Latin & Greek Roots

ago    ambulo    angulus    ardeo    aster    audio    augeo    battuo    cado    caedo    calx    cano    capio    caput    cauda    cor    corpus    costa    dens    domus    duco    frango     gradior    Greek Roots    haereo     jacio     ludo    mordeo    nox    os    pectus    pes    pono    rumpo    sanus    scribo    seco     Study Hints     suadeo    taceo    tendo    torqueo    traho    vaco    verto    vinco    voco

Ago, agere is an all-purpose verb, used in many common expressions in Latin, such as to 'give thanks'. It has a basic meaning of to move (ahead); set in motion, be active in doing something and perhaps making a change. It suggests pushing or thrusting forward, being motivated to do something,or doing what needs to be done, doing the business because it has to be done.  It also suggests busy-ness. English words derived from Latin ago come from the present tense and the past participle:

Present tense  Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I act)
(to act)
(I acted)

an agent -ent = one who
agency -cy = activity of; place of work
agenda -a = things (to be done)
agile adjective
agility -ity = state of (being); noun ending
agitate -ate = verbal ending
agitation -ion = state of (being)
an agitator -or = that which, one who
to cogitate Latin co, com = with; agito = agitate
cogitation co + agitare = move around
cogitative  adjective
agony noun
to agonize or agonise (two possible spellings)
to antagonize -ize or -ise = to make,become
an antagonist ant(i) = against; -ist = one who
antagonistic -ic = adjectival ending
antagonism -ism = noun ending = state of
protagonist Greek proto = first, leading
cogent, co- = with, together + agent = driving
cogency  Latin cogere = to compel
to coagulate -ate = make ago = drive  
coagulation co = together; -ion = process of

to navigate   navis = a ship  + agere = to drive
navigable  e.g. waters
a navigator
a navvy = type of labourer (abbreviation of navigator)

a pedagogue  Greek agogus = guide; paidos = of a child
pedagogy noun
a demagogue  Greek agogus = leading; demos = people
a synagogue  Greek sun = with, together
a prodigy Latin prod for pro = forth, in front of
prodigal  applies mainly to use of money
prodigious  -ious = full of
ambiguous  ambi = both ways
ambiguity   -ity = noun ending

an act = something done, a deed
to act
actor -or = one who
actress -ess = feminine ending
action -ion = process of
active -ive = adjectival ending
activity -ity = noun ending
to activate -ate = to make
actual  -al = adjectival ending
actually  -ly = adverbial ending
actuality, especially, 'in actuality'
to actuate  -ate = to make
an actuary  -ary = one who

exigent  adjective meaning urgent; ex = out of
exigency (also exigence) = a pressing need
to examine  ex = out of
an exam, examination
an examiner -er = one who (examines)
an examinee -ee = one who (is examined)
intransigent adjective in = not
intransigence trans = over, on one's side

a stratagem noun
strategy Greek stratos = army
strategic -ic =adjectival ending
a strategist  -ist = one who

agriculture Latin cultura =cultivation of + agri = fields
agricultural  -al = adjectival ending
agrarian  adjective, e.g. agrarian laws
acre = a measurement of land

to exact ex = out of
exact adjective

to redact re = back, again
redaction act = moved
to transact = do (business)
transaction trans = over, across, through

Remember to choose a word you know and look at words like it and any notes about it.   Then choose a word you don't know and see what you can find out about it.

The majority of words here seem to come from the present tense and the -e of the infinitive shows up in some words.   Agent, agency and agenda have this -e plus the -en ending of the present participle, the -ing word.  So an agent is one who is acting on behalf of another; he or she may be finding them property or work, and be motivated by a commission or payment.  

Agility, the ability to perform some action, is now used only of speed of movement, ability in climbing, or mental ability. Agitate comes from agitare, the frequentative of ago which suggests repeated motion. One can agitate water. Figuratively, one can agitate for reform, and when our feelings and ideas are stirred up, our agitation is mental. To cogitate has the idea of thinking things over as if thoughts are being slowly set in motion in the mind. It suggests we're moving (ideas) around with other ideas and thus pondering over them.

Through the Greek and Latin agon, meaning a contest or struggle, come English agony, angonistic, and agonize. Perhaps the basic meaning of these words is being driven by the desire to win and feel good as well as to be released from embarrassment or other painful feelings. Agony can suggest severe physical or mental pain while we agonise over what decision to make, or we give agonised looks. 

Add the prefix anti- or ant- meaning against before ago and we get antagonistic suggesting that we are moving against someone and perhaps their plans.    The protagonist in a performance or play is the first or leading character.

Cogent reasons have such a driving force that they may even lead or compel an opponent to agree with one. Quite different is coagulation, which is the process of pushing or driving (elements) together so as to turn a fluid into a thickened or semisolid (solidified) state - as one does in making gravy. Rennet is a substance used to help milk thicken and curdle.

Pedagogues were originally slaves, mostly Greek, who supervised and guided the sons of the Roman upper class.The word later came to mean a teacher so that pedagogy means instruction, even the science of teaching. A demagogue leads the people or a section of the people. He may stir up the masses with shrewd speeches. A synagogue is a term specific to the Jewish people.  It is literally a place where Jews are brought together for worship. I understand there must be ten men before a synagogue can be formed. Notice the - y which shows the word is of Greek origin and the -ag from Latin ago in the second syllable.

A child prodigy leads forth or in front of children of their own age in some aspect of knowledge or skill. Mozart was a child prodigy composing music at three years of age.   The parable of 'The Prodigal Son' (See St Luke's gospel, chapter 15:11-32),of the son who went off and wasted all his money, is well known. The word prodigal has the idea of casting all one's money before one, throwing it around, like a spendthrift so that there is nothing saved. This word relates mainly to money so has a fairly narrow application.    The adjective prodigious contains a similar idea but is wider in application.  When we make a prodigious effort, we thrust all our energy forward and into it; thus it becomes a very great effort indeed.   An ambiguous statement is capable of different meanings and so is unclear; it has a similar meaning to that of equivocal (See Vocabulary and voco in Latin Roots).

The words exigent, exigency and exigence suggest situations demanding urgent attention, such as when one has run out of money. The idea seems to be that one must act, even get cracking and do something in order to get oneself out of a desperate situation. Exigere in Latin also has the idea of weighing accurately or being exact.  These three words are not as common as words related to exam, which also comes originally from ex- and Latin ago, which gave rise to the noun exagimen, which then became examen, examinis, and eventually examine. Perhaps the motivation to pass exams gives us the thrust to bring forth out of us what we know. Surely that is the aim of exams, to bring out what the examinee knows and find out the true condition of their knowledge. 

Intransigence suggests being stubborn and uncompromising, of not acting on the side of or in agreement with another, but making a thrust against them. It apparently comes through Spanish, being the name of an extreme political party, los intransigentes, in Cortes,1873-74.

The words made up of stratos and agere are linked to leading an army or being an army leader.   In earlier days the general would probably plan the army's movements. Today strategists are no doubt employed to help with this task and their success may depend on how cunning their stratagems are.

It is thought that the root ago (act, drive, lead, do) lies behind the Greek and Latin words for a field (Greek = agros, Latin = ager, agris (plural).    The idea is that the earlier meaning was “a pasture and originally a hunting ground or wild area, untenanted and open...” (See Chambers Etymological Dictionary).   Maybe a hunting drive was once conducted through this area to kill wild animals for food, but when men began to farm they drove or led cattle on to their land or fields, and began to till or deal with the land so as to grow crops.  
Similarly with the words acre and acreage though the g of ago has changed into a c, possibly due to the influence of Old English aecer

Act and action, derived from the past participle, are used in many contexts, just as ago is in Latin. An act suggests something done while action has more the idea of how the action is done. However, they do overlap at times. The adjective actual means real and existing. One knows that what it is applied to has been done. However, both actual and actually are used to fill out speech and thus can be meaningless. To actuate has the idea of getting a machine or person going while an actuary is a clerk, usually in insurance, who works out rates and risks. In days when few people could read or write, everything that was done must have revolved round such a clerk. 

Redaction is specific to the publishing industry and refers to preparing a book for publication.  It is as if one goes back over the book again, moving back through it.   On the other hand, the word transaction has a wider application in the business world where deals are done.

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Ambulo = I walk along at an easy pace

Ambulo has the idea of walking or going backwards and forwards. It is made up of the Latin verb eo or io meaning ‘I go’, and the prefix amb- meaning ‘round about’. So ambio means ‘walking round about’ or at an easy pace.

to amble
an ambulance noun
an ambulant present participle used as noun
a pram short for perambulator
a preamble noun

ambulatory an adjective
perambulator noun
noctambulous Latin nocte = by night
a noctambulant present participle used as noun
noctambulism noun
somnambulism Latin somnus = sleep
a somnambulant -ant = one who
somnambulance noun
somnambulation noun

To amble suggests walking at an easy pace, perhaps strolling or sauntering.

The ambulant are those who can walk. The -ant ending indicates the present participle so ambulant literally means the walking or walking. I guess an ambulance was originally four people who carried a patient to the doctor or hospital. Now, of course, we have specially fitted-out vehicles for this purpose

An ambulatory patient is one who can walk and is not bed-ridden. Ambulatory services are for out-patients, i.e. those who can walk.

Pram is short for perambulator, the small truck-like vehicle one can wheel one's baby around in at an easy pace.

A preamble is slightly different in that it is usually part of a written leaflet or document. The preamble introduces one to the main subject or outline of it. It may give an overview of a piece of entertainment or the purposes of a constitution, pact or speech. It has been said that it eases one into the more meaty stuff.

Noctambulism, somnambulism , and perhaps less often, somnambulance and somnambulation, are all technical words for sleep-walking. The noctambulant and the somnambulant are present partciples referrng to those who sleep-walk, while ambulatory activity refers to sleep-walking or moving as if one is sleep-walking.

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Angulus = an angle or corner

This Latin word is related to the Greek noun ankos meaning a bend or valley. It is also related to the Greek adjective angylos meaning crooked or curved. Although these words come into English through languages like Middle English or old French, they are basically linked by the idea of being bent or curved, as suggested by Greek or Latin, and before them Sanskrit, still spoken in some parts of India today, and which is considered one of the oldest languages in the world. It also seems to be the root source of many Western languages like Greek and Latin.

an angle
an angler
to angle
an anchor
the ankle

An angle describes the bend between two lines, and in mathematics there are many kinds of angle. Perhaps the most well known is the right angle. Figuratively, one can look at a suggestion from every possible angle or viewpoint. There is another figurative use of the word angle, in that one may angle for sympathy, for an invitation or an increase in pay. This means one does not ask directly for what one wants but indicates what one would like by indirect means. One simply hints at one’s desire.

An angler tries to secure his fish with a hook, which by its very nature has a bend in it.

An anchor is essentially a piece of heavy metal connected to a ship by a chain in order to secure the ship and prevent it from moving. The shape of an anchor is well known and can be viewed on the Images section of the InterNet under anchor. There are many different types of anchor but the commonest design seems to be that of a metal shank with a heavy bar or hooked arms at its base which dig into the sea bed and hold the boat down. Technically, it might be described as a metal shank with a pair of curved, barbed flukes at one end.

And if you look down at your foot you will see that the ankle represents the bend between the foot and the leg.

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Latin ardeo = I burn

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I burn)
(to burn)
(I burned)

Ardeo gives a few words only. They are

ardent adjective
arid adjective

arson noun
arsonist -ist = one who
ash noun
ashen adjective
an azalea noun

The adjective ardent suggests burning with passion. We speak of ardent lovers and ardent supporters. These people are very passionate and enthusiastic; they are filled with intense feelings.

Arid is an adjective meaning dry or parched, as by fire.

Arson is the crime of deliberately setting fire to a building in order to burn it down. Dry grassland can also be the victim of an arsonist.

Ash is what is left after burning.

Ashen is an adjective meaning the colour of ashes. It is often used of one’s face, which goes deathly pale after a shock. The actual colour is hard to describe. Some people call it a pale gray but I understand it belongs to the green colour and is a mixture of brown and orange. Check the colour on the InterNet.

From a related Greek word comes the noun azalea, the name of a flowering shrub, said to thrive in well-drained sandy soil. The azalea belongs to the rhododendron family and plants have flowers of many different colours.

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Greek aster = a constellation or star 

Ancient languages were mainly based on verbs, but sometimes the connection between the verb and the noun formed from it is lost and so it is easier to connect the English derivative with the Greek or Latin noun. This is the case with the Greek and Latin words for star. Aster is the Greek word for star and asteros means 'of a star'. (The Greek letters are transliterated into English to make it easier to read). The Latin equivalents for 'star' and 'of a star' are aster and astris. The genitive, which means of a star, is important because many English words come from it and it influences English spelling greatly.

The following words are connected with astronomy (the sun, moon, stars, planets, etc):

Latin aster = a star

aster = a flower (with star-shaped petals)
an asterisk * = a starlike sign used in printing
disaster  dis- = away from, against

an asteroid
astris = of a star

disastrous adjective -ous = full of
astronomy Greek nomos = law, study
astronomer -er = one who
astronomic, astronomical (adjectives)
astronaut Latin nauta = a sailor
astrology Latin logos = word, study
an astrologer -er = one who
astrological -al = adjectival ending
astrophysics Greek physis = nature
astral -al = adjectival ending

Long ago people believed the stars controlled their lives. If people went against them or tried to throw off their influence, it was thought some evil or disaster would befall them and their lives were said to be ill-starred. Astrology relates the stars to human beings and astrologers plot the position of the stars at the time of birth and suggest what influence this may have on a person's life. Astronomy, on the other hand, is the study of the stars, sun, and moon, to find out their size, composition, movement, etc. Asteroids are small stars or objects circling the sun. Astronauts sail among the stars and the adjective astral means connected with the stars. Some people talk of astral travel, travel done when out of their body, as in sleep perhaps.

In Latin there is another word for a star, which is stella.  It is probable that the Latin words aster and stella both come from the Greek verbs steridzo or stereo which mean to establish or set in a certain position or direction. The letter a on the beginning of a Greek noun means no, not, so the a of aster may suggest that some stars at least were not fixed in position.  On the other hand, the a may be a sign of the past tense so it may mean they were spread out across the sky. I understand that the letters r and l were vowels in ancient languages and also that they often change places so that -ster and stel- could easily come from the same root:
Latin stella = a star.  It gives us constellation: con = with, together  
So a constellation is a group of stars, like the Southern Cross.

Other words connected with the stars and astronomy are:
planet from Greek planeta = a wanderer.   It seems planets were originally seen as different from fixed stars as they could be seen moving around other stars.
planetary e.g. planetary influences     -ary = adjectival ending meaning related to.
  -ium = noun ending which can mean a place where
a meteor  Greek meta = with or changing position; eor = risen, on high, and so a falling or shooting star, or fire ball on the move
a meteorite  =  a fallen meteor     -ite = noun ending suggesting connected with
meteorology  Greek logos = studymeteoros  = on high, and so weather conditions
a meteorologist  -ist = one who
a meteorological report    -al  = adjectival ending  meaning connected with
meteoric  -ic = adjectival ending.   The adjectives meteoric, astronomic, and stellar are all used of people who rapidly rise to fame or stardom.
atmosphere  Greek atmos = vapour and sphaira or sphera = globe, ball, sphere
      The word refers to the gases round the earth and also to the condition of the air in a particular place, which might be stuffy, cold, or even tense.
atmospheric conditions are the business of meteorologists.
a comet  Greek kometes = long-haired, i.e. a star with light trailing after it like strands of hair.   The c in comet is hard and pronounced like a k.
galaxy  Greek galaktos = milk, i.e. a cluster of stars and, in particular, the Milky Way.  
      We also speak figuratively of a galaxy of beauties or talent.
galactic:  adjective meaning related to a galaxy or the galaxies.   The Greek galaktos also gives us words related to milk, like lactic acid, found in milk, and lactose,       which is milk sugar.   To lactate is to produce milk through mammary glands.

The English for sun and moon come from Old English, as does the word month, which is related to the word moon. The Latin for moon is luna and from it comes the adjective lunar, meaning related to the moon or crescent-shaped.  So we find
lunar months, cycles, quarters, phases.
      In the 14th century the idea developed that the moon affected people's mental states, and periods of insanity were blamed on phases of the moon. 
      This theory is largely discredited today, but we still speak of people being moonstruck, and the words lunacy and lunatic are still in the English language.
lunacy -acy = a noun ending
lunatic adjective and noun 
      The opposite of lunacy might be sanity from the Latin sanus = healthy and now narrowed down in English to mean health of
. Thus we find
sane adjective    
insane in = not
sanity -ity = a noun ending
insanity in = not


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 Audio = I hear

The Latin verb audire = to hear comes from auis-d-ire, where auis = ear. In turn the Latin for ear comes from the Greek word for ear, which is ous, otos. Most English words which are derived from audio come from the present tense or the past participle, as you can see from the lists below:

Present tense  Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I hear)
(to hear)
(I heard)
(heard from 'I have heard')

audio noun and adjective
audiovisual Latin visum = seen
audible -ible = able to be
inaudible -in = not
an audience -ence = a noun ending
audiology Greek logos = study of
aural adjective from Latin auris or ausis = the ear

an audition
to audit
an auditor
an auditorium -ium = place where
auditory perception

The audio of a movie may be poor - it may be muffled or too quiet at times, but what is audible can be heard.

Actors undergo auditions so that directors of plays can hear and see what they can do.

An auditorium is usually a large hall where speeches, lectures, and concerts can be heard. A similar word is theatre, a place where films, etc, are shown. This word comes from Greek thea = show.

An audience listens to a concert or lecture, etc. No doubt the performers or lecturers are seen, but the emphasis is on hearing probably because many people could not read or write over a century or so ago. You may have an audience with a king or queen; you will be in the presence of royalty and words will be spoken. Again, in the words audit and auditor, the emphasis is on hearing because auditing was done before the time when people kept books. Hence, the king's officials would question tax payers about their business dealings and exact taxes owed. It was all done verbally. However, in an audiovisual presentation there is something to hear and something to see. The adjective visual comes from the Latin verb video, videre, visi, visum = to see. Video (I see) is found in video recorder.

Audiology is the study or science of hearing, while the adjectives auditory and aural are both concerned with the sense of hearing. Aural tests are designed to show how well the ears are hearing while auditory perception or imperception suggests the ability or otherwise of the ear to pick up sounds. Both have fairly specialised and limited uses. They contrast with the adjective oral, from the Latin oro, orare = to speak, beg, and/or the noun os, oris = the mouth. So oral relates to the mouth and the spoken word. Oral traditions come down by word of mouth and oral history is recorded on magnetic tapes or CDs. Oral hygiene relates to the mouth, teeth and gums.

Another Latin verb which comes from the Latin for ear is obedire (ob + oedire). The idea is that you not only hear a command but put it into operation, i.e. you hear and do, or hear and meet the request. Thus you obey. Here is the Latin verb for to obey, and some English words which come from it:

Present tense  Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I obey)
(to obey)
(I obeyed)
(obeyed from ‘I have obeyed’)

to obey
obedience -ence = noun ending
obedient adjective

obeisance -ance = noun ending

The d seems to have been lost from the short form obey, but appears in obedient and obedience. If you have an audience with a king or queen, you will no doubt make obeisance to the royal person by curtseying or bowing.

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Augeo = I cause to grow or increase

Augeo suggests causing to increase or grow rather than simply increasing.   This is because man was considered incapable of growing or increasing anything, since he could plant seeds and make conditions favourable for their growth, but form seeds or make them grow, he could not.

Here we also have one word (auxiliary) that comes from the past tense, whereas most English words are derived from the present tense or past participle:

Present tense  Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle

(I increase)

to increase

I increased


to augment
augur  noun and verb    
augury  -y = work of (noun ending)
inaugural  adjective, e.g. meeting, speech
an inauguration  in = into    noun

August  8th month of Western calendar
august adjective


an auction
an auctioneer  -eer = one who

an author, originally, auctor
authoress  -ess = feminine ending
authorship -ship = noun ending
authority noun
to authorize or authorise
Authorised Version of the Bible
authoritative adjective
authoritarian  adjective


To augment is to cause to increase what one already has, in number, size, or even strength. One may (cause to) increase one’s income by taking a second job; one’s family by adopting a child; one’s flock of sheep by buying more lambs.  

An auction is a sale where ever-increasing amounts of money are offered for the goods until the highest price is reached.   The auctioneer manages the sale by calling for higher and higher bids.

Auxiliary suggests helping, supporting, and thus, secondary, e.g. an auxiliary engine, carried in case the main engine breaks down.  Hospitals and factories may have auxiliary generators which increase their ability to keep operating in the event of power cuts.

Augury was practised in ancient Rome from about 509 BC – 476 AD.   The idea was to find the will of their many gods, mainly by watching the flights of birds or inspecting the entrails of animals.   This was the duty of special priests called augurs.   If the signs were favourable, events went ahead, but if an animal was found to be imperfect, then an event might be postponed.   Where a puppy seems contented, easy to train and does not snap or bite, one may consider it augurs well for its future with a new owner, because it will probably grow into a good-natured dog.   The idea is that past situations predict the future or increase their likelihood. 

