When there is a question about the origin or meaning of an English word, the first suspect is Latin, or Greek by way of Latin. The second guess is French by dint of the Norman Invasion of 1066. The last choice is one of the more barbaric tribal languages such as our own Saxon roots and the even older Celtic roots. Since much of Latin has been adopted, for very practical purposes, I’m enclosing a list of some of the Greco-Latin elements and a brief description of how and why they are combined to make English words. Knowing how Greco-Latin elements are combined in English language is necessary for anyone needing to decode the many business and professional languages that rely on these polysyllabic constructs. While these Gr. L. elements are essential in many technical languages, they are components of many of the words which we use every day such as, professional, polysyllabic, comprehension, composite, egregious, and components. Reading comprehension is improved by becoming familiar with these elements of meaning. It is not possible to reliably encode or decode ideas to words, or words into their composite ideas without a guide to these sense elements. With a great memory it is possible to come close. The big however is that a very small error becomes egregious at this level.
While English acquired many of these elements of meaning in an (Italic) alphabetic format, it does not necessarily follow that we absorbed them into our language (English the Vulgate) in the alphabetic phonetic pattern. We may very well have absorbed them into our native language in its original (runic) ideographic format, as the sense is quite close to that of the phonetic form. In short, it is likely that Greek, Latin, Celtic, Teutonic, and Semitic languages all had an ideographic progenitor. That is the only way it makes sense to me that we could have such similarities between some of the Runic (sense) elements of English words and their Gr. L. counterparts, e.g. –ove / –ova, -ide / –id, and g-n,-ign / gn-
Some of the books that I have been reading suggest an ancient Mediterranean origin, possibly Crete-Minoan. I won’t presume to delve into that topic and mention it only because there is controversy about the origins of many words. There may be several origins for some elements as well as for some words; it would be most unlikely if there weren’t.
Why does it matter about the origins of words?
To my way of thinking, the main purpose for having some idea of the origins of words is that it gives an idea, a word picture of the meaning and sense of a word and an idea of how to spell it. For instance, when I see the AS. ‘ove’ I get the image of a covered or protected spot, with individual, personal nooks, kind of like the clove divisions in a head of garlic. It is a small, protected, fluid or changing space and is also the root or sense element in Gr. L for ‘egg’. Whenever a word has a particular element within it, it conveys a mental image, sometimes a physical image, sometimes a basic principle. Most languages have such things. For English to lack real meaning for words is very unlikely.
What practical purpose is served by learning Greek and Latin elements in English?
The most practical of the purposes is that knowledge of a few hundred elements of meaning gives us access to understanding the meanings of tens of thousands of words, particularly when we consider that Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and many other ‘Romance’ languages also contain these sense elements. Access to the building blocks of more words is access to higher education about everything, from trade schools to professional pursuits to international travel and international business and politics.
While I learned some of this infrastructure of language in ‘Orthography’ classes in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, this information appears to rarely be taught. While working on this Project, I think I have come across the reason that the subject has been omitted from the curriculum. I was rereading “Instant Vocabulary”, 1968, by Ida Ehrlich, a teacher. This is a book that I have recommended highly and have purchased multiple gift copies in order to ensure greater dissemination of the information. In looking at it with a mind now informed about the contributions of Runes, Ogham and the influence of multiple other symbol systems, I discovered that many of the facts in the book are spurious and that:
We do not have a clue about the origins of most of the sense elements of English.
I will now stipulate that to be so! And, I will add that not-knowing is not a legitimate reason for not teaching something. I can appreciate that educators do not want to teach flawed information. It feels a lot like telling a lie. It always has bothered me to present something as ‘being so’ when I did not believe it -or knew that it was patently untrue. There is a way around ignoring the information that we don’t know. Some of the things which most need teaching are the ‘what we don’t knows’. This is a way for a good mind, with an appetite for knowing, to find a personal passion on which to work.
