included the city-state of Sparta. Spartans famously lacked pomposity and employed a dry wit.
“Philosophy” is an English word that comes from the Greek “philosophia,” which means a “love of wisdom.” It is the combination of “philo,” meaning “loving,” and “sophia,” meaning "wisdom." However, the meaning of “sophia” in Greece was broader. It referred to situations where wisdom and intelligence could be exercised whether in business, crafts or politics. It also implied a love of discovery and curiosity.
Taking a Photograph
The English word “photograph” is another combination of two Greek words: “photo” or “phos,” meaning “light,” and “graph,” meaning “write,” “draw,” or “record.” The product is an image record.
Devising a Strategy
“Strategy” is a plan devised by a team leader to achieve a particular goal. It originates from the Greek “strategia,” meaning “command” or “office of general.” This word in turn derives from “strategos,” meaning “army commander” or “general.”
“Telescope,” the English word for the modern instrument used in observing the heavens, is a combination of two Greek words: “tele,” meaning “far away” or “distant,” and “skopos,” meaning “target” of the “object of attention.” The word describes exactly what the instrument does. “Micro” meaning “small” is used in the same fashion in “microscope” to describe an instrument for observing small things.
- Bokor Language Service: Words of Greek Origin
- Merriam Webster Dictionary: Anastomosis
- Encyclopedia Mythica: Atlas
- Austin Independent School District: Greek and Latin Roots for Grades 2-8
- Abarim Publications: Meaning and Etymology of the Word Genesis
- Urban Dictionary: Laconic
- Philosophical Society: What Philosophy Is
- Online Etymology Dictionary: Strategy
Based in London, Maria Kielmas worked in earthquake engineering and international petroleum exploration before entering journalism in 1986. She has written for the "Financial Times," "Barron's," "Christian Science Monitor," and "Rheinischer Merkur" as well as specialist publications on the energy and financial industries and the European, Middle Eastern, African, Asian and Latin American regions. She has a Bachelor of Science in physics and geology from Manchester University and a Master of Science in marine geotechnics from the University of Wales School of Ocean Sciences.