In Act II Scene ii of Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Julius Caesar’ after a stormy night, Caesar tells how his wife, Calpurnia, had dreamed that his statue spouted blood and how she had called out three times in her sleep, “Help, ho! They murder Caesar!”    He instructs his servant to command the priests to perform an animal sacrifice.   Then Calpurnia enters describing the strange events of the wild night as told by a watchman and insisting Caesar stay at home that day.    Then comes news that the priest could find no heart in the sacrificed animal.  The omens all seem bad till Caesar’s enemies persuade him otherwise and the prideful leader sets forth.   Thus to augur means to predict by means of augury, that is, by signs or omens.   It might also be argued that augury caused one’s information to increase as to whether it was wise to go ahead with plans or not.                                                                            

An inauguration usually refers to the ceremony of admitting someone into an office, usually an important public office like that of a president.  It was originally done after auguries were taken and the signs were found to be favourable.   It is usually a formal occasion with an inaugural speech by the new officer.  Once the person has taken up the position, their power is increased.    One may also speak of inaugurating a building - opening it with ceremony.    This is similar to the inaugural meeting of a society, which is its first meeting.

August, the eighth month of the Western calendar, was named after Augustus Caesar, the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar.   These two Roman rulers insisted on their names being inserted into the Roman calendar, which was slightly modified by Pope Gregory in 1582 and was gradually adopted by the Western world.   Thus we have July and August.   Originally, September (septem = 7) was the seventh month, October (octem = 8) the eighth month, November (novem = 9) and December (decem = 10) the ninth and tenth months.   But with the addition of the two extra names, September became the ninth month, October the tenth month and so on.

The name of Julius Caesar’s great-nephew was originally Gaius Octavius, but was changed several times.  In 27 BC while emperor, he adopted the name of Imperator Caesar *Divi Filius Augustus, the latter having the idea of the increaser as being the royal one who then had the power to bestow awards and thus was held in admiration, respect and honour.   The adjective august is not very common today, but has the idea of being dignified and majestic, perhaps due to increased status and ability.                                     [*Divi Filius = Son of the Divine] 


According to Robert Claiborne in ‘The Roots of English’, augeo also acquired an idiomatic sense of originate, which applies to author and authority.   On the other hand, the author of a book or plan may increase or cause to increase our ideas or understanding.  And those with the authority to make decisions, to act, control, and enforce laws, have gained increased power.

By applying to the authorities and gaining a pass, licence, or permit, one may gain authorisation or be authorized to do something which is not normally permitted.  Thus one’s power to act is increased through those who have the power to grant one’s application.

Notice also the two spellings of authorize and authorise.   The -ize has been in English for several centuries while the -ise is said to reflect the influence of French on English.   Both are commonly used in English and are acceptable, while American spelling favours the -ize.

The Authorised Version of the Bible is so named because this translation was authorised by King James I of England in 1604 due to the dissatisfaction with previous translations of the Puritans, a group within the Church of England.  It was finished in 1611 after being worked on by 47 scholars. It had the authority of the king behind it increasing its prestige, and presumably its accuracy was increased also.

The adjectives authoritative and authoritarian both relate to authority, but are used in very different ways.   One who speaks authoritatively sounds as if they know what they are talking about and are recognised as being an authority on the subject.  Who better to speak authoritatively on a subject and inspire or increase confidence in the listener than the writer of a book or those who have put together a law?  However, one who adopts an authoritarian manner acts as though they are all powerful and in control.   They may even appear to enjoy the increased power they have to limit the freedom of others.

Notice how often augeo underlies words connected with power and its increase.

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Battuo = I beat, knock or strike

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I beat)
(to beat or knock)
(I beat or knocked)

This verb seems to have changed its form over time becoming batuo, so that the forms

batuo batuere batui (batutum)   were found.

Possibly the number of t’s in the word caused a problem. However, it still came into Old French as battre with the double t. Also, the form of the past participle seems doubtful and may not have been used. Probably most of the words here come from the present tense.

The u appears to have been omitted at some stage and does not appear in English derivatives. It is found, however, in the word battue, the French past participle meaning beaten. This whole word has come into English, and is a term used in hunting and shooting, especially where bushes were beaten to drive out birds or animals. It can also mean wholesale slaughter.

a bat noun
to bat  Note: She bats. She batted. He was batting.
batter noun and verb
battle noun and verb
embattled past participle used as an adjective; em = into
battlements noun
a battalion noun
batten noun and verb
an abattoir -oir = a place where (animals are killed for human consumption)
combat noun and verb
a combatant noun
combative adjective
debate noun and verb
debater -er = one who
debatable adjective -able = able (to be)
to abate  a, ad = to, towards
a rebate noun re = back

battue from French past participle (See above)

The basic word here is bat, an Old English word with roots in the Latin battuere or batuere. It was probably a solid stick used for beating seeds out of grasses or frightening small animals out of bushes and clubbing them to death. Today different sorts of bats are used in sports for pushing or hitting balls. In baseball the batters line up for their turn. In cricket a batsman tries to bat for hours and if he has batted all day he is probably delighted.

Notice the single t in bat and batsman, and the double t in batting, batter, and batted. The single t keeps the previous vowel a short. Where the t is doubled, the first t has this function. In words like debate, abate, and rebate, the silent e at the end opens up the previous syllable so that the vowel is long and pronounced as in the alphabet. You can hold on to it for a long time.

A number of well-known expressions relate to the word bat, such as doing something off one’s own bat (unprompted) and without batting an eyelid (showing no reaction). But expressions like blind as a bat (very short-sighted), an old bat (annoying old woman), bats in the belfry (silly, eccentric), go like a bat out of hell (run very fast) are related to the winged mouselike nocturnal mammal, bat, which probably comes from Scandanavia rather than the Latin battuere.

Most of the words with a double t have something to do with pushing around, striking, ‘beating up’, knocking down, fighting, and/or killing. We make a batter by mixing flour, eggs, water or milk, pushing them around with an egg beater or food processor to coat fish for frying, etc.

A large unit of soldiers, trained for battle, may be called a battalion. And what is battle but the permissible beating up or fighting between two opposing sides? Often soldiers went into war in uniform or battledress, shouting their battle cry and armed with battle-axes while the place where they fought was called the battleground or battlefield.

Many centuries ago castles were protected by battlements. These were parapets or low walls with gaps, built at the edge of roofs or sides of bridges. Sheltered behind these walls, troops could fire through the gap on the enemy below. Besieged and embattled cities might have their walls beaten down with battering rams, long wooden beams with a head of iron like a ram’s head. More recently a battery of guns, especially heavy artillery planted strategically, has been used in warfare. The word battery can also apply to a small group of armed men and vehicles.

The word combat is odd in that it doesn’t double the t in any form even though the a stays short. Participants in warfare are known as the combatants. They are involved in combat, a fight of some kind. Arguments were often settled in single combat such as a duel, while people who are always arguing may be said to be combative in nature.

Like the word beat in English, most of the words derived from battuere which suggest beating up or fighting in a concrete sense have figurative uses as well. I have a ‘battered old hat’ which was run over by a car. We speak of people battling cancer as though cancer were a personal enemy. Some people battle poverty or loneliness. Others see life as a battle, while an argument may be described as a battle of words or wits. We speak of a battle royal when everyone joins in the fight or argument.

Soldiers may return home battered and bruised. They may suffer from battle fatigue or be emotionally scarred. An embattled city is probably strengthened and ready for battle while an embattled parliamentarian is beset by critics, whom he is preparing to answer.

Battens are beams used to build floors; they support and hold up other structures, or cover joints. They may be wooden, metal or plastic. In the face of storms, sailors nailed down tarpaulins to cover the open hatches. Hence, the term battening down the hatches suggests preparing for a crisis.

Assault and battery is a legal term relating to threats resulting in physical harm while the batteries that power cell phones, etc., may need more than one cell to work, thus echoing the idea of a group of guns or soldiers.

Debates are battles of words though often well-controlled, thanks to rules. That which is debatable is open to question or debate.

Floods or storms are said to abate when they subside or lessen, perhaps returning to normal. It is also a legal term meaning to put an end to or quash. From it comes the idea of waiting with bated breath, with shallow, restrained breathing due to great anxiety.

A rebate is like a discount, usually given for prompt payment. It is part of a payment returned or pushed back.

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Cado = I fall; cadere to befall or happen.

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I fall)
(to fall or happen)
(I fell)

a cadence -ence = noun ending
decadent -ent = adjectival ending
decadence -ence = noun ending
to decay de = down
a cadenza
a cadaver literally, fall dead
cadaverous -ous = full of; adjectival ending
an accident ad = ac = towards
accidental adjective
an incident in = into (out)
incidental adjective; = having a minor role
incidentally adverb
incidence of
a coincidence co- = with
coincidental adjective

a cascade = a small waterfall

a case = the way things fall out
casual adjective
casualty noun
an occasion noun
occasional adjective

The Occident = the West lit: falling into
a recidivist re = back, -ist = one who (falls back into crime)

Some words derived from cado came in through French and begin with ch. They are
chance = a happening, a chance meeting
mischance mis = wrongly, badly, unfavourably, amiss.
perchance poetical or archaic = by chance
parachute para = protect against, ward off

The words cadence and cadenza are mainly musical terms. A cadence may be the fall or lowering in the pitch of a voice, especially at the end of a phrase or sentence. Cadences are found in music at the close of phrases and pieces. The ‘Amen’ is a good example.

A cadenza is a musical term for a brilliant scalic passage, maybe an ornamented cadence, usually found near the end of concertos or arias.

Decadence suggests a falling down from what something should be, due to moral or cultural decline, as happened to the Roman Empire. Decay is similar in meaning but is in more common and general use than decadence.

A cadaver refers to a corpse, a dead human body, perhaps the result of one falling down dead; cadaverous suggests something is like a dead body and may be as pale as death.

Chutes are often found in factories and allow one to let fall or drop things from a higher to a lower level, while parachutes let one fall from an aircraft while protecting one from being dashed upon the ground.

Words like case, casualty, accident, incident, coincidence, occasion, and chance all have something to do with how things fall out or on, how they befall one, happen or occur. The word case has many uses and many are idiomatic, but basically it suggests one’s circumstances, the turn of events or the way things fall out for one. Note that case as in suitcase comes from the Latin verb capere meaning to take or hold.

Casualties are usually the victims of what happened or befell them while an occasion is a particular set of circumstances, often memorable and a cause for celebration like a wedding. An incident refers to one particular occurrence, action or event, often minor in itself like a fight, but which can have serious consequences, such as when one of the participants dies shortly afterwards. The adjective incidental suggests it is minor compared with something more important. We speak of the background music to a film as incidental music; it’s not the most important aspect. When we digress from the main topic under discussion, we begin with the word incidentally meaning it is minor to the main topic. We speak of the incidence of a disease indicating how much has occurred or how extensive it is.

Coincidences suggest the way things fall out with one another, usually in unexpected or surprising ways. They are often two unlikely occurrences happening about the same time. Accidents are unwelcome happenings which produce casualties, victims of the way things have fallen out. Note that the word accident contains an example of assimilation The prefix ad becomes ac. It is easier to say accident than adcident and so over time the d of the prefix becomes the same as the first letter of the root word, cado.

The adjective casual has a number of uses: it may mean due to chance as in a casual meeting. Used of employment it suggests irregular or temporary work; of one’s attitude it suggests uninterested or not serious while casual remarks may be said without thinking.

The West is referred to as the Occident because the setting sun looks as if it is falling into the west. The Occident is the opposite of the Orient which means the East.

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1. Caedo = 1. I cut down, fell, strike down and 2. I kill

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I cut)
(to cut)
(I cut or killed)
(cut, killed)

Below we have about 30 words derived from the Latin caedo and which have something to do with cutting or killing. Some come from the stem of the present tense with -cide in them though it might be argued that they derive from the past tense cecidi. Those with -cis in them, however, clearly come from the past participle.

to decide Latin de = down, from
decidedly adverb

homicide Latin homo = a man
homicidal e.g. tendencies
matricide Latin mater, matris = mother
patricide, parricide Latin patris = of a father
fratricide Latin frater, fratris = brother
regicide Latin rex, regis = a king
suicide Latin sui = of oneself
a suicide pact
suicidal thoughts, tendencies
infanticide Latin infans, infantis = child
a pesticide Latin pestis = plague
an herbicide Latin herba = herb, plant
a fungicide Latin fungus = mushroom

a decision -ion = act or state of
a decisive action
concise con = with
conciseness -ness = noun ending
to circumcise Latin circum = round
circumcision noun

an incision Latin in = in, into
incisive adjective
incisors = cutting teeth
precision noun and adjective
precise Latin pre = before; adjective
excise adjective
an exciseman
to excise Latin ex = out of, from

Deciding or making a decision means one has cut out, killed off or dropped all other possible courses of action. A decisive person sounds as though they have made up their mind and have discarded all other ideas except the one they are talking about. There is no doubt about a decisive victory; it is definitely a victory. Nor is there any hesitation involved in a decisive action.

Homocide, matricide, patricide or parricide, fratricide, regicide, infanticide and suicide all refer to killing, this time of a person. The killing of one’s mother is matricide, but the word can also refer to one who kills their mother. Notice the two forms for the killing of one’s father: patricide and parricide. The latter with the two r’s probably comes from the former, but may have been confused with the Latin word parens = a parent. Fratricide refers both to the killing of one’s brother or sister. Notice that the words infant and infanticide come from the Greek infans, infantis = talking. This is the present participle of the Greek fari, to speak. The prefix in means not, although it sometimes means into. Thus an infant originally had the idea of one who hasn’t started to talk yet.

A more well-known word is pesticide referring to the killing of small insects or organisms, things that we consider pests because they annoy us or damage our crops and plants. Likewise, fungicides get rid of fungi while herbicides kill off unwanted plants, usually called weeds.

Chisels are hand tools used for shaping wood or stone by cutting bits out of the whole. The h in the ch, probably came through French. Scissors are likewise used for cutting, while cement (which comes through Old French ciment from Latin caementum = quarry stone, from caedo = to hew, cut) is used in concrete or is mixed with water to make mortar which hardens and keeps stone or bricks (which have also been cut) in place.

The ending -el of chisel is not very common in English. Words with a similar ending are camel, chapel, colonel, enamel, lapel, parcel, towel, trowel. You will probably find others if you look for them. However, the more common ending in English is -le, as in apple, circle, cycle, gamble, grumble, ramble, rifle and uncle.

A concise speech or piece of writing is cut back to the least number of words and thus is brief. Circumcision is a rite undertaken by some peoples in which the foreskin of a male child is cut, usually on the eighth day after birth. Surgery such as this may begin with the surgeon making an incision or cut into the flesh. Incisors are the cutting teeth found especially at the front of the mouth.

The adjective precise literally means cut beforehand and may suggest it has been thought out beforehand and so is exact and accurate. Switzerland and Germany are known for the production of precision instruments like knives and watches, which are made to a very high degree of accuracy.

Historically in England the excise man used to collect excise duty, a tax. You may read of excisemen hunting smugglers in England, for the smugglers avoided paying taxes. We also speak of excising passages of books, that is, removing them. Likewise, a surgeon may excise an organ of the body.

Note that the c in -cide and -cis is soft so that it sounds like an s.

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calx = the heel, calcis = of the heel

Words which come into English from the Latin calx are:

calcaneus = the heel bone

calcitrant adjective

recalcitrant Latin re- = back adjective

recalcitrance noun

The calcaneus or heel bone is the largest bone in the foot. A broken calcaneus or calcaneal fracture of the heel bone is very painful. It is also serious as it can have long term consequences and cause disability.

Both the adjectives calcitrant and recalcitrant come from the Latin calcitro meaning I kick . In turn, calcitro comes from calx, calcis, the heel. The idea behind both adjectives is kicking against authority and thus stubborn and refractory. My experience is that recalcitrant is more common; it can also be used as a noun. The recalcitrant person is difficult to work with since he or she is stubbornly defiant and unwilling to accept guidance.

Seeds have been classed as orthodox and recalcitrant. The orthodox survive the drying and freezing process whereas recalcitrant seeds do not. Well-known seeds which are classified as recalcitrant are avocado, cocoa, lychee, and mango.

In Latin there is another noun spelt calx, calcis, just the same as the word for ‘heel’. This word means a peeble, a counter, chalk or calcium. The metallic element calcium makes up chalk, and peebles, which were once used for counting, may also come from chalk.

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Cano = I sing or play (an instrument)

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I sing)
(to sing)
(I sang)
(I sing)
(to sing)
(I sang)

Both Latin verbs cano and canto mean to sing or play a musical instrument. Canto is said to be the intensive of canere, so maybe we could translate it as ‘I really sang or played’ or ‘I sang my heart out.’ However, Chambers in his “Dictionary of Etymology” asserts it is a frequentative of canere, in which case, it would mean ‘I was always singing’. Sometimes the meaning of these verbs is extended, often poetically, to mean celebrate, recite, chant, or even predict. You’ll notice that all the meanings require the moving of the mouth.

Canto has the letter “t” in every part whereas cano has a “t” in the past participle only. It is likely that cantabile, cantata, and incantation come from canto, but most other derivatives probably come from the base word, cano. Therefore, except for cantata and incantation, I haven’t tried to distinguish which words come from which Latin verb.

a canon noun
cant noun
a canticle
a cantor noun
a precentor noun
a cantorial adjective
a decanal adjective
a descant or discant dis- = apart
chant noun and verb
to enchant
an enchantment
to disenchant verb
a charm
charming adjective
an accent
accented adjective
unaccented un = not
to accentuate verb

a cantata from cantatum- = sung

an incantation

Many of these words relate to forms of music and may be classed as technical. If you are not interested in music you may never meet them.

A canon is a form of musical composition with different voices or instruments taking up the same melody one after the other. It has other meanings but should not be confused with cannon with the double n, which refers to large mounted guns.

A cantata is another form of musical composition. It could be described as a minor oratorio, often with words from the Bible and comprising recitatives (like chanting), solos and choruses. Both cantatas and oratorios are dramatic and performed without scenery.

Canticles refer to hymns taken from the Bible and sung in church services, e.g. the Magnificat.

Cantabile is the Italian term for ‘as if singing’ and is used in musical compositions as an instruction when a singing style is required.

A cantor leads the singing or prayers in a church, synagogue or temple, and usually stands on the north side of the choir. A similar word is precentor which comes from Latin prae = before or in front of and canere = to sing. So this refers to a cleric or singer who leads a church service.

Cantorial is an adjective relating to cantor and precentor, meaning on the north side of the cathedral where the cantor stands. Its opposite is decanal which means relating to the dean or deanery; it also refers to the south side of the church where the dean sits.

A descant or discant is a decorative melody sung or played above the main melody. The prefix dis = apart, away from, over

Chanting is singing, often in a monotone. It might be said to be half spoken and half sung, originally by groups of monks.

A chanty, chantey, shanty, or shantey is a song originally sung by sailors as they worked, but can accompany any kind of work. It can also refer to a roughly built hut or shack.

A chanter is the pipe belonging to bagpipes which has the holes through which the melody can be played.

Cant can refer either to the language peculiar to a group, sect, or profession, or to insincere talk where one uses moral or pious expressions.

Incantations are spells, charms or magical formulas pronounced in a sing-song fashion as part of a ritual, perhaps where ancient peoples tried to please the gods so as to favour their crops and animals.

The word charm, according to Claiborne, comes into English through the old French, charme, but originally comes from the Latin carmen, a word related to canto. It means a song , verse, or incantation. Thus charms are closely related to singing.

To enchant is similar in meaning to ‘charm’ and may simply be used to mean to delight, or it may mean, as it probably did originally, to bewitch or cast under a spell. Incantations and enchantments belong to the tool bag of witches and witch doctors or even magicians.

A spell is also a synonym for a charm. Spells are also cast by magicians and witches, and this is indeed the origin of our word, spelling. Spelling words is like spelling out charms, apparently.

According to Robert Claiborne, the word accent originally meant ‘the song added’ (to speech). Now it means the syllable of a word which attracts the stress, thus giving a clue to its pronunciation. In the word accent the first syllable ac is said a little more firmly than the rest. Dictionaries show the accented syllable in different ways, so it pays to read their system of PRONUNCIATION in the beginning of the dictionary. The pronunciation is in brackets after the word in the dictionary. Sometimes the accented syllable is printed in italics; sometimes it has a small straight line in front of the accented syllable, e.g. (ᶦæksәnt). This is close to the renderings in the ‘Collins Concise New Zealand Dictionary’ and the ‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’. However, different dictionaries have different methods, so it pays to check the guide at the front.