In school, I often refused to answer a question when I was certain that the “correct answer” was wrong. That did not endear me to some of my teachers. I’m certain that I was not the only such student. In fact, I am certain that this resistance was a factor in the student rebellions of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies. Much that was valuable in a classical education had been, and was being, thrown out because it was not adapted for the times. When needed changes aren’t made, revolutions occur. Revolutions are a messy and destructive means of change. I, personally, stopped revolting and started challenging when I read some things by Will Durant. e.g.:
“Perhaps Truth is merely the common denominator of our delusions and certainty is an error with which all men agree.”
This quote is a clarion call to question, to think, to consider new possibilities. ‘Facts’ change every day. Sometimes those ‘facts’ become untrue or obsolete. And, sometimes they mutate, develop and ramify in multiple directions and become altered facts. Shorty used to remind me that: when she was a girl, an atom was the smallest part of anything, radios and telephones were new inventions which few people had, airplanes were rare, and television was an absurd impossibility. Few people had indoor plumbing. Running water was a luxury. I was in tenth grade when Sputnik was launched. All of this was less than one hundred years ago. We desperately need our past to give balance and perspective to the present and to our future.
All of these changes come about from language, from reading and thinking. We need a broad, well endowed language to bring great ideas into being, and we need to read to gain that knowledge. If one waits for a recording or a film we’re likely to get something filtered, diluted, censored. Some things will not even be available unless one digs through stacks at old libraries or finds a source of old research papers that didn’t get published. Most of what is available to us is what was profitable to publish or what is politically correct.
Reading can be tedious, laborious and often incomprehensible; it is a Rad Sport- literally.
Language has changed so much in the last fifty years that one needs good reading skills to understand the older text. This kind of reading skill comes from learning the skills of decoding words and grasping older forms of grammatical structure. Another major change in language has been the disappearance of most footnotes. Footnotes are the ‘breadcrumbs’ that mark the path back to the change-making books. These are the books that introduce new ideas, new ways of using words and new ways of thinking. These books are often challenging in their language, word choice, grammatical structure and their idea formation. There are many good grammar books; but, decoding books are scarce. I can’t help with the older books that have footnotes in Greek, Latin, French and German. For those, there may be a computer program. If there isn’t, there will be when someone makes the demand for a translator.
However, not all of these older books are ‘difficult’ for the same reasons. Sometimes the challenge is that they require an open mind and a flexible intellect. Sometimes they require setting aside our cherished opinions, prejudices, word choices and historical biases. The books may be thousands of years old or just a few years. Sometimes they are a rollicking good read- with layers beneath the surface. I include “Huckleberry Finn”, “Moll Flanders”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Heart of Darkness”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, and anything by Rudyard Kipling, in this ‘difficult ‘ category.
Much hidden knowledge is contained in old publications. It is not on the Internet.
There is one way to find it on the Internet. That is by shopping national and international bookstores, new and used, for the subject matter that interests you. This is how I got many of my out-of-print books. The first challenge is finding a few of the books of interest. The next step is to check the footnotes for their reference sources. That will lead to more books of interest. Then comes the job of reading what is sometimes obsolete language. Having learned to read for imagery in language is what helps to make archaic language accessible. I read about my diagnosis by obtaining a hundred and fifty year old book by Weir Mitchell, the doctor who first identified the problem. He wrote before there were antibiotics, anesthesia, sterile surgeries, ICUs; and, at a time when doctors saw the processes of healing or not-healing, when doctors walked through open wards of patients with open, exposed injuries. Some doctors were in the field during wars. Their ‘white coats’ were to protect their clothing, not their professional image. Many of them looked very closely and wrote lucidly.
Those people, who wrote before language became largely formulaic and sterile, wrote much differently. Their writing was not packed with terminology, slogans, hackneyed phrases, and organized like an insurance report: it actually detailed observations and experiences. Whether these people were doctors, soldiers, officers or field correspondents, they had a different education in the use of language. It was an experience of language up close and personal, not something dumbed down or diluted by the over-riding urgency of being paid for selling their writing. I find the text of most old books to be very engaging and alive. If we are going to bring a vigorous English into the Twenty-First Century, we are going to have to put some of this life back into it. Just think, we only have one word left to speak of ‘pain’. If we can make suffering that boring and tedious, pleasure doesn’t stand a chance.
If you want to avoid the sciences and older classics, read Pearl Buck, Lin Yutang, Frank Yerby, Winston Churchill, and Edgar Alan Poe’s humor and satire or his criticism. Literature is rife with living language, information and philosophy. As a girl, I read Poe for the pleasure of finding words that I had never before heard. (like ‘sincipital’ as opposed to ‘occipital’, the forehead as opposed to the base of the skull- each word referring to halves of the skull) Poe used such words for the sake of saying precisely what he meant to say. Since we live in such interesting times, we require language which is equal to the subjects. Sound-tracks and mood music are inadequate to the task.
The following is a small selection of prefixes, roots and suffixes- elements used in words with Greek and Latin influence.
This is a small selection taken from Ms. Ehrlich’s book. I do not agree with all of the meanings and I also do not agree that some of those that were listed as Greek or Latin, actually came to English from those languages. Since I have discovered the runic way of analysis, many of the Gr.L. words make more sense to me through runic decoding. I’m including these elements, at this particular time, as illustrations of some of what I have been referring to when I speak of decoding words.
pre- ‘before’ prefect, prepare, present, prelude, prerequisite, prejudice, preliminary
pro- ‘toward’ :proffer, prologue, professor, protect, promise, procreate, proclaim, proclivity
per- ‘through’ :perfect, perform, pertain, permit, perforce, permeate, pervade, perverse
(Having the sense of ‘through’, per- is also an intensifier, amplifying the sense)
a-, ab-, abs- ‘from, away’ :abuse, abduct, abstract, abscond, absent, abnegate, absolute, absolve
a-, ad- ‘to, toward’ :adduct, adduce, address, addendum, add, addition, addiction,
ante- ‘before (time or place) :antebellum, antediluvian, antedate, anteroom, antecubital
con- ‘with, together’ :contract, convict, concrete, concern, congress, conjugate, conform
de- ‘down, from, away’ :deduce, deduct, declare, declaim, destroy, denigrate, debauch
dis- ‘to take away, deprive of ‘ :disown, disgust, dislike, disgorge, disparage, disavow, disallow
dys- ‘difficult or painful’ :dyslexia, dystrophy, dysphagia, dysmenorrhea, dysfunction
ex- ‘out’ :exit, exegesis, extraneous, extreme, extrude, extricate, exclude, exception
un- ‘not’ :unhappy, unrepentant, unlike, uncaring, unbeknownst, unlikely, unfriendly
re- ‘back, again’ :reward, require, restrain, retire, retread, resist, repudiate, reputation, redo
il-, ir- ‘not’ :illogical, illegal, illiterate, illicit, irredeemable, irremediable, irreverent,
aud, aus ‘hear, listen’ :audible, auditory, auditorium, auscultate
cor, cord, cour ‘heart’ :cordial, courage, discordant, discourage, core*, encouragement
fic, fect ‘to make’ :affect, defect, perfect, artifice, artificial, infection, disaffect, effectual
lic, licit ‘permit’ :license, illicit, licentious, licensure, licentiate, licit, licentiousness
spec, spect ‘watch, observe’ :spectacle, specious, spectator, spectrum, spectral, spectacular
pri, prim ‘first ‘ :prime, primal, primary, primer, prime, primate, primeval, primarily,
ulti, ultim ‘last ‘ :ultimate, ultimatum, penultimate, ultimately, ultimacy
punct ‘point, dot ‘ :punctual, punctuation, punctilious, compunction, punctuality, puncture
luc, lom, lun, lus ‘light’ :lunatic, pellucid, lumen, luster, elucidate, translucent, luminary, lucid
-able ‘can do’ :capable, incapable, unable, disable, malleable, palpable, immovable
-AR, -er, -or ‘one who, that which’ :sailor, scholar, barber, carpenter, teacher, searcher
-an, -ian ‘native of, relating to’ : American, Haitian, Italian, Liberian, Russian
-oid ‘like, resembling’ ; asteroid, lipoid, spheroid, thyroid, fibroid, typhoid, paranoid
-ion, -sion, -tion ‘act of, state of, result of’ : diction, function, junction, limitation
A brief commentary:
Under ‘roots’ the word ‘core’ is related etymologically to heart. That connection is too tenuous; sound and spelling are not enough support and neither is being at the “core of the body”. The word element ‘ore’ from ora (meaning unwrought metal), seaweed or fine English wool, is a more accurate image. Core would then have the sense of a fine, basic, knowing ‘stuff ‘ at the central part of nature. That would include the ‘core’ of any living thing from people and animals to fruits and nuts. With the word element ‘ore’, that would include all of the aggregates in which we find workable metals and gemstones.