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Capio = I take, hold, have, seize, capture

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I take)
(to take)
(I took)

Numerous words have come into English from the Latin root capio:

capable lit: able to take on (the job)
incapable in- = not; -able = able to
capability -ity = state of
capacityity suggests an abstract noun
incapacity in = not
capacious - ous = full of, adjective, e.g. a capacious bag

a capsule
to encapsulate or incapsulate in = in.

to capture
the captoror = one who
a captive
to captivate

a caption

Sometimes the cap- of the present tense becomes cip-. This is especially so with longer words where the root is on an unaccented syllable e.g. anticipate, with the accent on the second syllable and the root in the weaker syllable. See below.

Also, words derived from the past participle may come into English as capt (captive ) or cept (reception). It seems that those beginning with a prefix have the e as in accept. See below.

to anticipate anti = before
anticipatory e.g. actions

to participate Latin pars, partis = part, portion
participation e.g. in an event
a participant -ant = one who

municiple Latin munus = office, duty
municipality noun

to reciprocate capere = take (move) reciprocal re = back, pro = forward reciprocity noun

to accept ac- = ad = towards
acceptance -ance = noun ending
acceptable adjective
unacceptable un = not

except ex = out of, from
unexceptional un = not
inception in = into
to intercept inter = between
an interception
susceptible to; sub = up from under
susceptibility to

You may anticipate bad weather by taking your wet-weather gear with you – you have assumed (taken) the weather will be bad before it takes place.

One may look forward to one’s birthday with great excitement and anticipation so that before the birthday you feel the excitement you think you will have on that day. As it were, you take on board the feelings you expect to have then.

The verb reciprocate has the idea of giving and receiving or offering something in return for something else. We speak of reciprocal feelings; we share similar feelings.

The adjective municipal is connected with civic offices and local government, and may come from taking up an office on one’s local council or in one’s community.

The noun inception is a formal word for beginning.

Here are some other words relating to the present tense of capio, but which are not so obvious:

a prince Latin primus = first
a princess -ess = feminine ending
a principle noun
a principal adjective, often used as a noun
a precept prae = before

to occupy ob- = over
occupied = past participle used as an adjective
unoccupied un- = not
preoccupied pre- = beforehand
an occupant -ant = one who
an occupation noun

Princes and princesses take first place above others. Principles take first place and could be called first rules or basic truths. Although we may be unaware of it, we base our lives on the principles we believe in. Our behaviour shows what our principles or values are. If we bully or steal from others, it shows we have forgotten the principle of respect and our lives are based on disrespect. The word principal is an adjective in its own right and literally means taking first place, suggesting first in importance. Thus the principal character in a play has the first or leading role. Sometimes this adjective is used as a noun, e.g. the principal of a college. Here, the principal stands for the principal teacher. The word precept or precepts overlaps in meaning with principles. It again refers to moral principles or rules of conduct but is probably less common than principles and is narrower in use.

When one occupies a building or property, one takes it over. The prefix ob- seems to suggest completeness or finality whereas more often it suggests being in opposition to or blocking completeness. When a room, cubicle, or seat, etc, is occupied it is taken over and so it is filled and not available. Being preoccupied suggests that an idea one had previously thought of has taken over so that one cannot concentrate fully on another subject because the mind keeps going back to the previous idea.

Words derived from capio also include conceive, deceive, perceive, and receive, which appear to have acquired the-ive ending through the influence of French, where the word for to receive is recevoir. They are originally from Latin, as shown by the abstract nouns that go with them, e.g. conception, deception, perception, and reception.

Related to conceive:

Related to deceive:

Related to perceive:

Related to receive:
a receiver
a receipt
a recipe
a recipient
to recuperate

a concept
misconception mis- = wrong
to conceptualize
conceptual -ual = adjectival ending
deception de = down
deceptive adjective
perception per = through
imperceptive im = not
a reception
receptive adjective
a receptacle

Another group of words which may also be related to the Latin capio are

to chase
to enchase
a case as in suitcase
a cassette
a casement
to encase
a casket
a chassis
the cash
a cashier -ier = one who

The majority of these words have lost the p of capio and are related to the Latin capsa which means a box or case for books. Different in meaning is to chase which has the idea of pursuing something or someone though you may not necessarily take or catch hold of it.
Enchase is a technical word used in the jewellery trade for putting a gem into a setting or making an engraving on metal. The gem or engraving is encased, as it were, and cannot easily be taken out or removed. A case, as in suitcase is a sort of container, as are cassettes, caskets, chassis, and capsules. The word capsule retains the p of capio while the word chassis has the same form for singular and plural, but the final –s is not pronounced in the singular, but only in the plural. According to Robert Claiborne, it originally meant a casement or hinged window frame. Then it became the frame of a carriage or automobile. The origin of the word casement can also be traced back to capio.
It seems cash was originally the word for a money box, but then it became the money itself.

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Latin caput, capitis = the head

The Latin noun caput means the head, the part of the body. Its genitive is capitis which means of the head. From the genitive comes the stem: capit-. Most words that come into English from nouns are derived from the stem capit-, but in the case of caput, words appear to come into English both from the subjective and the genitive forms of the Latin:

Latin caput = the head

a cap
to cap
a cape geographical term
a cape a garment
a chaperon
a chapel
a chaperon
a chapeau French for hat
a chaplain
a capuchin
to escape
an escapee
a chief
a chieftain
a chef
a captain
a cadet
a caddie
a cad
a kerchief
a neckerchief
a handkerchief
mischief mis- = wrong, badly
a precipice
da capo musical term

capitis = of the head

capital noun
capital adjective
capitation noun
per capita
to capitulate
capitulation noun
capitulum botanical
to decapitate de = from, down
decapitation noun
per capita

precipitous adjective
to precipitate

As you know, a cap fits closely over the head, and as it sits basically on top of the head, it can also have the idea of a cover, lid or protective cover. In this sense, it has many uses. You can put the cap on your petrol tank. A cap or limit can be put on the amount of money one is permitted to spend a week. It is also used to lead into a series of memorable events, e.g. After three tries, a field goal capped off a great match for him, i.e. the field goal finished the match for him with the best outcome. It can also be used negatively in this way, e.g. I had forgotten my lunch; I was late for work, and to cap it off, I found I had lost my wallet. Here, it is in the negative so that it means ‘to finish things off with the worst that could happen’.

The geographical term, cape refers to a headland or stretch of land that sticks out from the rest of the land and often looks like a head on top of a narrower piece of land like a neck. You can look up the image of capes on the InterNet.

As an article of clothing, a cape is usually worn loosely round the shoulders today and is shorter than a cloak. However, Robert Claiborne in “The Roots of English” states it was originally worn over the head and it seems that later it was often worn with a hood over the head.

I note that pelts or skins of animals being prepared for hunting trophies are also called capes and consist of the skin from the head and neck of the animal.

The word chapeau is the French word for hat but you will also find this word in English dictionaries, still meaning a hat. Words beginning with a ch instead of a plain c have usually come into English from the Latin through French.

Today the word chaperon means a person, usually a woman, who looks after and supervises a group, such as a team, often when they are travelling. Prevously it was used of a woman, usually married, who accompanied an unmarried woman to social events; it may still have this meaning. Thus it seems that the idea of protection, which a hat can give to the head, has predominated.

The word chapel also appears to be related to the word cape, which was apparently worn over the head at one time. A chapel literally means ‘little chapel’. It seems it is derived from late Latin capella and came into English through the French. Capella is a diminutive form of cappa, which is why chapel ends in -el.

It seems chapels were originally built to house holy relics or relics of a saint. Relics were important in the religion of the Middle Ages (500-1500AD) since they were considered to have healing powers. Charlemagne (742 – 816AD), King of the Franks, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800AD, ordered that there be a relic under every church altar and you will often find them there to this day. Also, in great cathedrals in Europe there are often side chapels dedicated to saints or holy relics.

There is a story about a soldier named Martin, who, when he was serving in the Roman army in Gaul, took off his cloak, tore it in half and gave one half to a ragged beggar. For this action Martin later became a saint, and was known as St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of France. A building was constructed to house his half of the cloak as a sacred relic and this shrine was known as a chapel. Thus the word for the garment cape turned into the word chapel meaning a building which housed a sacred cloak or cape.

The word chaplain is related to the word chapel, for a chaplain was originally a minister who looked after a chapel. His office is known as a chaplaincy.

Chapters represent divisions, usually with headings, as in books, societies, or organisations. We often speak of a chapter of accidents suggesting a series of accidents. We also use the saying, chapter and verse, with the idea of ‘full, detailed information about an event’, a use which no doubt comes from the Bible which is divided into chapters and verses.

You may come across the architectural term chapiter, which refers to the head of a column or pillar. You can see what a chapiter looks like by looking up ‘images’ on the InterNet.

You may also have heard of capuchin monkeys, which inhabit South American forests and are often kept as pets. The word capuchin is derived from a group of friars known as the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a branch of the Franciscans, who wear brown robes with large hoods. According to Wikipedia, “when Portuguese explorers reached the Americas in the 15th century, they found small monkeys whose colouring resembled these friars, especially when in their robes with hoods down, and named them capuchins.”

I understand the word capuchin can also refer to a woman’s hooded cloak.

The word escape literally means to get out of one’s cape and so avoid someone holding you down. Apparently, in the days when a cape was worn with a hood over the head, one could easily slip out of it by bobbing down and bending slightly, then raising the cloak part. Thus one could make one's escape if accosted by a robber or unwanted person. It’s amazing how many words are related to the Latin for “head’ through the word cape.

In the word chief, the c of the Latin caput is replaced by ch suggesting that it comes through the French language. As well, the p of caput turns into an f. This may be because one has to move one’s lips only slightly to turn a p into an f and vice versa. Experiment by saying these letters one after the other and see what you discover.

A chief is a leader or head of an organisation, etc. Likewise the word chieftain, though chieftain is narrower in meaning as it is applied mainly to a tribe or clan. The word chieftain is used as a noun only whereas chief is used both as a noun and an adjective.


Chef is a doublet of chief, that is, both words come into English from the same source, in this case, finally through French. However, they have slightly different forms and slightly different meanings or uses. Chief has an i added in the spelling, and a chef is more limited in meaning than chief since the full term is ‘chef de cuisine’, the head cook in the kitchen of a restaurant or eatery.

Captain and chieftain are also doublets; the captain being the man in charge of a ship, a group of soldiers, or a team, while chieftain is mainly used as the leader of a tribe. These doublets help to make English rich because speakers have such a wealth of words to choose from. At the same time it makes English difficult for foreigners to learn since so many words have special nuances or are used under specific circumstances

The words cadet, caddie and cad are all related, and can be regarded as doublets. They come into English through the word cadet which is derived from the Latin capitellus. Capitellus is a diminutive of caput and means a little head. It seems the word cadet came into English through a French dialect from Gascony and was originally spelt capdet, but apparently dropped the p and kept the d.

The consonants p and d are both known as plosives or stops. They are formed by stopping airflow with the tongue and then suddenly letting out a puff of air. Plosives come with a harsh sound like an explosion and indeed the term plosive is a shortened form of explosive. Try saying these letters without adding a vowel and see if this is so. I think you will also find they are both formed in the same part of the mouth.

As Claiborne points out, a cadet was originally a little chief or junior officer. It has come to mean a trainee in a military academy because in French Gascony most men in the army were younger sons, the least important children of the nobility. In some countries it is also applies to students in other training institutions like police or farming.

In Scotland, the word caddie or caddy first had the sense of an errand boy or messenger, after which it came to mean one who carried a golfer’s clubs. Note that there is another word spelt caddy meaning a box or chest, especially used for holding tea. This word does not come from the Latin caput but from the word for an Asian unit of weight.

Cad is a shortened of caddie. From the meaning of an errand boy it seems it came to mean an unskilled person and then developed a negative flavour, probably because some untrained people tried to con others out of money. Today it refers to one whose behaviour is ungentlemanly or even flouts the norms of society, deliberately disregarding others' rights. Thus it may mean a scoundrel, a rogue or a rotter. I have heard it used of men only.

I don’t think the word kerchief is used much these days but it was like a scarf which covered the head. A neckerchief was similar to the kerchief but was worn round the neck, while a handkerchief was a piece of material used to wipe one’s nose or moisture from the face.

You may have heard the part in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ where Henry Higgins explains to Eliza Doolittle the use of a handkerchief. ‘My Fair Lady’ was based on Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Pygmalion’. Here is the part in ‘Pygmalion’ where Henry Higgins explains the use of the handkerchief to Eliza by declaring, “To wipe your eyes. To wipe any part of your face that feels moist. Remember: that’s your handkerchief; and that’s your sleeve. Don’t mistake the one for the other if you wish to become a lady in a shop."

The word mischief may also be related to caput with mis- meaning badly. Robert Claiborne in “The Roots of English” says it originally meant misfortune with the idea that something came to a head badly. I wonder whether the chief part also has the idea of thinking since thinking and the head are closely linked. The word mischief was originally much stronger than today and had the idea of misfortune or harm, possibly due to wrong thinking. If you did yourself or someone else a mischief, injury was involved. However, it has now been watered down to meaning playful, annoying behaviour and is used mainly of small children.

Today we still speak of so many head of cattle. The word cattle is probably a distant relative of capital, which comes from caput. First, it had the idea of property, then wealth or portable wealth, and now means cattle or livestock. The word cattle is also a doublet of chattel, originally spelt catel in Norman French. Both meant property, but cattle came to mean livestock, while chattel (usually plural) was applied to other movable possessions. We often speak of ‘goods and chattels’. Remember that words of similar origin but with different forms and meanings are known as doublets. The three words capital, cattle and chattel are all doublets.

The word capital has many uses in English. As a noun, capital usually refers to the chief or head city. It is an important city, because the seat of government is there. Financially, it may refer to one’s wealth or wealth that can be invested to increase one’s assets. This is the meaning that cattle and chattels are linked to. It is also a term used in sculpture and refers to the top of a column.

Used as an adjective, as in a capital offence, it means an offence which deserves the loss of one’s head, i.e. the crime is punishable by death. The word capital may also be used to express keen agreement, as when we exclaim, “Capital!” Used conversationally or colloquially, it can mean, “Fine, I agree.” As an adjective, you may hear, “You’re a capital fellow”, meaning here is no disagreement or conflict in what has been suggested. So your thinking is similar.

Capitation and per capita are terms used in statistics and economics. Capitation relates to government financial regulations and refers to payments, fees or taxes calculated per head of population or those people eligible for it or having to pay it. Schools may be given a capitation grant, that is, a grant reckoned according to the number of children in the school. Taxes are based on per capita, that is, how many people are eligible to pay and then the same rate for all is decided upon.

Likewise, the phrase per capita, which literally means by the head, and may be translated as ‘per head’. The debt of a country is often stated as so much per capita or per person, and includes every man, woman and child.

Originally, to capitulate and capitulation came into English with the idea of making or agreeing to conditions set out under headings, but since then it has shifted its sense to giving in or surrendering under conditions which are laid out under headings. However, often the formal sense of giving in to terms set out under headings becomes less formal and it simply means giving in.

You may never come across the term capitulum, which is derived from a diminutive of caput, meaning ‘a little head’. It is a botanical term referring to the flowerhead of a plant which consists of a cluster of small flowers, their stalks, stems and coloured leaves. The flowerhead may look like one flower from a distance. Such plants come under the family of Asteraceae (aster = Greek for star) or Compositae and includes the zinnia, sunflower, dahlia, chrysanthemum, cornflower, daisy, marigold, dandelion, yarrow, and many others.

Decapitation refers to the losing of one’s head. Literally, it means the process or act of head down or head off. You will probably know that during the French revolution, 1789-1799, many people lost their heads by being decapitated with the guillotine. Prior to that many English kings were beheaded by having their heads chopped off.

Originally, to capitulate and capitulation came into English with the idea of making or agreeing to conditions set out under headings, but since then the sense has shifted to mean giving in or surrendering under conditions which are laid out under headings. However, often the formal sense of giving in to terms set out under headings becomes less formal and it simply means giving in.

A precipice is a particularly steep cliff from which you can fall headlong. The prefix, pre-, means 'before' so the word could literally mean headfirst. You go too close to the edge of the cliff to look over it and fall headfirst. The adjective precipitous usually refers to cliffs or high mountains, which are steep.

Precipitate is a verb but is also an adjective meaning rushing headlong and is mostly used of actions, behaviour, and decisions. Precipitate actions or decisions may bring about sudden and unexpected consequences because they have not been thought out carefully, and thinking is done in the head. The word precipitate also conveys the idea of haste, for if you fall headfirst over a cliff your descent is probably fairly fast. Very often war between nations begins with some sort of dissatisfaction or resentment, but the actual fighting is precipitated by a single event, such as an assassination, which triggers the fighting.

Chemistry seems to have taken over the idea of falling headfirst and has applied it to solids settling at the bottom of a solution due to a chemical reaction. This process is known as precipitation and the solid is known as the precipitate, so you see that these forms precipitate and precipitation have several uses. Rain, hail, sleet and snow which fall to the earth may also be referred to as precipitation.

The musical term da capo comes from the Italian language and means from the head or beginning, so the musician returns to the beginning of the piece and plays it again.

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Caro = the flesh, carnis = of the flesh

From caro, carnis come words relating to the flesh, the flesh of the human body or the body of an animal; also the flesh of fruit. The letter n tends to float in and out of words, but here it mainly comes into English after the r, as if the r on its own is not enough. On the other hand, it seems the letter r, was once a vowel and this may be the reason.

Most words come into English from the genitive, carnis, which is the stem of the noun:

caro = the flesh

cortex e.g. of the brain

carnis = of the flesh (genitive)

a carnation = that which is flesh-coloured
a carnival: literally, lift out or remove meat
carnal = relating to the flesh, adjective
a carnivore Latin vorare = to eat
carnivorous ous = adjectival ending
incarnation noun
reincarnation re = back; in= into
carnage noun
carrion noun and adjective
a charnel-house

The carnation or clove pink is a flower of the Dianthus family. It seems to mean ‘flesh-coloured’ suggesting this was its original colour, though today it ranges from white through pink to dark red.

A carnival suggests festivities, often with entertainment, perhaps a circus or merry-go-round, and probably held annually. It derives from the feasting which took place in the last three days before Lent, which was a time of self-denial or fasting, of removing meat from the diet, for about six weeks before the Christian festival of Easter.

Carnal pleasures, such as the enjoyment of food or sex, relate to the flesh and senses.

A carnivore is a flesh-eating animal or plant. The opposite is a herbivore, a plant eater. Carnivorous, the adjective formed from carnivore, has the accent on the second syllable, -ni-.

Carnage suggests piles of dead bodies, usually the result of war, while carrion refers to dead, rotting, decaying flesh, usually of animals. The carrion crow is a bird that feeds on dead flesh.

We don’t hear of charnel-houses much now, but they are family vaults built to hold dead bodies, bones or skulls, and mainly found in cemeteries. Notice the softer ch, suggesting it has come through French.

The word incarnation is used of our being born in human flesh into this world.

Reincarnation (literally, the act of (coming) back into the flesh), is the belief that the dead, both people and animals, return to this life in a new body.

Note that the -tion ending of carnation and incarnation is pronounced as if it were the word shin

The cortex of the brain may also be related to Latin caro meaning flesh. In his Dictionary of Etymology, Chambers relates cortex, corticis which means bark, rind, or outer layer of a plant, vegetable or organ to the Latin corium meaning skin or hide. As the cortex of the brain, the outer fleshly layer of that organ, might be said to look like wrinkled skin or bark, its meaning may well have been influenced by caro, corium, and cortex.

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Cauda = a tail

Cauda meaning the tail, of an animal, for example, gives us a few English words:

a coward noun
cowardly adjective or adverb
cowardice -ice = noun ending
a queue noun
a cue noun

A coward is one who runs away, tail between his legs, as a dog does perhaps when scolded. You can act in a cowardly (adjective) fashion or show cowardice (noun) by giving in. It is tempting to think that the verb to cower, which suggests flinching, drawing back or crouching down in fear or even shame, may be related to the Latin cauda, but, according to Robert Claiborne in “The Roots of English” it more likely comes from a German word meaning ‘to lie in wait’.

Queue and cue are homophones in that they sound alike. You may line up and stand in a queue waiting to get into a sports venue, for example. It’s not often a straight line so it may look curved like a tail. Queue-jumpers or those who try to push in ahead of their turn are usually unpopular so queue-jumping is not recommended. The French for the tail is la queue, the same spelling as in English.

The word cue has two meanings. In acting or music it is the tail end of a speech or phrase signalling the performer that it is their turn to enter, speak, or play. To be on cue means one has come in at just the right moment. The second meaning of cue relates to a long tapered shaft with a leather tip used to strike the ball in the games of billiards, pool, or snooker. It was apparently originally a stick.
Both words queue and cue sound exactly like the letter q, and I understand that q used to be written in scripts as a signal for actors to enter, etc. When written as a word, it is spelt cue.

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Cor = the heart, cordis = of the heart

La coeur is French for heart. It comes through the Latin and, as you can see, is very similar to the Latin in spelling. Most Latin words come into English from what is called the stem of the noun, which in the case of cor, is cordis = of the heart, which is known as the genitive. However, in the case of this Latin noun, quite a few words come from cor, the form for the subject of a sentence, which is known as the nominative. Those which include the letter “d” like “cordial” are said to come from the stem of the noun, cord-, or genitive:

cor = the heart (nominative)

a core noun
core adjective

to encourage en- = put into

to discourage dis- = away from
discouragement noun

cordis = of the heart (genitive)

cordial noun and adjective
cordially adverb
cordiality noun
cordate adjective
cordial noun and adjective
accord noun
to accord ad- = to, towards
in accord with
concord con = with, together
concordant adjective
a concordance noun

discord dis- = apart, away from
discordant adjective
a record noun
to record verb
a recording noun
to pre-record pre = before
a pre-recording noun

Apart from meaning the organ which pumps our blood around every part of the body, the English word heart is used in several other senses. Perhaps the two main figurative senses are the centre of something or the essential part of it. The heart is probably the centre of the body just as a core is in the centre of an apple or a pear. Unless the heart is working, the body cannot survive; therefore it is also essential to the body. So it is with apples and pears; without a core they dry up and die.

We also speak of the core issue, the main issue, or the core curriculum which contains subjects considered essential to an education; therefore all students must take them.

The word heart is also used as if it means courage itself. So to encourage means to put courage or heart into the fearful, while its opposite, to discourage, is rather to take courage away from.

Basically, cordial means related to the heart, but like many words, as language develops, it acquires new and different meanings. In the 14th century it gained the meaning of any medicine, food or drink that stimulates the heart. You will find this meaning in the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, written in the late 1300’s. The meaning has also been watered down to mean a pleasant, sweet fruit-flavoured drink.

We also speak of a cordial welcome or invitation which suggest these come from the heart and so are heartfelt, sincere, pleasant, warm and friendly. You may also find it meaning ‘intensely felt’.

In the words discord, concord and accord, the cor- has more the meaning of agreement. Where hearts are not in accord, people are in disagreement, and there is discord. If you are acting in accordance with the law, your heart mainly agrees with the law so you probably try to keep it.

The word concord is not so common and perhaps more formal, but the basic idea behind it is that hearts are together and so in agreement. Sometimes it is used interchangeably with accord. The result is that there is no discord. Treaties between nations are sometimes called Concords. The word concord is associated with a number of technical subjects related to learning as in music, medicine and grammar. Likewise, the adjective concordant implies the idea of agreement and harmony. We say things are in concordance when everything agrees, as when our body language agrees with what we say.

However, the noun, concordance has developed another meaning; it is like a dictionary in which words are in alphabetical order. You will find a Biblical concordance, also a Shakespearian concordance. These books list the main words in the Bible or Shakespeare and tell you where to find them, i.e. in which book of the Bible or where or in which Shakespearian play they appear.

You have probably heard of the supersonic plane called the Concorde, which halved the time it took to fly between England and America. It flew between 1969 and 2003, and was possibly retired as the result of a crash in 2000. It was developed through a treaty agreed between England and France and named Concorde because concord in English and concorde in French meant agreement. You may look up its interesting history on the Internet. Apparently this plane could cross the Atlantic in under three and a half hours and could fly at twice the speed of sound!

A record originally had the idea of 'got by heart', by being put into the memory or mind. Recording of information was done from memory and thus songs, dates, historical events and genealogies, etc, were learned by heart, remembered, and passed down orally from generation to generation. Much, of course, was forgotten, but this is how olden events were first recorded; they were learnt by heart. In schools today mathematical tables may be recited together by classes until they are learnt by heart and firmly implanted in the memory.

In our age of technology we have tape recorders and sophisticated equipment to do recordings of all kinds. We can record information on our PC’s. I used to own music records, but now they have been superseded by DVD's, etc, though the big old round music record seems to be making a comeback today. A speech may be given live or pre-recorded; similarly broadcasts may be made live or pre-recorded. I understand singers may also tape their songs to pre-recorded music.

Perhaps the most specialised word in this list is the adjective cordate, which belongs to the sciences of botany and zoology. It often refers to leaves which are heart-shaped. You can look up images of such leaves on the InterNet. Heart-shaped shells may also be described as cordate.

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Latin corpus, corporis = the body

From corpus, corporis come words relating to the human body and also to the body when it suggests a group of people.

Notice that some words come into English from corpus, the body (the nominative case or subject) and some from the stem of the word which is derived from the genitive or possessive case, corporis = of the body. Usually words come into English from the stem of a noun.

From corpus, corporis come words relating to the human body and to the body when it suggests a group of people.

Notice that some words come into English from corpus, the body (the nominative case or subject) and some from the stem of the word which is derived from the genitive or possessive case, corporis = of the body. Usually words come into English from the stem of a noun.

corpus = the body (nominative)

corps singular
corps plural
a corpse

corpulent adjective
corpulence noun
corpuscles plural noun
a corsage noun
a corset noun
a corselette
a corselet or corslet

corporis = of the body (genitive)

corporal adjective
a corporal noun
corporeal adjective

a corporation
corporative adjective
corporate, e.g. a body Corporate

to incorporate

Corps suggests a body or group of people with a special function, e.g. corps de ballet, diplomatic corps, army corps. The p and s are silent in the singular and the p alone is silent in the plural. Corpse, which used to be written corse, is a dead body, usually human. The adjective corporal means related to the human body, as in corporal punishment. But as a noun, corporal usually refers to an officer in the armed forces. However, this word may have originally come from the Latin caput = head, and may have been spelt caporal.

Corpulent and corpulence suggest too much body, a big belly, while corpuscles are literally little bodies of the blood and so are very small blood cells.

According to Robert Claiborne in “The Roots of English”, a corsage originally meant a bodice but now refers to a posy of flowers pinned on the bodice. A corset is literally ‘a little body ’, a garment worn round the hips to make one look slimmer. Corselettes are similar but usually covered the bust as well as the hips. Today corsets and corselettes look much the same. Corselets were worn by knights of old to protect the upper body. Today a corsetiere makes or fits corsets.

Where a man, especially, has too much body on the belly or abdomen, we say he has a corporation, but mainly the word corporation is a legal term used in the world of business. It suggests a group of people authorised to act on behalf of a larger group, such as its investors. We speak of a Body Corporate, a group of people who make decisions on behalf of a group, often of tenement or unit owners. There are also Incorporated Societies, often non-profit-making organisations which operate under specific rules.

The verb to incorporate is more generally used and means to include in a body of material just as a poem may be incorporated into a speech.

The adjective corporeal, with the e in it, has the idea of bodily, material or physical, as opposed to mental or spiritual. Its opposite is incorporeal meaning having no material form or body. In Law corporeal suggests being composed of material objects while incorporeal implies no physical existence and is used of items like easements and copyright.

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Costa = the rib or side

A few words have come into English from the Latin noun, costa. They are:

costal adjective
intercostal inter = between
to accost ad becomes ac = to, towards
the coast noun
to coast verb
to make sure the coast is clear
a coaster -er = one who or that which
the coastline compound noun
the coastguard compound noun
a cutlet

Costal is an adjective which means ‘relating to the ribs’. We have 24 ribs, all of which are attached to the spinal column, but only seven pairs of which are attached to the sternum or breastbone in the chest. This attachment is made through extensions called costal cartilages.(Cartilage is often referred to as gristle, but is actually tough, flexible connective tissue found in many places in the body). Then there are what we call ‘false ribs’, five pairs of which are joined to the cartilage of the rib above, while the last two pairs do not extend to the front of the body and are known as ‘floating ribs’.

Intercostal is also an adjective. It refers to spaces, muscles, and nerves found in between the ribs. You can suffer from intercostal pain.

Originally, the verb to accost meant to come along side of someone to speak to them, but today it has a sinister meaning, so that someone, perhaps a stranger, who accosts you, comes right up to you with criminal intentions. They may want to steal your purse or injure you, etc.

The coast indicates the border of the land just as ribs show where the chest begins and ends. Notice that the spelling is changed by the addition of the letter a. As a verb, it suggests moving without effort and more slowly, as a runner does, when he or she knows they have the race won.

To ensure the coast is clear is a colloquialism suggesting one is making sure there is no danger or that nobody is watching.

A coaster usually refers to a ship that trades along the coast of a country. In America it can be short for roller coaster, while in New Zealand a Coaster refers to a person who comes from the West Coast of the South Island of NZ. You may recognise coaster as meaning a small mat on which a bottle or glass of drink is placed to prevent the surface under it getting wet. If you look up “drink coaster” on the InterNet, Wikipedia will give you a very interesting history of the word. Apparently coasters were made for wine bottles so that they could be slid or “coasted” round the dinner table after the servants had retired.

Coastline and coastguard are compound nouns, being made up of two English nouns. Probably they were written as two words for a start but were so often used together that they have become written as one word. Guards may be found anywhere, but coastguards are found only on the beach where the land ends, their job being to keep swimmers safe.

The spelling of cutlet has probably been influenced by the word to cut, as with a knife, but the word cutlet literally means a little side or rib, the suffix -let being a diminutive. Robert Claiborne suggests that the cutlet was “originally sliced from the ribs of an animal”.

Claiborne also suggests that the root word kost- or cost- may have originally been related to ost = a bone. This means the initial k or c must have been lost at some stage, and this could well be so, since ribs are made of bone.

Words that have come into English from the Latin os, ossa meaning a bone are osprey, a bird which eats fish, presumably with the bones, ossify (= to turn into bone and so harden) and ossuary (= a place where bones are kept, i.e. a vault, crypt, or container where bones of the dead are kept). Through the Greek osteon, come medical terms like osteoarthritis (= arthritis of the cartilage of the joints), osteology (= study of bones), osteoporosis (= porous bone), etc. To ostracize or ostracise also comes from the Greek osteon. Originally, when one was ostracised or banished, the voting was done with bits of shell, shell being related to bone.

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Dens = a tooth, dentis = of a tooth

The Latin word is dens, dentis. However, when we pronounce the letters, d, t, and th our tongue is placed behind our top set of teeth and so these consonants may sound similar. Thus we find that these letters are often interchangeable, and English tooth and teeth are both forms of the Latin word dent-. Experiment with saying these letters and see what you think.

You’ll notice that most of these words come from the genitive of dens, which is dentis, and thus they have the letter t in them. Here is a list of them:

a dentist -ist = one who
dentistry noun
dental adjective
dentine noun
a denture
dentures plural of ‘denture’
dentifrice Latin frico, fricare, to rub
a trident Latin tri- = 3
orthodontist Greek orthos = straight
periodontics Greek peri = around
a tooth
teeth plural of tooth
a tusk
dentil architectural term
to indent
dentate adjective
edentate adjective e, ex = out of, lacking

It could well be that the root dens comes from the Latin root word edere meaning ‘ to eat’. The first ‘e’ would have to have been dropped and the present participle of edere, which is dens, dentis (eating), would have been used for teeth, which are necessary when it comes to eating.

You’ll probably know that a dentist works with people’s teeth, checking, filling and cleaning them, etc. He may work in a dental clinic, assisted by a dental nurse. He may suggest patients use dental floss to clean in between their teeth.

Dentine is the hard stuff that a tooth is mainly composed of. I understand it is usually a pale yellow colour and is underneath the white enamel coating.

Those who are unfortunate enough to have lost their upper or lower set of teeth need a denture, a false set of teeth, so that they can eat.

Steradent is a trade name for a paste that is said to clean dentures and natural teeth as well.

Dentifrice is any paste or powder put on a brush to clean one’s teeth. The ending comes from the Latin verb fricare, which means to rub

A trident is a spear with three prongs used for spearing fish. It was the weapon used in some gladiatorial fights and is also the name of a class of nuclear missiles carried by certain submarines. The Greek god Poseidon, (or Neptune in Latin), carried a trident as a sign of his power. With it, he was said to bring about earthquakes and torrential rain. He was supposed to have had power over heaven, earth, and hell, which was their underworld. Britannia also holds a trident, as does the Hindu god, Shiva. It is interesting to look up images of these on the Internet. You may also find tridents on flags, logos and coats of arms. The symbol for psi, the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, also has 3 prongs and looks like this: ψ.

An orthodontist specialises in straightening crooked teeth. He works with jaws and the bite. A periodontist, on the other hand, works with the tissues around the teeth. He diagnoses and treats gum disease and implants teeth. Modern medical and scientific terms are often taken straight from Greek, which is the predecessor of Latin. This is what has happened with orthodontist and periodontist. The Greek orthos means straight or correct, while peri- means around and odonti means a tooth.

As mentioned above, tooth and teeth are versions of dent-, with d’s, t’s, and th’s sounding much alike. Thus they were readily interchanged by mistake.

According to Claiborne in “The Roots of English” tusk is a variation of tooth. He claims it was “originally, a canine tooth, as of a wild boar” .

The word dentil is an architectural term which refers to lines of toothlike blocks used as decoration and copied from Greek and Roman buildings. You can see them in the IMAGES section of dentils on the Internet.

We used to begin each paragraph on a new line and about an inch in from the margin. This was called an indent. The space created by the indent guided the eye to each paragraph. We also speak of an indent in the coast. These are tooth-like notches or deep recesses made by the sea. They are called coastal indentations. Indentations can also be made in the mud or wet ground, so we speak of indentations in the mud like footprints.

Indent is also a term used in ordering goods. It seems payment must be paid before goods are supplied and the manufacturer produces exactly the number of goods ordered by the retailer.

An indenture is a binding deed of contract for services made between two parties with each having an identical copy of the agreement. It seems it began in England as early as the 14th century when apprentices were legally bound to a master tradesman to learn his trade. It still applies in this sense today. According to Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, such a document was originally “written in identical versions on a single sheet which was then cut apart along a zigzag or notched line. By matching the notched edges of two copies, it was possible to prove the genuineness of a document”. I guess photocopying has replaced this today.

Indentured is a term often linked to the slave trade in the sugar plantations of America in the 17th century. Black Africans came to North America as indentured servants with a contract to work for a certain period of time, after which they were to be freed, but with the shortage of labour they were soon turned into slaves with no rights at all.

The word dandelion literally means the ‘tooth of a lion’, and is said to come from the shape of its leaves. Check with the IMAGES on the InterNet.

Dentition is a technical word describing the development and arrangement of teeth in humans and animals.

Dentate and edentate are adjectives describing those who have teeth and those without teeth. I have heard it said that due to diseases of the mouth, we have an increasing edentate population today. Edentata is an order of mammals which have few or no teeth. These include sloths, anteaters and armadillos. Dentate can also refer to tooth-like projections or edges, as of leaves, for example.

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Domus = building, house, home

Words connected with Latin domus = building, house, home and Greek doma = house, housetop.

Related Latin words are dominus = master and domina = mistress; also, domicilium = residence.

[Many of these words have the idea of lording it over or being superior to because one is the master of the household]

a dome = rounded roof
domestic e.g. matters, affairs, science
to domesticate -ate = to make
domiciliary e.g. help
domain = area under one lord or control
to dominate as lords controlled households
dominant adjective
to domineer over = control arrogantly

domesticity -ity = state of

domiciled at

dominion = territory of a lord or government

domination -ion = act or process of
a domineering manner or spirit
[-eer suggests being concerned with]

a dominie = Scottish for schoolmaster
to predominate over
predominance -ance = state of

danger = the lord’s power
to endanger the life of
dungeon = the lord’s tower

despot: literally, he who has power over the house, from dems = house and     pot- = power
despotic -ic = adjectival ending

dame = lady of the house
damsel = young unmarried woman
donna as in prima donna
timber through German zimber = the material a house is made of

predominant pre- = before in importance

endangerment noun

despotism -ism = practice of

madam: form of address; ma = my
Madonna: term for Virgin Mary (from Spanish)
don: Spanish for Mr or Sir

You’ll notice that the vowels o, a, and e often swap places. This is quite normal when words pass from one language into another. Also, the n seems to replace the m, especially in Spanish and in the words danger and dungeon. I’m not sure how common this is, though n’s often drop out of some forms of words. It might be argued that an m is really a double n, and so they may swap places readily.

It is common for d’s, t’s, and th’s to change places because the pronunciation of these consonants is very similar. It is the tongue that moves rather than the lips. A good example of this is tooth or teeth, and dental or dentist, where the initial t of tooth becomes a d in dental and the th turns into a t.

Likewise, it seems domus passed into German as zimber, the material of which a house is made, and became timber in English. A z is also similar in sound to d’s and t’s.

Under the feudal system in Europe (from the 9th to the 14th century AD) land was owned by lords. People lived in villages controlled by a lord. Thus, as Robert Claiborne suggests, in ‘The Roots of English: A reader’s handbook of word origins’, it was dangerous to offend the lord of the manor since one might end up in his dungeon.

The g in danger and dungeon may come from the letter i in a Latin word like dominium (the place or rule of the master).

The e after the g as in dungeon makes the g soft so that it sounds like a j (as in jug). A g is normally hard, as in gun.


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Duco = I lead, bring about, draw, carry, guide

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I lead)
(to lead)
(I led)
(led) or (drawn)

Duco can also mean I draw behind, bring, carry, guide. It often comes into English with the idea of bear in the sense of support.

The words sane, insane, sanity, insanity and saneness, are usually used of mental health, but can sometimes have a more general use, even a figurative or colloquial one, as in “You’re driving me insane” when one is expressing annoyance at another’s behaviour or “That’s an insane idea” when one thinks the idea is crazy or quite impractical.

Sanitation, sanitary, and unsanitary usually relate to physical health. The words unsanitary and insanitary seem to be used interchangeably, both meaning unhealthy or likely to cause disease.

Town and city councils have departments of sanitation whose staff see that streets, buildings, streams and water supplies are clean, unpolluted and health-promoting. Good sanitation describes healthy-living conditions while unsanitary conditions promote disease rather than health; they are unhygienic and may contain dirt, dust, mould, rubbish, body waste or vermin like rats and mice. Health or sanitary inspectors decide whether a place is fit for habitation or not.

While sanitation comes from Latin, a similar word or synonym, hygiene, is of Greek origin coming from the name of the Greek goddess of physical health, hygiene and cleanliness, Hygeia. She is usually pictured as a woman holding a snake. The snake was worshipped in many ancient religions and seems to have been linked to healing. Note the letter "y" in hygiene, which is a clue that it comes from Greek. The goddess Hygeia had a sister called Panakela, from which probably comes panacea, meaning a remedy for all diseases. Pan means all in Greek while akos means cure or remedy.

A sanatorium, sometimes spelt sanitarium, which seems the preferred spelling in America, is a place where patients go to improve their health, to convalesce or recuperate after an illness. Sanatoriums or sanatoria are often situated in the country or among hills where the air is fresh and clean.

Sanitize and sanitise both mean to make healthy by getting rid of dirt or germs. The -ize seems to be preferred in America while the -ise, suggesting French influence, is used more in Britain. These two words can also be used figuratively, especially of writing which needs the editing out of words that make it unfit for publication.

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Scribo = I write

dux noun
duke noun

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Frango = I break, shatter, dash to pieces

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I break)
(to break)
(I broke)

Words that come from frango have something to do with breaking. Either they are breakable or they cause breakages. Notice that the letter “n” fails to appear in a number of derivatives like frail and fragment. Nor does it appear in the past tense fregi. This is a characteristic of the letter “n”, which for some reason slips out of some derivatives and appears in others.

fragile adjective
fragility noun
a fragment noun
to fragment verb
fragmentary adjective
fragmentation noun
frail adjective
frailty noun
the fray noun
to defray e.g. expenses
a fracas
[a fringe]
to infringe
to refrain from
a refrain noun
suffrage sub + frango
a suffragist -ist = one who
a suffragette -ette = one who, feminine
an osprey of questionable origin

a fracture
to fracture a bone
fractionalal = adjectival ending
an infraction in = into
fractious adjective
a fractil noun

to refract re = back
refraction noun
refractory adjective

If something is fragile, it may be delicate and easily broken.

Fragments are the small broken bits. If you break a vase you will need to pick up the fragments. A fragmentary speech is full of disconnected parts and does not flow. Archaeologists look for fragmentary remains of pottery and skeletons. They then try to piece the bits and pieces together.

We often speak of frail old ladies. They are usually short, slim, possibly in poor health, and look delicate. It is as if they would break apart if a strong wind were blowing.

The word fracas comes into English through the French fracas from the Italian fracasso meaning an 'uproar'. It may originally have come from a combination of frangere (to break) and quassare (to shatter). It applies to a noisy quarrel or brawl.

The little word break, which comes from the Old English brecan (See Origins of English), is very common and used in many contexts. It’s one of those original Anglo-Saxon strong verbs which changes its vowel in the past tense so that we say, “I broke the vase” or “The record has been broken”. We might call it one of the bread-and-butter words of English.