Under ‘suffixes’, the element -ion can also be viewed as a root in that it can stand alone as an ‘ion’, a charged particle, as well as the root of ‘prion’ and ‘scion’. Again, the sense of it remains intact whether viewed as Gr. L. or as English decoded runically.
Also under suffixes, the last entry regarding ‘light’ grabs my attention. I think the ‘lu’ comes from ‘luna’ the name for moon. Runically, ‘lu’ would have the sense of fluid or changing energy. That is a different kind of light than is represented by -ight. ‘Lu’ would be a more diffused, even reflected, radiance than ‘light’ which would have a more perpendicular radiance, like sunlight.
What purpose is served by belaboring the subject of word origins?
This way of analyzing the sense, and hence the meaning of our language, is a practical application of the poetry of our language. The symbol system within us, with which we express the images of our imagination, are sights, sounds, movements and rhythms that are shared by others. When we live among a people, we pick up the code patterns necessary to share our mental images with our fellows. Poetry is the name for these patterns of language.
The word ‘poetry’ begins with PEORTH (P) ODAL (Œ). Then (R) is transformation and (TH) is a definitive statement. Peorth is an adapting and growing within the boundaries of Fate, a kind of birthing process. Odal is about the arbitrary physical forces in nature, such as magnetism and electricity, ocean waves, daily tides, the mounding of hills and weather clouds, the sounding of sounds. These phenomena have a shape, a pattern and convey an image of rising and falling, of rhythmic motion. We have learned to use those sounds to express the images in our minds, the images that represent our ideation process. We make representational symbols from the sights, sounds, movements and rhythms that we perceive with our senses. One way that we express them is with an order that we call words. The rune WYN represents an active process of ‘joy’ and -ord is the sense element of ‘order’.
Of dreams, altered realities, demons, deities and bogeymen
I have been observing this process in the workings of my own mind since I was a small girl, yet have only recently found the way to express the process. Unless I am wired differently than other people (which I sincerely doubt) this is the way we make language. I am acutely aware of a thing which I call the screen of ideation. This screen has been called many names like ‘mental image’ and ‘mind’s eye’. We all have this means of perception. We visualize and hear with it, both in dreams and in waking states. A popular way of expressing this sleeping/waking dichotomy is conscious, unconscious and subconscious. Sometimes this part of us scares us half to death with its’ imagery because we take the vivid images literally instead of figuratively (poetically). We call them nightmares or hallucinations depending on whether we are awake, asleep or at an intermediate stage.
Our unconscious and subconscious are every bit as real as our conscious, waking selves. Sometimes they are more interesting and quite informative too. We get into difficulty with our altered states of consciousness when we fail to consider that we share a world with others. Those ‘others’ all have their various states of being and ways of thinking and speaking about those alternate states. We have to stipulate a reality and a language that is both intelligible to and comfortable for others, as well as for ourselves None of us see things exactly the same way any more than we speak exactly the same way.