However, other words which come into English from Latin like infringe and fracture have the idea of break in certain specialised instances, though the little word 'break' could still be used in those cases. The verb infringe suggests breaking in upon someone’s rights, time, personal space or liberties, and in this sense it is usually followed by the prepositions on or upon. You may also infringe the law or an agreement. Copyright and patents may be infringed, and such infringements may be followed up by infringement notices. The verb infringe is used of breaking an agreement or the law, but it does not include breaking laws against man, like assault or murder.

Contrary to what one might think, the noun fringe is not considered to be related to infringe. Rather, it is thought to come from the Latin fimbria, which refers to fibres or threads, and suggests a border, trimming, or outer edge. On cushions, clothing and even hair, it may make a decorative edge. However, as the threads are cut or broken, it is hard to believe that the word was not influenced by frango in some way.

We also speak of the fringes or margins of society. People on the fringes probably don’t conform to the norms of society; they may live on the streets, for instance. You may also hear the expression fringe benefits, which are supplementary benefits, small extra benefits, like the use of a firm’s car, which top up one’s wages.

The word refrain has two meanings which commentators think come from different roots. The one which relates to frango refers to the chorus or repeated lines in a song or poem, which break up the verses or stanzas. It might also be applied to a repeated phrase or statement, such as “You never remember my birthday!” which is seen as nagging or complaining.

The other meaning comes from ‘horse’ language and suggests stopping oneself from saying something one might later regret. It is said to come from the Latin refrenare, meaning to bridle (one’s words) or hold them back. There could be some grounds for saying that they both come from frangere = to break, because when you restrain a horse, you are breaking it away from its natural instincts and causing it to follow your directions. It is the same thing when you stop yourself from criticising someone. In both cases control, is at stake. There is also an expression “to break a horse in”, meaning to get it to do what you want.

The word suffrage has a complicated and somewhat obscure derivation. At first it seems to have been used to mean intercessory prayers, prayers making pleas on behalf of others. It probably came through French from the Latin suffragium meaning approval or support for another. And this is where frango with the meaning of to break comes in, for suffrage seems to derive from the noise of a crowd breaking into sounds of approval for a performer or speaker by shouting or clapping. And when you vote for someone, you are approving of them. So it is not surprising that suffrage gained the idea of ‘voting’.

The right for women to vote was long a struggle and was first achieved in New Zealand by suffragettes led by Kate Sheppard in 1893. It was finally gained in England in 1928. Prominent women advocates were Millicent Garrett Fawcett who believed in peaceful campaigning. She and her organisations were followed by more militant activists led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. The -ist is a masculine ending, meaning ‘one who’, so a suffragist is strictly a man who approves of extending the right of women to vote, while a suffragette refers to a woman supporter of the right of women to vote. However, members of Millicent Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies were known as suffragists, while the more militant group were referred to as suffragettes.

An osprey is a large eagle-like hawk which lives near water and feeds on fish. It hovers over the water, spots its prey and suddenly dives down and flies up with the fish in its beak. Two explanations are given for the derivation of osprey. Some linguists think it comes from the Latin avis prede meaning a ‘bird of prey’, while others consider it comes from the Latin os = bone and frangere = to break, and thus means bone breaker.

Fraction and the adjective fractional are mathematical terms. A fraction is always part of a whole and so is very small. It’s as if the whole has been broken into pieces. A fractional difference is a very slight one.

A fractured bone is a broken bone, whether it’s a tiny crack or the bone has been broken into many pieces.

An Infraction is basically a legal term meaning a minor infringement or breaking of the law, so it is not in common use. An infraction is not considered a serious offence and would be punishable only be a fine.

The term fractal was coined by the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975. The word comes from the Latin fractus meaning broken or fractured, and is used to describe the endless patterns found everywhere in Nature, as in leaves and snowflakes. What is intriguing about these patterns is that “each piece reflects the whole”.

Refract is another technical term relating to waves of light, sound and heat. When rays of light hit glass, air or water at an angle, they change their direction. This explains the formation of rainbows and mirages. It also explains how images are formed on the retina of the eye.

Refractory is an adjective used of materials, such as bricks, that are resistant to heat and are suitable for using in kilns and furnaces because the bricks do not break up under high temperatures. Likewise, refractory diseases are difficult to treat; they do not break up or clear when treated. When ulcers and acne, for instance, do not respond to treatment, they are classed as refractory.

Refractory, as an adjective, is also used of animals and people who obstinately refuse to behave as they are asked. A refractory pony may resist being broken in, while a refractory infant may stubbornly refuse to fit in with the household and is hard to deal with.

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Gradior = I step, take a step, walk, go

Gradior is a verb with a passive form in Latin but an active meaning; hence, the r on the ending. This occurs occasionally in Latin and may come through Greek from which Latin is derived. Gradior looks as if it means ‘I am stepped’ but rather it means ‘I step’.

There is also the Latin noun gradus which means a step

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I step)
(to step)
grassus sum
(I stepped)
(stepped or walked)

grade noun and verb
a grader -er = that which
a gradient
gradual, gradually adjective and adverb
a graduand
a graduate
an undergraduate or undergrad
to upgrade
an upgrade
to downgrade
to degrade de = down, from
degradation noun
biodegradable bio = life
retrograde adjective
a degree
an ingredient

aggression ad = towards
aggressiveive = adjectival ending
an aggressor -or - one who
congress con- = with
to digress di, dis = away from (the subject)
a digression
egress e, ex, = out of, from
ingress in = into
progress pro = forwards
a progression
progressive adjective
to regress re = back, again
regression noun
regressive adjective
retrogression retro = backwards
to transgress trans = across (moral boundaries)
a transgression

Except for the fact that the basic idea behind most of the above words is a movement or step, there is little connection between words formed from the present tense in this list and words formed from the past tense. Thus the two columns may be regarded as separate.

Grades represent steps on a ladder. Today all sorts of items are graded like meat and eggs. You may receive a good grade or a poor grade in an examination. Sometimes examinations themselves are called grades and you may begin at Grade 1 and rise in steps of difficulty to Grade 8.

Graduands are students who have passed all the necessary grades and are about to graduate, whereas undergraduates are the students who are still passing the grades.

An upgrade suggests a promotion, a rising up the ladder, progressing or improving in some way while a downgrade is the opposite.

On a colour chart for painting you will find gradations of colour from a rich red or scarlet, for example, down through the various shades of red to a very pale pink.

The word gradient usually applies to the slope of a road. A sudden steep slope may be marked by a warning sign reading Steep Gradient. A grader often refers to a tall machine on wheels that levels out the ground in road-making. There are machines called graders that sort out fruit and eggs by size and when people do this work they are also called graders.

Degradation, with the accent on the first syllable, often has the idea of humiliation so it is probably degrading to have rotten eggs thrown at one. Substances which are degradable can be reduced to smaller molecules. My understanding is that they can be taken back a step in the manufacture of the final product. If a substance is biodegradable it can be broken down or decomposed by some living organism like bacteria. This principle is used in the treating of sewage and making of compost.

The word degree comes into English from the Latin via French. Like the word grade, it suggests steps on a ladder or stages on a scale which is real or imagined. We speak of degrees of temperature on the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales. Burns are divided into degrees of intensity or seriousness; you may suffer from a first, second or third degree burn. Third degree burns are the deepest and most serious. We speak of degrees of difficulty, of competence, or of freedom as if we are applying some scale to these.

Ingredients in a recipe are the items which are to be put or gradually moved into the mixture. They are part of the steps necessary for successful cake-making. Usually they are put in one by one or step by step.

Aggression is as if someone has stepped towards another in anger. The aggressor may show his anger through a forceful tone of voice. He may raise his fist, but the derivation of the word suggests that the aggressive or hostile approach entails a step towards the other.

A congress is usually a formal meeting, often of delegates from different countries or different parts of a country. In the USA the House of Representatives is known as Congress.

To digress from a subject is to take a step away from it and thus go off the topic.

Ingress and egress are perhaps more formal words for entrance and exit or coming in and going out.

Most people prefer to make progress, that is to take steps forward rather than to regress and make retrograde decisions or actions which take one back a stage and amount to stepping backwards in time or retrogression. When adults behave like children, they may be said to be guilty of retrogression.

A transgression usually involves crossing moral or ethical boundaries and is often used as a synonym for sin, trespass or offence.

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More hints on words derived from Greek (See also Origins of the English Language)

The Greek alphabet has 24 letters starting with alpha and ending at omega, and most can be easily transliterated into English, for instance, alpha represents our a and beta our b. But there is no exact equivalent for our c or f. There are also a few letters that are foreign to our alphabet, e.g phi which sounds like our f and is represented in English words as ph, and psi which we write as ps and pronounce as s. For a table of the Greek alphabet and symbols, see Greek Alphabet Symbols: Rapid Table.

1. Their ph sounds like an f in English, as in photograph, telephone, pharmacy, phantom, philosophy, physics, phase, emphasis.

2. Their ps, found in psychology, psalm, pseudonym, psyche, psychosis, is pronounced in English as a plain -s. The p is silent.

3. We do not pronounce the h in the rh of rhinoceros, rhythm, or rhapsody. [Rhinoceros comes from Greek rhino- from rhinos = nose or nostril, and ceros from keras = horn. Rhythm is derived from rheo = to flow while rhapsody comes from rhapto = to stitch and ody from oide = a song or ode]

4. The letter y in the middle of a word, where an i might be expected in English, is pronounced as a short or long i as in lyrics, physics, symbol, and sympathy (with the short i), and dynamite, rhyme and rhythm (with a long i).

5. Common endings which come from Greek roots are

* logy, derived from logos, a word or study of, as in astrology, biology, geology, theology. [bio- from bios = life; geo- from ge = earth; theo- from theos = god]

* nym from onoma = name, as in pseudonym (false name), and synonym (word or name of similar meaning)

* an a on the end of a word, as in asthma, bacteria, coma, dilemma, diploma, dogma, drama, enigma, era, idea, orchestra, pneumonia, stigma.

*-is as in analysis, crisis, diagnosis, synopsis.

[ana- = up and luo = loosen; crisis from krisis = decision; dia- = apart and gignosko = know, recognise; syn- from sun- = together or altogether and opsis = seeing]

* -os as in asbestos, chaos, cosmos, thermos [a = no or not, and sbestos = quenchable, i.e. unquenchable or unextinguishable; chaos = gulf, chasm, empty space; cosmos from kosmos = order, the universe; thermos = hot].

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Haereo = I stick

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I stick)
(to stick)
(I stuck)

to adhere to, ad = to
an adherent -ent = one who
inherent adjective used as noun
inherently adverb
to cohere co = with, within; together
coherent adjective
coherence -ence = noun ending
incoherent in- = not
incoherence noun

adhesive ad = to
adhesion noun

cohesion co- = with, together; noun
cohesive adjective

The words from haereo are not particularly common and there is usually a simpler word that can be used. You may adhere to the rules or to a script or not stick to them. Adherents follow a group, party or leader and can be counted on sticking to the group, etc. Adhesive tape is simply sticky tape, while adhesion is a medical term used when organs or parts of the body stick together, especially after surgery. It is usually found in the plural, i.e. adhesions.

The –ent ending is again a sign of the present participle so that coherent literally means sticking together. Words with the endings -ant and -ent are usually adjectives but can be used as nouns so that an adherent, as mentioned, means one who sticks to a group or party and is a loyal member.

The adjective inherent suggests a quality or characteristic that is naturally part of one. Inherent ability is what one was born with and has not been acquired later. The words coherent and incoherent are often used of speech. When one has received a shock or fright, one’s speech often becomes incoherent and cannot be understood because it is so confused.

The letter r turns into an s in the words that come from the past participle haesum, i.e. adhesion and cohesion with their adjectives adhesive and cohesive. A great leader has the ability to turn a rag-tag, unco-operative and dispirited group into a cohesive one, a group that works together as a whole and sticks together.

Related to the Latin verb haereo is another Latin word haesito, which also has the letter s instead of the r. It seems this verb originally emphasized the sticking, so that haesito may be translated as I stick fast or I really and truly stick.

The Latin word haesito gives us these English words:

to hesitate -ate = to make, cause

hesitant -ant = -ing

hesitation noun

It is these three last words derived from haesito = I stick fast, which are most commonly found in English, so that if one hesitates, one may be really and truly stuck in the old belief or decision and unable to shift to another one.

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Jacio = I throw or hurl

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I throw)
(to throw)
(I threw)

Jacio has the idea of throwing, which entails some force. Most words derived from it appear to have come into English from the past participle though the a of the past participle has been replaced by an e, possibly from the past tense, jeci. It could also be that these words come into English through the French jeter = to throw.

a javelin

adjacent ad = to, next to

to ejaculate Latin e, ex = from, out of
ejaculation -ion = noun ending

ease noun
easy adjective
easily adverb
easement noun
disease dis = separated from

a jet noun e.g. of water
jet adjective e.g. skis
a jetty
to jettison e.g. fuel
abject adjective e.g. misery
an adjective = a part of speech
conjecture noun and verb
dejected de = down
dejection -ion = act or state of
to eject e-, ex- = out of, from
to inject in- = in, into
to object to ob- = in the way of
an objection
objectionable adjective
an objective ob- = towards
an object
to project pro- = forwards
a projection
a projector
a projectile
to reject re- = back
to subject to
a subject sub- = under
subjective adjective
the trajectory trans- = across, through

Although Grandsaignes d’Hauterive lists all the above words as deriving from jacio (I throw), not all commentators agree.

Jacio itself is closely related to another Latin verb, jaceo, jacere, jacui meaning to lie down or recline which seems to have no past participle comparable to jactum (thrown). According to Robert Claiborne in “The Roots of English”, jaceo literally means to be thrown down, so perhaps lying down from a standing position is seen as requiring some energy. Thus Robert Claiborne contends that jaceo (I lie down) gives rise to the words adjacent, adjective, and abject.

The house adjacent to mine is the one next door or lying next to mine. The adjective is the part of speech which gives more information about some noun and usually lies next to or near that noun. Abject misery almost makes you lie down under the weight of its burden of pain.

The group of words related to ease may also have originally come through jaceo with the idea of lying next to and so reached with comfort or ease. Perhaps the word easement with its legal meaning of right to use or right over another’s land suggests this derivation since an easement, (i.e. having water or sewerage pipes crossing a neighbour’s land) may give one the right to dig up that land if a problem occurs with the pipes.

The javelin, a weapon thrown towards its target, has a v instead of a c and, although it may have originally come from jacio with the idea of throwing, it seems to have been borrowed from the French javelot or javeline.

The meaning of the remaining words can mostly be obtained by putting the affixes (suffixes and prefixes) and root word together, e.g. to eject = to throw out. If one is ejected from a meeting, one is literally thrown out. Rejection is the act of pushing back or rebuffing and is usually hurtful. Projectiles may be literally thrown and the path that they follow is known as their path or trajectory.

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Ludo = I play, jest (often used in the sense of playing jokes on and misleading)

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I play)
(to play)
(I played)

ludo noun
ludicrous adjective
to allude to
to collude with
to delude de- = down

to elude e-, ex- = from, away from

a prelude pre- = before
an interlude inter- = between

allusion al- = ad- = towards
collusion com- = together with, with
a delusion
delusive adjective
an illusion il = in =
illusory adjective
An illusionist -ist - = one who
to disillusion dis- = away from

Ludo is the brand name of a board game played with a die and counters. I guess that we mostly play games to win rather than to enjoy the experience. This means there is a winner and a loser. Thus some words derived from ludo suggest an element of putting down, playing tricks on, toying with, playing games with the other’s self-esteem. They may even be insulting or mocking. A good example is the adjective, ludicrous. To call someone’s idea ‘ludicrous’ is insulting. The word literally means “filled with jest”. The implication is that the idea is so unreasonable, so out of place, as to be laughable. Robert Claiborne puts it Iike this: “You’ve got to be joking!” The implication is that the idea is stupid.

You may elude the police by outrunning them, side-stepping them, jumping a fence or turning into a dark alley. Thus you get the better of the police, who are the losers. You play, as it were, out of (sight) and thus escape.

When you think you see water ahead on the road, it may be a mirage and simply an illusion. Likewise, when a magician appears to cut a lady in half, it is also an illusion. It’s as if your eyes are being misled and played with by outward influences.

A delusion is somewhat similar except that it comes from one’s own belief system. It is internal. A person who wants to walk along power lines is clearly deluded, thinking that such wires will hold them up. One who believes someone is persecuting them, when this is not the case, is suffering from a delusion, an untrue belief. Some people are said to have delusions of grandeur; they have excessive ideas of their ability, talents, knowledge and power. It’s as if the mind is being played with. The de- may suggest being played down from normal or played with to one’s detriment.

Disillusion and disillusionment usually involve disappointment and even bitterness, because something thought to be true is discovered to be false. It can even come from realizing that something or someone is not as good as one previously thought. People who are disillusioned with politics or government may refuse to vote at the next election.

Writers often allude to Greek mythology or well-known events. Greek was taught in schools in Western countries until about a hundred years ago and thus educated people would have known the stories of Greek gods and goddesses. Hence, a writer would not need to tell the whole story but might mention or allude to one aspect of it expecting the reader to understand what is being hinted at. Of course, if a reader doesn’t know the story, then the point is lost, which can be annoying. It is a way referring indirectly to something.

Collude literally means playing with. When you collude with another, you work secretly with them to gain an advantage over someone else so that they lose out. Collusion involves secrecy and cheating, and synonyms might be to connive, plot, or conspire.

A prelude is something that is played before something else, so it is a type of introduction. It may be the first part of a poem or piece of music such as an opera or fugue. More generally, we speak of an event being the prelude to something more important, e.g The argument was the prelude to a drawn-out conflict. A meeting was organised as a prelude to ironing out misunderstandings.

According to Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, about 1303 the word interlude, then spelt entrelude, came into English meaning “a short, humorous play introduced between parts of a long medieval mystery play”. The Medieval times or Middle Ages, sometimes called The Dark Ages because they were characterized by fighting and barbarism, lasted from the 5thC to the 15C AD. The mystery plays probably began with priests using figurines to teach their congregations about the Bible. Both the Bible and services were in Latin which was not understood by most people, so monks began to act out Scripture. Chanting was included and gradually plays developed. About the 13thC these were moved outside the church and taken over by the guilds or business organisations. They developed into full-blown plays such as the Easter Story and became pageants with each scene depicted on a cart so that it could be moved along from one stopping place to another.

Interludes and intervals are almost interchangeable today except that the word interval is more common. Interludes are often spoken of in conjunction with music and may be a piece of music played between two parts of a concert. Often the lunch hour may be an interlude at a conference; it divides the lectures where one has to concentrate with a lighter hour when one can eat, chat and relax.

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Mordeo = I bite, I eat, sting, wear away of a river

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I bite)
(to bite)
(I bit)

Mordere has the idea of biting off with the teeth and so eating. Figuratively, it has the idea of stinging, hurting and criticising.

Just a few words have come into English from the Latin mordere, a few from the present tense and a few from the past participle:

mordant adjective and noun

a mordent

morsel noun
remorse noun
remorseful adjective
remorseless adjective

The adjective, mordant can be used of anything said or written and always implies criticism. You’ll find it used of humour, wit, comments, thoughts, etc. A mordant remark is literally a biting remark. Other synonyms for mordant might be stinging, cutting, sharp or sarcastic.

As a noun mordant is a specialised term used in dyeing and printing. In dyeing it applies to any substance which combines with a stain or dye so as to fix it on to the material. In printing it refers to a corrosive acid used to etch lines on to a surface. You probably won’t come across these specialised meanings, however.

A mordent is another specialised term, which you probably don’t need to know. This one ends in –ent. It belongs to music and in Alec Rowley’s “A Pocket Pronouncing Musical Dictionary” published by Alfred Lengnick & Co, Ltd, London, Fourth edition, 1951, it is described as a “Transient or Passing shake, consisting of the principal note, the note below, & the principal note.” These notes are played very quickly adding to the brilliance of the piece. I think they could even be called “biting”.

A morsel is a small amount or quantity of something, especially food. It is literally the amount one can bite off a larger amount, but you may also hear speak of a morsel of gossip or news in a figurative sense.

Remorse implies a strong feeling of regret or guilt over some past action. It may be a crime or deed regarded as a sin, or quite an ordinary action. It is a common, colourful word which suggests that one’s conscience is biting back or gnawing at one for past deeds. A remorseless tyrant continues a policy of cruelty towards his subjects; he is a cruel man who has no regrets for the way he is governing and is not going to give it up. This word is also used figuratively, e.g. Explorers in a desert who have run out of water may struggle with the heat and feel that the sun shines remorselessly upon them.

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Nox noctis = night

As with most nouns, words mostly come into English from the Latin genitive, noctis. Exceptions are equinox, noxious and obnoxious.

The noun nox is also related to the Latin verb nocere meaning to harm. Sometimes the vowel “o” changes to an “i” or an “e”. The list of related words includes:

equinox Latin aequi = equal
noxious adjective
obnoxious ob = towards
innocent Latin in- = not
innocuous adjective
nocuous adjective
pernicious Latin per- = intensive
internecine Latin inter- = among
nuisance noun
necrosis noun
necropolis Greek polis = city
necromancy noun

a nocturne
nocturnal adjective
nocturia noun

nectar Latin nocte = by night
a nectarine noun

Equinox literally means ‘equal night’. These occur on March 21 or 22, or on September 21 or 22 and describe the time when the sun crosses the earthly equator and night and day are of more or less equal length.

The adjective noxious means full of death and so full of harm. We speak of noxious weeds, noxious waste, noxious fumes or gases. These are all harmful to humans and could cause poisoning or death.

The adjective obnoxious literally means ‘leading towards death’ or ‘exposed to harm’. Today it has more the meaning of ‘vulnerable to harm’ and so extremely objectionable and offensive. We speak of obnoxious behaviour, obnoxious habits, obnoxious people. Loud noise may be obnoxious as may be showing off.

The spelling of the adjective innocent with the prefix in- meaning not shows the relationship to the verb nocere, so the adjective means not harmful. It is probably the most commonly used word in the list.

The adjective innocuous is also related to the verb nocere, which has a “u” in the past tense, i.e. nocui, meaning ‘I harmed’. Innocuous, which means ‘not harmful or likely to offend’, is a much less common adjective than innocent and often can be replaced by ‘innocent’. It is used of remarks, medicines, creatures like insects, pastimes, people and behaviour.

Nocuous is the opposite of innocuous and means harmful or poisonous. It is not very common today, but you may read of nocuous emissions, organisms or materials.

The adjective pernicious is commonly used with the noun anaemia, meaning one has fewer red blood cells due to one's inability to absorb enough Vitamin B12. It is also used more generally meaning ‘highly destructive or damaging’. You may hear of pernicious influences and effects. Used of people, it suggests ‘wicked’.

The adjective internecine, which means deadly and marked by great loss of life, is usually applied to war. The letter ‘c’ is soft and pronounced like an ‘s’. If ‘c’ is followed by an ‘e’ or an ‘i’, it is soft, e.g. certain and city. Where it is followed by ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’, it is hard and is pronounced like a ‘k’, as in cat, cot, and cut.

A nuisance is something that causes bother or annoyance. The noun comes into English from nocere through the French nuire meaning ‘to harm or offend’, which explains the letter ‘u’. Weeds may be a nuisance to the gardener. Hay fever may be a nuisance to the sufferer. This is another very common word, but in this case the idea of harm seems to be watered down to irritation or bother.

The noun necrosis is a medical term, used to describe the death of cell tissue which often leads to amputation.

A necropolis is literally ‘a city of the dead’. It is used of very ancient cemeteries.

Necromancy refers to witchcraft, sorcery or black magic where the dead are brought up in order to gain information. People may want instructions or to know the future. It seems the word was originally nigromancy but was later changed to necromancy. Nigro- means black and manteia has the idea of prophecy.

A nocturne is a musical composition which suggests feelings of the night. Chopin is famous for writing nocturnes.

The adjective nocturnal means ‘active at night’ and refers to birds and animals that come out at night but sleep during the day. The kiwi and most bats are nocturnal birds.

Frequent urination at night is called nocturia.

Nectar is a sugary solution produced by flowers and plants so as to attract pollinators such as birds and insects which then transfer the pollen. Bees collect nectar in order to produce honey. Nectar was said to be the food of the Greek and Roman gods. It made them immortal by overcoming death.

Nectarines are a fruit which are similar to peaches except that nectarines have a smooth thin skin whereas peaches have a more furry skin.

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Os, ossis = a bone (sometimes shell)

A few words have come into English from the genitive of this Latin root, ossis, meaning of a bone. The Greek word for bone, transliterated, is osteon, and it is likely that the Latin and Greek are linked, since much of Latin comes from Greek, the Romans having conquered Greece and adopted much of their culture.

an osprey Latin os = bone, frango = I break
osseous adjective
to ossify –fy = to make
ossification -fication = process of making
an ossuary –ary = a place where
an oyster Latin ostrea and Greek ostreon
to ostracise or ostracize Greek ostreon = oyster, shell

I have included the words oyster and ostracize in this list although they have a slightly different derivation and both have the extra - r. However, the similarity in appearance and original meaning suggest that there is a connection. An oyster is a shell-fish, a bivalve, which means it consists of two shells hinged together, while in ancient Greece one could be ostracized or banished from society by a vote with shells. I understand the name of the person one desired to remove was written on a shell or potsherd (a broken piece of pottery), and if enough people wrote the same name on shells, that person was banished and had to leave the city. Today we ostracise people by ignoring them or excluding them from activities or events, and the idea of shell or bone is lost.

The osprey is a large fish-eating bird. The word literally means bone-breaker.

Osseous is an adjective which has the idea of relating to, consisting of, or resembling bone, while to ossify means to turn into bone, as can happen to cartilege.

An ossuary is a place where bones are kept. This can be a vault, crypt, or container where bones of the dead are held.

In modern times we have adopted a number of medical terms from the Greek word osteon. Here are some of them:

osteology Greek logos = word, study
osteopathy Greek patheia from pathos = suffering
an osteopath
osteoplasty Greek plassein = to mould
osteopenia Greek penia = deficiency
osteoporosis Greek poros = pore, hole, space; passage way
osteoarthritis Greek arthros = a joint
osteitis Greek –itis= inflammation of
osteal adjective
osteomyelitis Greek myelos = marrow, brain and so spinal cord

Osteology is the study of bones. The Greek root logos means a word as well as speech, discourse, reason, logic, and so study. It gives rise to English words such as logic and logistics. You will also find many English words ending in -logy meaning the study of . This noun is related to the verb lego meaning I pick, collect or even read. I guess when we study we are reading, collecting, and picking out information. Even when we speak, we are picking out words from those stored in our brains.

An osteopath works with bones so as to free a patient from pain or suffering. His treatment may release bones which are misaligned or stuck, usually as a result of injury. The Greek root pathos entails the idea of an experience, whether happy or sad, so it can mean suffering.

Osteoplasty is derived from the Greek root plassein meaning to mould or form. Thus osteoplasty relates to reconstruction or grafting of bones, which need re-forming or re-moulding, the Greek plasta meaning moulded.

The Greek word penia means lack or deficiency, so if one has osteopenia, there is reduced mineral content in the bones. The next stage of the condition is osteoporosis, or "porous bones", which is more serious. Lack of calcium or Vitamin D results in loss of tissue and as a result bones become brittle and fragile, so fracture easily. The Greek poros means a space, pore, hole or passage way.

Osteoarthritis is inflammation of the joints and is seen in swollen finger and toe joints. Osteitis and osteomyelitis both involve inflammation of the bone. Osteomyelitis involves infection of the bone marrow while osteitis begins with infection of the bone itself. The adjective osteal relates to the bones or to the skeleton.

Most of the words derived from the Greek osteon are of a technical nature, but are certainly used by the medical profession.

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Pectus, pectoris = the chest or breast

The words coming into English from this Latin noun are derived from pectoris, the genitive of the noun, meaning of the chest. They are:

pectoral adjective, e.g. pectoral muscles
to expectorate ex- = out of, from; -ate = to make
an expectorant -ant = ing; adjective used as a noun
expectoration noun; -ion = process or act of

Expectorate means to spit or cough up (phlegm, etc). Expectorating involves making phlegm come up from the chest, so expectoration is the coughing up and spitting out of material from the chest or lungs. An expectorant is a medicine helping one bring up phlegm from the chest. The -ant equals our present participle, as in helping, making or promoting.

Notice that the word expect is unrelated to expectorate, but comes from the Latin past participle spectum, which means looked at, and so expect means to look out for.

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Pes = the foot, pedis = of the foot

Most Latin words come into English from what is called the stem of the noun, which in the case of pes is pedis = of the foot or the foot’s (shape). Only a few words are derived from pes, the form for the subject of a sentence.

The list includes:

pes = the foot

a pioneer -er = one who
a pawn

an octopus octo = 8
a platypus platus = flat

pedis = of the foot

a pedal
a pedestrian -ian = one who
a pedestrian crossing
a pedestal
a centipede Latin centi = 100
to impede im- not
an impediment -ment noun ending
to expedite ex- = out of
to be expedient for
an expedient noun
expeditious -ious = full of
an expedition noun
to repudiate re- = back
repudiation noun
the antipodes anti- = opposite
a chiropodist Greek chir = hand
a podiatrist -ist = one who
a pedigree French pied de grue

The word pedigree comes from the French pied de grue which means the foot of a crane or a crane’s foot. Apparently this bird’s foot was thought to resemble a family tree or genealogical chart.

A pedal is worked by the foot while a pedestrian goes on foot. A pioneer likewise goes on foot and prepares the way for others. A pawn was originally a foot soldier and is now the smallest piece used in chess or else someone used by others for their own benefit. We could say the latter is the weakest, perhaps the most naïve person, one who can be kicked out or around at will.

To impede is literally, to put one’s feet in the way of, and so to block or hinder. The opposite is to expedite, namely, to put one’s feet out of the way of and so enable or allow something to move faster. Negotiations may be expedited by prior discussions. It may be expedient to send someone away in order to avoid a situation becoming worse.

The adjective expeditious literally means full of freed feet and so has the idea of acting quickly. An expeditious choice is made promptly and helps the situation. You might do something with great expedition or speed, but more likely you are setting out on foot to explore or discover something. It may be a hunting or a military expedition, but today you are more likely to go by car or aeroplane than by foot.

To repudiate is to push back or away with the foot. Repudiation also has links with the Latin verb pudere meaning to be ashamed, for repudiation often involves shame.

A podiatrist is one who specializes in treating the feet. A word with a similar meaning and which seems to have gone out of fashion in New Zealand is a chiropodist where presumably hands were used to treat feet.

The antipodes has four syllables and represents the region on the opposite side of the world to one’s feet.

The centipede has many legs legs while the octopus has eight tentacles (feet). The platypus is an Australian mammal with webbed feet and a ducklike bill.

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Pono = I put, place

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I put)
(to put)
(I placed)

As is common, most words derived from the Latin pono come into English from the past participle positum.

a pound noun
to pound verb
pounding participle used as a noun

a compound noun
component -ent = -ing

deponent e.g. verbs

to expound ex- = out of, from
exponentially adverb
to impound im, in = in to or on to

an opponent -ob = against

to propound pro = in front of

a pose
to pose
position noun
a post
apposite adjective
apposition ad = to
to compose com- = with
a composition
composite adjective
to decompose de- = down
decomposition noun
Post Script or PS, P.S.
to depose de- = down from
a deposit noun
to deposit verb
depositions noun
to dispose of dis- = away
to be disposed to
a disposition
to expose ex- = out
an exposition noun

to impose on im- or in- = in or on
an imposition noun
to oppose ob- = against
opposition noun
a preposition noun
to propose pro = forward
a proposition noun
to posit verb
to repose re = back
a repository noun
to suppose sub = under
a supposition noun
to presuppose pre- = before
a suppository noun

The noun pound has a number of uses in English. It is a unit of weight (about 16 ounces). It is also a unit of money, e.g. an English pound, (£) which is made up of 100 pence. As well, it is a place where stray animals are kept till claimed and similarly with cars which are illegally parked and removed. As a verb, it suggests thumping again and again, which is much stronger than just putting. We also speak of the heart pounding when it is beating strongly and regularly, maybe due to fear. Using a pestle and mortar, we also pound food such as nuts, spices and beans, to crush them into a powder or paste, sometimes ready for cooking.

Compounds consist of several items or ingredients. They are literally put together. Baking powder consists of baking soda and cream of tartar so it is a compound. We also speak of compound words (e.g. body guard); compound interest (interest paid both on the original amount owed or invested and the interest on them). The verb also means to make worse, e.g. Their problems were compounded by rises in food prices. It can also mean 'an enclosed area containing buildings'.

Deponent is a technical term found in some languages and in law. Greek and Latin have deponent verbs which are active in meaning but said to be middle or passive in voice. The legal term refers to a witness who makes an affidavit, that is, who swears to a written statement made out of court; so his testimony is put down in writing.

To expound is to put out in detail and so to explain something. Related to it, is the mathematical term exponential, which has become very popular over the last fifty years with the meaning of 'increasing rapidly', i.e. being put out or 'growing at a faster and faster rate'. So we might say that prices are rising at an exponential rate or exponentially.

To impound literally means to put in, and usually has the idea of seizing and taking into legal custody vehicles, goods, documents, animals, because the law has been broken.

Your opponents are those who are placing themselves against you. They may be the team you are playing; they will be doing their best to ensure they win and you lose.

Propound has the idea of putting forth a plan or idea so that others may understand, discuss, and make a decision about it.

Words like pose which come from the past participle seem to follow the idea of placing or putting more closely. When you pose for a photograph you literally put yourself in the position in which you want to appear. The noun position is similar; it literally means how something has been placed. Posture is the position one puts oneself in and so how one holds oneself when standing or sitting.

A little different is the word post, which can be a noun or a verb, but I think you will find all meanings can be traced back to pono. A fence post is put in the position where it is needed. You can post a letter, that is, you put it in a box where the Post collects and delivers it. Another meaning is the place where one should be. If a watchman or lookout should leave his post, there may be trouble.

In the Latin Post Script, often abbreviated to PS or P.S., the word post is more like a preposition, a word placed before a noun making a short phrase. Post Script means written after so it suggests a thought written after the main letter, an afterthought, as it were.

Short phrases like Post Script often consist of a preposition and a noun. Prepositions may be little words like In, on, before, behind, after, above, below, from, into, until, by, with, etc, and are placed before nouns to form phrases like 'in the shop', 'by the park', 'under the water', 'after school', 'with Milly', etc. Most sentences are filled with such phrases.

The verb to propose is related to propound, but is much more common. We may hear that a man proposed marriage - he asked the lady to marry him. He made a proposal of marriage, if we use the noun. So a proposal is an idea which is put forward for consideration. The noun proposition, which is also related, contains the idea of proposal and is used in areas such as maths, logic, and business. Perhaps the most well-known is in the field of business where a scheme or plan is put forward for consideration of another party. It is used informally to suggest improper, often clumsy sexual advances, as in 'She was propositioned at the party by a manager, but she refused.

Posit has a rather limited use. This verb means 'to put forward as a fact or basis for argument'. It is often used to start a debate, e.g. He posited a flat earth. So something that is posited may be an assumption and the proposer may not be committed to the proposal.


Positive may be described as the opposite of negative: When you are positive or have a positive attitude, you put yourself beyond the negative and even a neutral position, and words like 'no', 'not', and 'can't' are mostly excluded. Negatives suggest that something can’t be done; positives encourage and suggest something can happen. When you oppose someone, you place yourself against them. To begin with, opposites stand on different sides of a line or court, opposing one another, and work towards different goal posts, as do sports’ teams.

The adjective apposite is not in common use today, but it suggests something is suitable for a situation. It is correctly placed for the occasion. Remarks which are appropriate and on the subject can be described as apposite; they are placed in the right direction. His remarks, in response to the proposal, were very apposite. Clothing which is suitable for the occasion may also be classed as apposite.

Apposition is a technical term found in biology and medicine. However, you may meet it in grammar where a group of words are placed next to a noun giving more information about it, e.g. I love those dogs, the golden retrievers. Commas are usually placed round the extra words.

Compose suggests putting together various elements so as to construct something different. When several things are put together, the final product is called the composition. It may be a song, a piano piece, a picture or a group of paragraphs making up an article. The elements making up the whole composition are the components. Composite materials are usually strong. Examples are plywood, fibreglass, paper mache and reinforced concrete.

Compost can be made in a composting bin or heap, and consists of leaves, food scraps, straw, pieces of fruit and vegetables which gradually decompose producing fertiliser which improves soil and helps plants grow. Decompose is the opposite of compose, suggesting the separation of something into its component parts and thus means to decay or rot.

Depose means to put down, and more particularly to remove from office, often suddenly and forcefully. Kings were often deposed but any leading official, such as a chairman, can be deposed. As mentioned above, depose is also a legal term meaning to ‘give witness, testify under oath’, and literally to put forward evidence. The person testifying is called a deponent. Probably the most common form of the word is deposition. Depositions, that is, sworn statements that are to be used as evidence in a trial, are usually produced in writing before a trial begins so that each party knows what is likely to be presented.

Then there is the word deposit, which is commonly used of money placed in a bank or of valuables placed in a lock box or vault for safe-keeping. Sometimes it is used as an advance payment on a large item, like a house. More generally, we say that the bag of groceries was deposited (put down) on the floor before being put away.

The verb dispose literally means to put away. You dispose of rubbish and so get rid of it. You may dispose of matters at a meeting, meaning you discuss and finish with them. However, to be disposed to and the noun disposition suggest a tendency towards a certain state of mind as in 'He is of a friendly disposition.'

Expose is related to expound but the prefix ex- means 'out' so it suggests putting out and showing or uncovering. You take off your jacket and expose your bare arms, so make your skin visible. Also, sand can be exposed at low tide. Another meaning of expose is revealing the true, often objectionable nature, of something, e.g. He was exposed as a thief or they were exposed to danger. The noun exposition has many uses, but it still has the basic meaning of putting or setting forth. It may be a public exhibition or fair where products, goods, or paintings are put on display. Or It may be some sort of writing or article, giving a detailed explanation of a subject or often the first part of a film, drama, or piece of music, showing what is to follow.

The French word exposé with an acute accent on the last 'e' is probably an article or film revealing a cover-up.

Impose is related to impound but has a slightly different meaning. It literally suggests putting upon, in other words, taking advantage of someone by demanding more than one might normally expect. One’s kindness may be imposed upon by staying too long or asking for more and more. Having to stay in after school for talking too much may be considered an imposition.

Oppose is closely related to opponent. You may oppose or be opposed to an argument, a theory, a plan, a law, ideas, or another team, many things indeed. There may be strong opposition to a proposal or you may be in opposition to proposed changes. One group may be in opposition to another, and, if your team wins big, you may say you demolished the opposition.

To repose is to put back in the same position or again. It usually refers to a state of resting after exercise or exertion, and especially to rest in sleep. It is not very common today, but is probably more poetical. A repository is used of a place where things are put or stored for the future. A person or thing may be a repository of information; a book can be a repository of knowledge. One might have a repository of gem stones or weapons.

Suppose has many uses and its literal meaning, to place under doesn’t give us much idea of its meaning or usage. Perhaps one could describe it as putting into one’s mind an idea, which may or may not be true. We could assume it is true without proof, e.g. I suppose she just forgot the date. Sometimes it means 'meant to be', as in She was supposed to be here at 8pm. Supposition is not a commonly used noun but suggests putting a belief in something without there being any certainty that it is correct. Detectives and scientists often work with suppositions as a starting point.

Perhaps the medical term, suppository, shows the literal meaning more clearly for it means putting a drug underneath, e.g. into the rectum rather than the mouth. It is a way of taking medicine when people are vomiting or cannot take drugs by mouth.

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Rumpo = I break, burst

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I break)
(to break)
(I broke)

Most words derived from the Latin rumpo come into English from the past participle ruptum. The derivation of rumpus is doubtful and may not even have come from the Latin rumpo, but the meaning is so close to that of rumpo that I have included it in brackets.

[a rumpus]
[a rumpus room: noun used as adjective]

a rupture = something broken
abrupt Latin a, ab = from, away from, adjective
abruptly adverb
abruptness noun
bankrupt lit: broken bank
bankruptcy -cy = noun ending
to corrupt com = with, from within
corrupt adjective
corruption noun
corruptible adjective
incorruptible in = not
to disrupt dis = apart (separation)
disruption noun
disruptive adjective
to erupt e, ex = out of, from
an eruption noun
to interrupt inter = between
interruption noun
an irruption in = into
rout noun and verb
route noun and sometimes verb
routine noun

We speak of someone kicking up a rumpus when they are making a commotion or disturbance and thus are breaking up the peace. A rumpus includes noise. It is probably not serious enough to get one arrested, however. A rumpus room is usually designed for playing games. Here you can break out of your usual routine, relax and be noisy.

Many words which come from the past participle ruptum have quite specific and narrow uses though sometimes they are also used figuratively. Perhaps the most commonly-used word here is interrupt suggesting someone or something breaking in between what we are doing or saying. Interruptions can be welcome but mostly they appear annoying.

The word rupture usually refers to a break in a cell membrane and, in particular, to an abdominal hernia, i.e. it is a medical term. However, it can also refer to a break in relationships. It is not a particularly common word.

Abruptness usually refers to the way something is said. It is as if it is broken off and is probably said with feeling. It breaks into proceedings by its unexpectedness, suddenness, and the force of emotion behind it. Actions can also be performed abruptly; you might leave abruptly, that is, in such a way as to break in on what is happening.