Our reality and their “delusional” state may resemble one another. Our ‘greater good’ may be their idea of ‘evil’. Frequently, the conflict is not in the thing but in the words we use to speak of our reality. We do the same thing with ‘reality’ that we do with language. We mistake the name which we use for something, with the thing itself when, for example, we fight over ‘conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Communists’ or over God’s name or an image or picture of some holy person.
How do we avoid the fighting over conflicting realities?
When we define our words too precisely, we tend to whittle away all those things which are not precisely what we accept as the real thing, the acceptable limits. This places us in conflict with others. It is very important, some times, to define words precisely. When we make a specific contract for a particular purpose there are some words that do need to be defined and limited. We do have to be precise about what we expect and will accept. That is not the case when we are discussing anything. Discussion is a dynamic process and has to have flexible, symbolic language in order to open up the subject at issue and reach the sense of what we are talking about.
It helps to remember that nothing has to be ‘either/or’, ‘right or wrong’, ‘good or bad’, ‘holy or evil’ : these dueling, oppositional constructs are merely conventions of our language that we have got into the habit of using. Some things are ‘neither/nor’, ‘none of the above’ or ‘not applicable’. Some things are the ‘closest to right’ or ‘the least wrong’ of the available choices. And, one person’s idea of ‘heaven’ is another person’s vision of ‘hell’. We can’t let the conventions of our language take on the force of some universal law. We do have other poetic conventions in our language which help us to have civil discourse and to keep the peace. Some of these expressions are please, thank you and respectfully disagree. For more about our inner bogeymen see ‘the holy elf’ under the rune of GYFU.
To my mind, the arbitrary process of finding, within ourselves, the poetic sense elements of language and using them to express our ideas, is a prime example of an odylic force. The skills and techniques of poetry are how we translate our realities. It comes as naturally to us as breathing. We humans are all image makers. We all perceive the world about us and within us with our various senses. We then relate these perceptions to things which they somehow call to mind. Then we find a way to express these relationships in sounds, shapes, movements, melodies, rhythms, colors or whatever our mind produces. This is part of human nature which, like the rest of nature, expresses itself in its’ own önd way.
Even when religious rules of the new monotheistic religions forbade us to make graven images of any living thing, the people nevertheless found ways to make images. The Muslims made magnificent decorative imagery with their alphabetic symbols. They also expressed themselves in advanced mathmatics. We are all symbol makers. We all do it, although we each have variations in our visions, in our techniques and in what we want to express. These variations give depth and breadth to our common languages. I’m not inventing this. What I am doing is observing, organizing and expressing the process in order to make it more accessible. By making definitive statements I am laying a foundation upon which others can stand to either develop these ideas, or to take issue with them or possibly to present something better, more useful for making written and spoken language universally accessible.
I just used a sense element that I found in the A.S. Dictionary. The word is ‘ond’ and has the sense of ‘and’. Ond is additionally used as a sense element with the sense of ‘increase’, like a multiplication of ‘and’ which can go under ‘onder’ or off into the distance as ‘yonder’. That is what we do with our ideation and word formation.
Sinciput vs. occiput: Sinae pertains to the people of ancient China. Global division, now known as Orient/Occident, may have been Siniput/Occiput. We orient ourselves with our bodies in relation to (the) world. Interesting possibility.
“Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary” p. 125, 126 Auster, austral, austro- Auster is the “poetic” Latin name for a personification of the South Wind. Austral and austro- are Gr. L for south winds as well as the root for ‘austere’ meaning harsh, dry, restrained. It is the root of Australia and Austria.
These expressions have the sense of: Become at ease, Life to you, and Not received kindly. ‘Kindly’ pertains to ‘kin.
It is difficult to use words, just to be polite, when we don’t have a sense of their meaning. It feels fake. JOH
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- Judith has written (and re-written) the pages below, initially for a book and now for this website. These files are still under revision, and should not be treated as stable documents.