Bankruptcy is a legal term. You may be insolvent and so be unable to pay your debts, but a bankrupt has made a legal declaration of his inability to do so, and his assets, if he has any, are sorted out by a court and divided among his creditors. Figuratively, you may be said to be bankrupt of morals or compassion.

The idea of corruption seems to be that one is broken or breaks from within through good turning into evil. Money may be said to corrupt and bribery is often associated with corruption.

The word corruption is a good example of assimilation where the m of the prefix com becomes similar to the first consonant of the root word ruptand so the word becomes corrupt. It is much easier to say corrupt than to say comrupt. Try it for yourself.

Meetings, work or services may be disrupted. Meetings may be disrupted through members becoming angry and argumentative, even violent, or it may be that noisy machines outside may cause the disruption. A party may be disrupted by gate-crashers. Have you ever spent hours at an airport because services have been disrupted by fog? People may be disruptive as may be pupils, classes, and strikes. Disruption includes interruption but is usually stronger, longer, and potentially more annoying.

Eruption is usually limited to volcanoes and geysers, but figuratively a meeting or classroom may erupt into laughter.

The last three words on the list contain neither an m nor a p and so their derivation is not so obvious. It seems they come into English through French. A rout is an overwhelming defeat. When an army is routed, it is utterly broken apart.

A route was a pathway opened up by force and became broken in and hence established. (Check) It seems that the word routine suggests the way in which we break up our day into units of work, play, and eating. Where I live, we normally pronounce the word route as if it were the word root, as in a plant, but I hear Americans saying route in the same way as I pronounce rout.

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Sanus = healthy (adjective) and sanitas = health (noun)

Words derived from these Latin words have something to do with health. The list includes:

sane adjective
insane -in = not
sanity -ity = noun ending
insanity -in = not
saneness -ness = noun ending
sanitary adjective
unsanitary un = not
insanitary in = not
sanitation -ion = noun ending
a sanatorium -ium = place where
a sanitarium
to sanitize -ize = make
to sanitise -ise = make

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I write)
(to write)
(I wrote)

An equal number of words seems to have come into English from the present tense of scribo = I write, and from the past participle scriptum = written.

a scribe noun
to scribble
a scribble noun
a scribbler -er = one who
a scrivener
to ascribe to ad- = to
to describe de = down

to inscribe in = in to or on to

to prescribe pre = beforehand

to proscribe pro = in front of
to subscribe sub = under, down
a subscriber -er = one who

to circumscribe
to transcribe trans = across

a script
unscripted adjective, un- = not

scripture noun

a description
descriptive adjective
indescribable in- = not
non-descript non = not
an inscription -ist = one who
a postscript or PS post- = after
a prescription pre- beforehand
prescriptive adjective

a subscription

a superscription super- = above
a circumscription circum- = around
a transcription trans- = across
manuscript manu = by hand
MS is short for manuscript

Many of these words are well known, for instance, describe which means to write down what something looks like. Others, however, are not so common.

You may have heard of “the scribes and Pharisees” if you are familiar with the New Testament of the Bible. In the first century A.D. scribes were in charge of the scrolls containing the law of the Jewish nation and religion. They drew up legal contracts such as marriage contracts, etc. They copied the law and probably knew it off by heart. Thus they were important people because they were regularly consulted in legal matters.

Likewise in Europe before the days of the printing press (said to have been invented by Gutenberg of Germany in 1440), books and documents were all written by hand. This was the job of the scribe, who may have written up contracts while keeping and copying government accounts and records. Thus he had a wide knowledge of what was happening in his community whereas most people, being unable to read and write, were ignorant of the true situation. The scribe was a man of letters, an educated person, possibly with access to government secrets, and so a man of power in days when illiteracy was common.

The word scrivener is not heard much today, but historically a scrivener did much the same work as a scribe. A scrivener made his living by writing or copying documents for those who could not read nor write. It seems they may also have managed people’s money or property for them. Like scribes, they have become our secretaries, legal assistants, public servants, and even accountants and agents. For an interesting description of the work of a scrivener, see the notes in Wikipedia. As pointed out in their commentary, scriveners are still employed today in countries where literacy is low.

It is worth noting that the letters b, p, and v sound very much alike and may easily be confused. Perhaps this is why all three are found in words derived from scribo.

Notice also the two b’s in scribble, scribbling, and scribbler. The first b closes the initial syllable (scrib-) and keeps the vowel i short while the second b is pronounced and begins the second syllable (-ble). Scribble means writing written down quickly and so is often illegible or difficult to read.

The word scribe has only one b, as do most words which come from the present tense of scribo. The i in the word scribe is long, however. The silent e on the end of scribe opens the syllable, making it a long vowel. As well, it says its name as found in the alphabet.

Script literally means anything written. It can include articles, books, the law, and has developed several specialised meanings, such as the way things are written. In this sense script can mean handwriting or the type of print used, e.g. italics.

A medical doctor or general practitioner may write down for his patient details of a needed medicine. This is called a prescription or a script. Once written out, it can be taken to a chemist or pharmacist and made up into the required form.

Actors also follow the script or words written down by the playwright and if they add extra words, these are the unscripted parts.

If a person or thing is called non-descript, it suggests there is nothing one could write down about them, nothing to distinguish them from others like them, and this may imply they are uninteresting or dull.

The word manuscript is literally something written by hand. It may refer to an old book, law or document, written before the invention of printing, and these are usually valuable because rare. It may also mean an author’s original hand-written or typed text, set out before it is published and printed. The word manuscript is often abbreviated to MS while the plural is MSS.

Meanwhile, the word scripture refers to sacred writing.

The long epic poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey are ascribed to the Greek poet Homer, though I think there is no proof that he wrote them. However, we write these poems down to him, as it were.

Inscriptions are words carved or written into rock, stone, or metal as on a locket, watch, or coin.

Superscriptions are titles written above statues or paintings. For those who know the Bible, Pilate wrote the title, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS”, and this was placed above the cross on which Jesus was crucified as a superscription.

A superscript can be used for corrections placed above the written text. It also refers to small letters or numbers printed above the ordinary text. Ordinal numbers may be printed like this, e.g. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, showing the order in which one was placed. Likewise, a subscript refers to a letter or number printed below the ordinary-sized letter, as in chemical formulas.

An inscription placed around a coin or medal may be known as a circumscription. A circumscription is also a mathematical concept relating to circles drawn round triangles. As anything enclosed in a circle is limited by that circle, so the word circumscribed, has come to mean restricted and this is probably the most common meaning of circumscription today. I notice that some people’s movements and the movement of goods around the world are now becoming drastically circumscribed due to the spread of the coronavirus.

A postscript is found at the bottom of a note or letter; it is like an afterthought and is often preceded by the shortened form of the word, PS.

In ancient times enemies of the government could be proscribed . Their names would be written up on a board for all to see. If your name was on the list, you were outlawed; your property was taken by the state, and death was the probable outcome should you return to that city or country. Today it is used to mean activities or actions forbidden by law, religions or cultures. Thus athletes who have been caught out taking proscribed drugs may be banned from some competitions. The word proscribe is not so common today, but you may meet it occasionally.

Conscription has a military meaning and is used by countries when they don’t have enough volunteers to fight their wars for them. People’s names are written with others on a list and these people are legally bound to enlist in the army.

Subscriptions are becoming common today. One subscribes to a series of books or magazines. Literally, one writes one’s signature underneath an agreement, consenting in advance to purchase a newspaper, update, podcast or blog, daily, monthly, annually, etc. Some subscriptions, however, may be free.

The idea of to transcribe is to write over or across from one medium to another. You may practise a speech by taping it and later make a printed copy of it. This is called transcribing. Interviews may be taped and then transcribed so that the audio is put across into print. You can transcribe thoughts, speech or data into the printed or written form. Transcribe is also used of putting a piece of music or a song into a different key, or writing it for a different voice, instrument or group of instruments. It is also used of taking an article in one language and putting into another language.

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Seco = I cut

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I cut)
(to cut)
(I cut)or (strong>I did cut
(cut) or having cut

The Latin verb seco has the idea of cutting or dividing into sections. As is common, most words derived from it come into English from the past participle sectum.

a segment noun
segmentary adjective
segmentation noun

a saw noun
a sickle
a scythe

a section
to bisect Latin bis = twice
a bisection noun
to dissect Latin dis- = apart
dissection noun
to transect Latin trans = across, through
transection noun
vivisect Latin vivus = alive
vivisection noun
an insect in- = in, into
an insecticide Latin caedo = I kill secateurs plural noun

A segment is a piece or part of anything that divides up naturally. We speak of a segment of a circle, of citrus fruit like an orange, of the body of an insect. Words can be segmented into their separate sounds, e.g. soup becomes s-ou-p. This is a skill necessary when one is learning to read. Sentences can be segmented into words. This helps to get children started on phonological awareness, which also helps with the reading process.

The noun segmentation is a device used in marketing. Customers are divided into groups who have similar needs and characteristics. There are many ways of doing this, but some are buying habits, age, gender, or location.

The saw, sickle, and scythe are all tools used by tradesmen and farmers. The saw is a tool used by carpenters to cut through logs and timber. The saw has a serrated edge and is used by moving it backwards and forwards. The sickle is used by farmers to cut grain. It has a short handle and what is called a C-shaped blade. The short handle forces the farmer to bend over and from it developed the scythe with a longer handle, which meant one could stand up straight when harvesting grain. These words are related to the idea of cutting and come from seco through German.

Section is perhaps a general word for a part of something and there are many synonyms for it, such as part, bit, chunk, piece. Land is usually cut up into sections, and houses built on them, especially in cities.

The noun sector seems to be used mainly in the public or commercial arena. Cities are divided into sectors for civil defence purposes. We speak of primary industries like agriculture, mining, and fishing with secondary industries covering the manufacturing of items like milk powder and oatmeal. Hospitality can be placed in the tertiary sector. Businesses offering similar goods or services are classed together like the educational sector, the financial sector, the technological and the housing sector. Each sector is cut away from a larger grouping, making it easier to deal with. The word sector also has applications in mathematics and the military.

To bisect is to cut in two; to dissect is to cut up and examine; to transect is to cut across or through, and to perform a vivisection is to cut through a living animal for scientific research. A transect or a transect line is used in geography or biology to count the diversity of insect or plant life in forest, bush, grassland, stream or beach, etc. Bisect, dissect and transect are terms used in mathematics, while bisect, dissect, transect, and vivisection are all terms found in surgery.

Insects have a hard skeleton and a segmented body consisting of a head, thorax and abdomen. As insect literally means ‘cut into’, perhaps it is so named because of the segmented body.

An insecticide is a substance which kills insects. (See caedo)

The plural noun secateurs is literally French for those cutting or those which cut. They are like thick scissors for cutting branches of trees and shrubs; they have two prongs and require one hand to use. They can be described as pruning shears.

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Hints for Learning

1. Take it easy rather than trying to cram in information. Just browse the page.

2. Try to relate the vocabularies back to the Latin or Greek root.

3. If you know most of the words, try to understand a word you don’t know.

4. If you know a few words only, choose the easiest word you can find to learn.

5. Check out which column an English word is in. Is it under the present tense heading or the past participle? This gives a clue to its spelling.

6. Check the Latin infinitive for the second last vowel which may affect the English spelling also. The e in agere appears in words like agent while the a in vocare shows in vocal and vocabulary.

7. Listen for these words in conversation and watch for them in books. This is the easiest way to learn how words are used.

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Suadeo = I convince

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I convince)
(to convince)
(I convinced)

Suadeo is related to the Latin adjective suavis meaning sweet, so underlying suadeo is the idea that you convince someone by making them think your idea is sweeter or better than any they may have. The letter ‘u’ is the equivalent of the letter ‘w’ in suadeo.

to persuade

to dissuade dis- = away from, against

suave adjective
to assuage Latin ad- = towards (a change)

persuasion noun
persuasive adjective
dissuasion noun

To persuade is to convince by making one feel your recommendation is more agreeable than theirs. The prefix per emphasises the meaning of the root verb, convince.

Dissuasion is advising against one’s ideas.

The adjective suave is used of a charming and gracious man though he may not be sincere. It is rarely used of a woman, who is more likely to be called ‘elegant’.

To assuage fears is to calm them down by making them less horrific and more agreeable.

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Taceo = I am silent

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I am silent)
(to be silent)
(I was silent)
(having been silent)

A few words only have come into English from the Latin root taceo:

reticent adjective
reticence noun

tacit adjective
taciturn-or = one who

The Latin root taceo gives us only a few words in English. You may read them rather than hearing them in conversation. However, it is useful to know what they mean and how they are used. The noun reticence suggests holding back and not saying what one thinks. If one is reticent about what one thinks or feels, one probably keeps one’s thoughts or feelings to oneself. The opposite of reticent might be loquacious, which is derived from loquor = I speak, and literally means full of talk. Another antonym might be garrulous, which comes from the Latin garrio = I chatter. Both these antonyms suggest that one doesn’t know when to stop talking and start listening. When we give tacit approval or show tacit agreement, we may not say anything or perhaps we nod or gesture approval or agreement.

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Tendo = I stretch

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I stretch)
(to stretch)
(I stretched)
tentum or tensum

As well as stretching, tendo has the idea of extending or tending towards. In the past tense of a verb in Latin the first two letters are sometimes repeated as here with tetendi, but this rarely comes into English.

to tend

tendon noun

to attend Latin ad- = towards

to contend Latin con- = with

to distend Latin dis- = apart
to extend Latin ex- = out

to intend Latin in- = into, towards

to pretend Latin pre- = before, forward
a pretender

a tent noun
tentacles plural noun
tense adjective, verb and noun
tension noun
hypertension Greek hyper- = over
hypotension Greek hypo- = under
intense Latin in =
intensify Latin -fy = make
intensive adjective
attention noun
attentive adjective
contention noun
contentious adjective
détente noun
distension noun
extent noun
extension noun
extensive noun
extensor (muscles)
intention noun
ostensible adjective
ostentatious adjective
ostentation noun
a pretence noun
pretentious adjective
pretention noun

Most of these words are closely linked to the idea of stretching.

We tend to be something or to do something; we tend to stretch towards or are likely to do these things. Children tend to be noisy and we tend to relax at home.

Tendons connect muscles to bones and, being flexible, allow them to stretch.

Tents are basically canvas stretched over poles or branches.

The tentacles of an octopus are its limbs or arms. The octo- tells you it has eight of them.

Conflict, fear, anxiety, nervousness, even excitement, can cause muscles to tense, meaning they tighten or stretch tight. This puts the body under tension. However, some things won’t work unless under tension, e.g. parachutes. On a sewing machine the stitches need to be at just the right tension. The sewing will not be satisfactory if the degree of tension is too tight or too loose. Tension is a very commonly used word. Notice it uses the letter ‘s’ as does ‘tense’.

As a noun the word tense refers to the time indicated by verbs. In English there are three main tenses of verbs, the present, past and future. It would appear that this meaning might be related more to the Latin word tempus meaning time, rather than the Latin tendo. However, tendo also underlies the word tempus.

Hypertension and hypotension are medical terms, meaning high blood pressure and low blood pressure. HBP is considered to be over 140/90 while hypotension is under 90/60. Hypotension can lead to dizziness or fainting

The verb intensify means to make more tense. The prefix in- seems to increase the idea of ‘tense’ in this verb, so the word means to make more tense or more strained and thus to increase or make greater. The suffix -fy is related to the Latin facio meaning to make.

The adjective intensive seems to have increased in use and meaning of late and its basic meaning seems to be dealing with something thoroughly and in a short time. You may have an intensive course of therapy or of learning in some subject. We speak of intensive farming suggesting you get as much produce out of a small piece of land.

If you attend to a task or a matter, you stretch your mind towards it, i.e. you put your mind to it. If you attend a meeting, presumably you want to stretch your mind towards the meeting’s content, i.e. you are interested in the discussion and decisions made at the meeting. Attentive people do not talk during the meeting while the inattentive do not listen.

To contend, which is literally to stretch with, can either mean to assert that something is a fact, or compete or strive with. A contentious issue is one that people argue over. It may be said to be a bone of contention. A contentious person is one who likes to argue. A contentious decision is one over which there is much disagreement.

Détente is a word which has been recently borrowed from French and means relaxing or releasing of tensions. It was particularly used during the easing of the Cold War tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1979.

The verb distend is fairly limited in use, describing parts of the body when they swell outward. Possible causes of abdominal distension may be gas, bloating or constipation. Notice the ‘s’ in the noun ‘distension’.

In more general use is the verb extend, which literally means to stretch out. You may extend a course, meaning you extend the time it takes to complete. The extension may be a day or weeks. Note the -s in the noun again.

The verb intend literally means to stretch into something. You may intend to do your homework but never get round to doing it. Your mind stretched towards it but the intention was never put into action.

The verb pretend means ‘to stretch forth to what is not’, and so claim to have or be something one has or is not.

The adjective pretentious, its opposite, unpretentious, and the noun pretention are related to pretend and have the idea of trying to impress by putting on airs and acting unnaturally.

Not so common today is the adjective ostensible, which suggests something appears to be true, though it may not be so. There may be a discrepancy between the ostensible or stated aim and the real one.

Ostentatious gestures are done in a way that is intended to impress others. The ostentatious wear clothes so as to impress. Its opposite is unostentatious

The verb to tend has the idea of caring for someone or something. You may tend to the animals or you may tend to the washing. As an adjective, the word tender has a number of meanings and uses in English which come from tendo meaning I stretch. It can mean easily broken, delicate, kind or sympathetic. It is used of age, touch, or the heart, etc. If young, you are of a tender age. A tender touch is usually slow and gentle. The tender hearted are kind and sympathetic. If a doctor finds that you have an organ or muscle which is tender, it probably needs medical attention.

The verb to tender has the idea of offering or stretching towards something. You might tender an apology or your resignation, for instance. In the business world you might seek tenders for a particular job. Firms then put in a tender for the contract; in other words, they send in a report on how they will do the work with the components, time to be taken and their price. It is like a competition or bid for the job. Services are often put out to tender.

You have probably heard of the noun tender in connection with trains. Behind the engine is usually the tender, a vehicle carrying fuel and water for the engine. Similar is a small boat used to carry people and supplies to and from the ship to the shore.

A tendril is a specialised stem of a plant that spirals around and clutches round a trellis or anything that can support the plant’s climbing. Vines and plants that climb like this are sweet peas, wisteria, honey suckle, grapes, pumpkins, water melons, and cucumbers.

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Torqueo = I twist

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I twist)
(to twist)
(I twisted)

Torqueo has the idea of twisting, twirling, bending, winding (round a stick). It comes into French as tordre. Most words derived from it come into English from the past participle.

torment noun
to torment
a torque noun
a torch

to torture
torture noun
tortuous adjective
a tortoise
to contort
contortion Latin con- = with
a contortionist -ist = one who
to distort dis- = away from
distortion of
to extort ex- = out of, from
an extortionist -ist = one who
to retort re- = back
a retort
tort a legal term
nasturtium Latin nas- = nose
torticollis Latin collum = neck

Torment and torture both have the idea of severe pain felt through twisting of some kind. However, torture may be more violent; it probably lasts for a short time only, and may be applied by something concrete like the rack or thumb screws. It was usually used to elicit information or get money out of someone. The rack was an instrument for stretching a victim’s limbs and pulling them out of joint. Torment, on the other hand, may be permanent, mental or physical, and can arise through indirect means such as a guilty conscience. There is a certain overlap between the words so that one can be tortured by anxiety or tormented with inquiries.

Torque is a term that comes from physics. It is also used in medicine and mechanics and may be familiar to those involved in the automotive industry. Damien Howard describes it as a twisting force that tends to cause rotation. See www. Torque has many applications and I understand it is basically the force we use when we turn a key in a lock or turn a door knob even. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology describes it as a force causing rotation or torsion.

It seems a torque, also written as torc or torq, was a type of ornament worn by iron-age Europeans and Britons and made of twisted metal. Such ornaments have been uncovered in archaeological digs in England and may have been worn as belts, necklaces, armbands, and especially as neck rings, open at the front. They seem to belong to Celtic art and the most famous gold neck ring was probably worn by a person of high rank. They were also made of silver and iron and appear to have been popular in European cultures from 700BC – 200AD. For more information and images, see torc in Wikipedia and the InterNet.

Today torches are powered by batteries, but a torch was once a bundle of branches or sticks twisted around each other at one end and lit. Sometimes the end to be lit was soaked in fat first.

A tortuous path is one full of twists and turns, while a tortoise means twisted foot, possibly because a tortoise has large, thick hind legs.

Contortion usually involves the face or parts of the body. It generally results from pain though a contortionist is a very flexible gymnast who has learned to place parts of his body in unusual places and angles without pain. Distortion is a slightly more general term. Meaning, truth, facts, statements and sound can be distorted, twisted away from the real thing or out of shape. Curved mirrors which distort one’s reflection can be fun.

Extortion involves unpleasantness and may be a crime. Money, promises or confessions may be extorted or twisted out of people by means of force or threats. Replies, which are classed as retorts, have an unpleasant flavour, too, being considered ill-natured or rude. The idea is that one gives back insult for insult or one cutting remark for another. One has to be quick-witted to do it, but it is a twisted rather than being a clean way of relating. A retort is also a glass vessel with a twisted neck used in science to distil substances. Do look up the image of a retort on the InterNet.

A tort is a civil wrong. It is part of tort law or the Law of Torts and usually involves harm, damage or injury to someone or their property. It may occur intentionally or through negligence, and may be rectified through a civil court case. It seems that when the law is twisted, it becomes an injustice and needs addressing.

Torticollis or wryneck is a medical term referring to a complaint one would prefer not to have, for it occurs when the head is abnormally tilted or twisted to one side due to injury, weakness or spasm of a muscle.

The leaves of the nasturtium plant have a sharp smell and taste which apparently made people turn up or twist their noses. It comes from the Germanic nas meaning nose and turtium or tortum meaning twisted, so it literally means twisted or wrinkled nose. The nasturtium also has yellow, red or orange flowers which are edible. The seeds can be dried, pickled and used instead of capers for seasoning.

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Traho = I pull, draw, drag, take

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I pull)
(to pull)
(I pulled)

a train noun
to train verb
a trail noun
to trail verb
a trailer noun
a trace noun
to trace verb
a trait noun

to portray = "draw" someone
portrayal noun
a portrait noun
portraiture abstract noun

a tractor -or = that which
a tract of land
tractable -able = able to be
intractable in- = not
to attract ad- = to, towards
attractive -ive = adjectival ending
unattractive un- = not
abstract abs = away from
an abstraction
a contract con- = with, together
to contract to do
a contractor -or = one who
a contraction
contractable (of disease)
contractual arrangements
to detract de- = from
a detraction noun
detractors noun
to distract dis- = away from
a distraction
to extract ex- = away from
an extract noun
an extraction e.g. of teeth
an extractor fan
to protract pro- = forward, out
protracted adjective
a protractor -or = that which
to retract what one has said
a retraction re- = back
retractile adjective
to subtract sub- = from
subtraction - mathematical process
to treat
a treat noun
treatment -ment = noun ending
a treaty noun

Note that the word drawing-room is not related to traho but comes from word withdraw and was originally a withdrawing room. You withdrew with your guests so that you could talk away from the household.

The short words in the first column suggest a mark is left or there is movement in a line. A train is pulled along by an engine and may look like a straight line whereas a bride’s train, if not held up by the bridesmaids, will drag along the ground, perhaps leaving a mark. A snail often leaves signs of the path it took with a slimy trail. A storm may leave a trail of destruction so that one knows where it hit. If no trace is left, then nothing is drawn from it and thus no mark is left.

We also speak of a character trait, which is a more figurative sense. It suggests how our personality or character is drawn.

A tractor or traction engine are both used for haulage; they draw or drag heavy machinery, etc, behind them. Tyres can lose traction on icy roads; losing grip, they slip and slide. When I was young, people who broke their legs had them put in traction, presumably to ensure the leg was straight when healed. This meant they had to lie still in bed with the broken limb held up in the air. I doubt broken legs are treated like this today.

We speak of a tract of land or water. According to Robert Claiborne in “The Roots of English”, an expanse of land was originally marked out by actual lines drawn on the ground. Another meaning of tract is a leaflet, usually on a religious subject. We also speak of our digestive tract, which begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. It is a long, drawn-out tube, about 30 feet or 9 meters long, which takes in a number of organs, such as the stomach and intestines.

The word tractable, whether used of people or animals, suggests they can be easily handled or managed; they can be pulled or drawn along the way desired by their teachers or trainers. This word is used in a good sense; if tractable, one is teachable.

However, the words treat and treaty, have more the sense of dealing with. We can treat someone well or badly; we can give them a treat, a pleasant surprise or party, perhaps. When making a treaty with a country or group of people, we must negotiate with their leaders, drawing out from them what is acceptable to them and to you.

The three most commonly-used compound words in the second column are probably attract, contract, and extract. We are drawn to attractive people or attractive personalities; they draw us to them.

Your dentist may extract one of your teeth; he pulls or takes it out. You may also read an extract from a book, a paragraph or two taken from the book.

The word contract has two main meanings. The first is the opposite of expand. Muscles contract; they draw themselves up together and become shorter. The noun contract also has a legal meaning. We may contract to do some task. A builder contracts to construct a house and a written contract is drawn up with conditions attached.

We may contract debts. We can also contract a disease, so diseases can be described as contractable. However, the adjective spelt contractible has the idea of being drawn together or shrunk.

Crossings-out in one’s homework may detract or take from its appearance and it may be marked down.

A loud noise may suddenly distract students from their lessons; their attention is no longer focused on their study but on the cause of the noise.

The word protract, meaning drawn out, is used particularly of time. We may speak of a protracted wait, argument, struggle, dispute, illness or protracted pain. Talks, discussions and negotiations may be protracted and last a long time. In mathematics a protractor is used to measure and draw angles to scale. It is also a medical term for a muscle which is extended more than it should be and may even protrude. Thus pro- suggests forward or out as well as before in time and place.

In the word portrait the prefix por- is a form of pro suggesting the artist brings forth a picture or outline of someone’s face, in particular.

The prefix sub usually means under but in subtract it has developed the meaning of away from so that in mathematics subtraction is where we take one number away from another.

Though not a very common word, abstract has several uses and can be used as an adjective, noun or verb. An abstract noun, as opposed to a concrete noun, describes an idea, quality, or state of being like beauty or love, rather than something one can reach out and touch. (See Word Definitions: Parts of Speech). We may speak in abstract terms or of abstract art. This means we are dealing with ideas, theories or emotions. We also speak of someone being abstracted, meaning their mind is not on the present surroundings or task in hand but on something else. Thus they are preoccupied.

The noun abstract means a summary of the contents of a treatise or book. The prefix abs- has the same meaning as –ab (away, from) and is used before the letters c, q and t.

Sometimes we need to retract or take back a statement we have made because it is untrue or it makes us liable under the laws of defamation. A retraction is necessary or one may be taken to court. The undercarriage or landing gear of an aeroplane can be retracted as can some cords and cables. Often the cord on a vacuum cleaner is made to be retracted for tidiness. A tortoise has a retractile head. It can be drawn back under its shell for protection. Likewise a cat has retractile claws.

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Vaco = I am empty, I lack, I am without anything; I am free

The Latin vaco is one of a group of related Latin words which give us English words which have something to do with being empty. As well as vaco, there is the perhaps less common and poetical vacuo, meaning to make empty, and the adjectives vacuus, and vanus. Vanus comes from the verb vanescere meaning ‘to disappear’. Possibly also related, is the verb vasto and its related adjective vastus.

I list these verbs with their meanings and related adjectives:

vacare = to be empty, to lack, to be without anything; to be free
vacuare = to make empty + vacuus = empty, free from, without, void
vanescere = to disappear + vanus = empty, lacking, void
vastare = to make empty, especially in the sense of laying waste + vastus = being empty, waste, deserted or desolate

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I empty)
(to empty)
(I emptied)

vacant adjective
vacancy noun

a vacuum noun
vacuum adjective
vacuous adjective
vacuity noun

vain from vainglory
in vain: a common phrase
vanity noun
to vanish verb
to evanesce verb e-, ex- = from, out of
evanescent adjective
evanescence noun
to vaunt
to want
to wane

a void noun
void adjective
to avoid a or ab = away from
avoidance noun
devoid de = from, removal from

to waste
waste noun
wastage noun
vast adjective

to vacate
vacation noun

to evacuate e-, ex- = from, out of
evacuation noun
an evacuee -ee = one who

to devastate de- = completely

Whatever their origin, these words generally have something to do with lack or being empty.

If you are looking for a job, you will no doubt be looking up Job Vacancies, jobs that are not filled or where someone is about to leave. If no one is in the toilet or bathroom, it is vacant . Otherwise it is engaged, You may also have a vacant look or stare; your look suggests your mind is empty of thought or intelligence.

You may vacate your seat in a bus so that an elderly person may sit down. You leave it empty for them to fill. When you go on a vacation, you empty yourself or free yourself from your work duties and activities so as to relax and have fun.

Notice that the next group of words have an extra u in them because they come from vacuo which has the u in it. A vacuum is literally a space that is empty. However, there is no such thing as a perfect vacuum on earth because air and particles are everywhere. Therefore, what we call a vacuum is really a partial vacuum only. We have plastic bags that are said to keep food airtight because we press most of the air out of them. I guess a vacuum cleaner sucks up dirt into a bag or compartment that begins with nothing in it.

Vacuous is not a common adjective but means empty of thought or intelligence. The noun from it, vacuity, has come to mean emptiness of mind or lack of ideas.

If a bush fire or water from a flood is endangering your house, you may be required to evacuate, to leave the place empty for your own safety. People who have had to leave their homes when they became too dangerous to live there are known as evacuees. The noun evacuation is often used to describe the body process of emptying one’s bowels.

Perhaps the phrase in vain gives the strongest sense of being useless, futile, a waste of time, because one’s purpose is not achieved. If a search was in vain, it was unsuccessful because what was being looked for was not found. The other use of the word vain seems to have come into English earlier in the form of vainglory, which today means ‘excessive or unjustified pride in oneself’. The noun vainglory has mostly been replaced by vanity today, though I suspect vainglory was stronger in meaning. According to Wikipedia, vainglory “originally meant boasting in vain, i.e. unjustified boasting…”. The Latin word gloria from which our word glory comes usually means renown, glory or fame, but in a negative sense it has the idea of boasting, ambition or pride. See ‘Vanity’ in

Vanity gives us the picture of a lass sitting in front of a mirror admiring herself. Vanity can also be used as an adjective as in vanity unit, which seems to be a wash basin with cupboard underneath. Only the wall-hung ones appear to have a mirror above them.

Vanish is a synonym of disappear. We might say that the plane vanished into the clouds. Soon it wasn’t in view; it wasn’t there anymore. The longer words, the verb evanesce and the adjective, evanescent, with the noun evanescence, are less fashionable today than previously. However, you may come across them connected with memories, interest in a subject or natural phenomena like clouds, fog, mist or rainbows.

I doubt you’ll hear the verb vaunt spoken today for it is now considered archaic. It contained the idea of uttering empty words and thus bragging or boasting. It could be described as displaying one’s achievements in vain and so showing off in an unacceptable manner.

Avaunt is also archaic and means Get out! Out! Shoo! Scram! Some commentators suggest it comes from the two prefixes, ab meaning away or from and ante meaning before, i.e. Away before! and so Forward! Get going! Other commentators think it comes from ab and vaunt with the idea of empty from or away. The word was often used insultingly.

We mainly use the word want today when we mean ‘desire’. However, it seems it came into English with the idea of lack several centuries before being used with the meaning of desire . We might say a performance was wanting in clarity and precision. This means it lacked clarity and precision, and was in need of these characteristics.

Like the word ‘want’, unwanted has the idea of being undesirable.

The adjective wanton comes from Old English wan, which means not or lacking and towen meaning trained. So the idea behind wanton is being untrained or ill disciplined. Wanton acts of violence or destruction appear reckless, unprovoked, unreasonable and cause damage or harm. They may well come from uncontrolled and undisciplined anger.

The word wane also has the idea of lack, of emptying, and so becoming less. When popularity or interest in something wanes, it diminishes. After the full moon, the moon begins to wane so that we see it reducing in size. It is said to be on the wane.

The three related words, void, avoid, and devoid all come into English through French, as suggested by the vowels o and i, the oi combination being a characteristic of French. These words are said to be related to vaco and vacuo with the meaning of not there or empty. They could possibly also be related to the Latin verb viduo which means to deprive of, with the adjective viduus meaning deprived or separated from.

The commonest of these three is the verb to avoid. We avoid things we don’t like or don’t feel good at. We separate ourselves from them. We don’t like doing the dishes so we avoid this task by not being there when it is time to do them. This is known as avoidance.

Void can be an adjective or a noun. As an adjective we may say something is null and void meaning it is invalid, non-binding, or doesn’t count. We may consider someone is lacking in affection, so we say they are void of feeling. As a noun, we feel that nothing can fill the void or space left, e.g. by the death of a pet. If there is an empty space in a building or wall, we say there is a void in it.

The adjective devoid again has the idea of lack. After a shock one’s face may become devoid of colour. We may consider someone is a pleasant enough person but devoid of courage. A new, square, concrete and glass building may be considered devoid of creativity. We may decide a speech was well spoken but devoid of interest.

The word waste can be a verb, noun, or adjective. As a verb, we speak of muscles which waste away, shrink, and so lose strength, fullness and weight. We can waste time, money or opportunities, meaning we fritter them away gaining nothing useful from them. As a noun, waste suggests unwanted substances or material which is no longer useful and needs to be emptied out. Waste becomes an adjective when it gives us more information about some noun. Waste land, for example, is empty, not used, and perhaps desolate. Today we are concerned about waste management and waste disposal.

Wastage can be described as the amount of something lost or unused. Water dripping from a tap constitiutes wastage, as does food which is thrown out.

The adjective vast is related to the word waste and has two main ideas. The one is empty or desolate, and the other is immense. A vast plain is large and extensive. It may also be empty and desolate. However, the idea of huge is more usual today. We speak of vast amounts of money, vast areas of wasteland, vast forests, vast grasslands, a vast empire, a vast general knowledge.

Two other words related to vast are devastate and devastation. This verb and noun return to the idea of emptiness and desolation so that to devastate means to lay waste, destroy completely, make empty of . A tidal wave or earthquake may devastate a city while in a figurative sense one can be devastated by a traumatic event. This suggests one is so overwhelmed by the shock and grief of the happening that one can hardly function. Thus one is emptied of one’s normal ways of being and living.

Vast and waste were probably once the same word, since in Middle English, the English spoken and written in England from about 1066 till the late 1400’s, the letters v and w were sometimes used interchangeably. Likewise, the letters u and v were very often used interchangeably. A w is called a double u but can be written as a double u or a double v. The latter will be found on an English keyboard. In French, however, this letter is actually called a double v .

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Verto = I turn

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I turn)
(to turn)
(I turned)

The verb verto is also found written with an “o”: vorto, vortere, vorti, vorsum. Another Latin verb which is closely related to verto, is verso or vorso meaning ‘I turn round and round’. These last two verbs give us vertigo and vortex.

to avert a, ab = from, away from

to advertise ad = to, towards
an advertisement, advert, ad
an advertiser -er = one who

advertent = attentive (obsolete)
inadvertent in = not
inadvertently adverb
a convert noun
to convert verb
convertible adjective
a convertible adjective used as a noun
to controvert contra = opposing, against
to divert di-, dis- = apart

an extrovert extro-, extra- = outside
extroverted past participle used as an adjective
an introvert intro- = within
introverted past participle
to invert in = over, upside down

to pervert per = out of (the right way)

to revert to, re = back

to subvert sub = under, over

vertebrae = plural of vertebra
an invertebrate in = not
vertical from vertex

averse to, adjective
an aversion to a, ab = away from
adverse ad = against, opposite
adversity noun
an adversary
adversative language, adjective

anniversary annus = year

to converse con = with, together
a conversation
conversant with, adjective
controversy contra = opposing
controversial adjective
diverse adjective
diversity noun
to diversify -fy = to make
a diversion
diversionary adjective
divers adjective, archaic
extroversion extra- = outside

introversion intro- = within, inside

inverse in = over, upside down
perverse per = out of (the right way)
obverse ob- =
reverse re = back
reversible adjective
irreversiblein = not
subversion sub = over
subversive adjective
to traverse trans = across
transverse adjective
the universe unus = one
universal adjective
a verse
versed in, adjective
to versify
versus or v.
vice versa
versatile adjective

The meaning of these words can often be discovered if you know the meaning of the root word vertere and its prefix. You may avert or turn your eyes away from a distressing sight. When accidents, disasters,or blows are averted, they are prevented and do not happen. The adjective related to this verb is averse and is usually followed by the preposition to. Whatever you are averse to, you are turned away from and thus opposed to. Using the related noun, we may say we have a aversion to something. Most of us have many aversions: we may have an aversion to work, to exercise, to getting up early, to many ideas and behaviours.

The words averse and adverse are often confused. However, the prefix ad- usually means towards, but here it has the idea of against. If weather conditions are adverse, they are turned against you and thus unfavourable for your intended activity. The noun adversity also suggests that things are turned against one. It takes courage to face adversity and perseverance if the difficult situation can be overcome.

In a competition, contest, dispute or conflict, you will have opponents or adversaries, people who are not on your side, but are turned against you. Likewise, adversarial language is turned against you. A two or more party system of government may also be classed as adversarial because the parties are mostly in conflict with one another.

An advertiser tries to turn the reader’s attention towards what he wants to buy or sell, etc.

Anniversaries go with the turning of the year. Every time another year comes round, one has another anniversary, likewise birthdays.

The word advertent has gone out of use, but its opposite, especially in the adverbial form with an -ly, remains in use. You may inadvertently knock a vase off the shelf if your attention is not turned to what you are doing.

The prefix con- usually means with or together but in the word convert it has more the idea of into. Convert practically always indicates a change from one state into another state. You can convert goods into cash, a piece of material into a dress, waste land into a productive field. We try to convert people to our way of thinking, and this is certainly involved in a religious conversion.

There is a difference in pronunciation in convert, depending on whether it is a verb or a noun. The verb ‘to convért’ has its accent on the second syllable whereas in the noun, ‘a cónvert’, the emphasis is on the first syllable. A similar change in accent is found in the words ‘to pervért’ and ‘a pérvert’.

The adjective convertible means able to be converted or changed into something else. Used as a noun, a convertible can refer to a car with a roof that can open up. Another more technical use is found in the financial world where one speaks of convertible notes, bonds or currency.

The noun controversy refers to a dispute or argument and literally means the act of being turned against one or turned in the opposite direction. Controversial subjects are those where people are likely to have different opinions or ideas. These opinions are turned in opposing directions. Notice that in the noun, contróversy, the accent usually is placed on the second syllable (tro-), whereas in the adjective, cóntroversial, it comes on the first syllable (con-).

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Vinco = I conquer, defeat, win, obtain the victory

The past tense of vinco appears in the well-known phrase “Veni, vidi, vici”, which has popularly been attributed to Julius Caesar. According to the historian Appian of Alexandria, c95-165AD, a Greek historian with Roman citizenship, who wrote of the Roman wars, he is supposed to have said it around 47 BC in a letter to the Roman senate after a quick victory in Asia Minor. The phrase means I came, I saw, I conquered.

Present tense Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I conquer)
(to conquer)
(I conquered)


to convince con- = with
unconvincing un- = not
vincible adjective
invincible in- = not
to evince e- = from, out of

convict noun and verb
a conviction noun
to evict e- = from, out of
eviction noun
a victor -or- = one who
victorious adjective
a victory noun
Victor a boy’s name
Victoria a girl’s name
Vicky girl’s name, short for Victoria
the Victoria Cross
a victim
to victimize -ize or –ise = to make

You may convince another to do what you want with your arguments; this means you win them over with your words. Vincible, meaning able to be conquered, does not seem to be in common use whereas invincible, its opposite meaning, i.e. not able to be conquered, is.

The verb, evince, came into English in the late 16th century meaning to win a point or prove by argument. In other words, it had much the same meaning as the word convince has today. However, evince has gradually lost this meaning and now suggests to reveal or show something clearly, e.g. When I knew her she evinced no interest in politics.

The word convict has a legal meaning. After a trial in which the arguments for and against the defendant’s innocence or guilt is debated, the accused may be declared innocent of the crime and freed, or he may be declared guilty and be convicted of it, in which case he must face the penalty awarded by the judge. He either wins his case or loses it.

One may also feel convicted by guilt on a personal level; it’s as if one puts oneself through a trial in one’s mind.

The noun convict was especially used by Great Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries to describe prisoners who were deported to other countries such as Australia and America, often for very minor crimes like stealing a loaf of bread. Apparently Britain’s jails were overflowing with people convicted of petty crimes at that time and reduced their prison population by deporting them.

The abstract noun conviction has a slightly different meaning, having more the idea of strongly-held, deep-rooted beliefs and moral principles, which have been won by hard thinking and struggles.

The word eviction is narrow in its meaning and is also connected with the law. It has the basic idea of being forced out of a place with the backing of the law. Thus tenants can be evicted from a rental property if their rent has not been paid and an unruly customer can be evicted from a pub. In each case the person doing the evicting has the power of the law behind them. The tenants have broken some part of their tenancy agreement and the noisy customer has disturbed the peace in the pub. The tenants and rowdy customer are defeated in their desire to remain where they are.

The Victoria Cross is a very high award established by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1956 to honour acts of courage during the Crimean War (1853-1856). It seems the medals have been awarded to fewer than 1,400 people since then.

A victim is the one who is defeated by the more powerful person. A group of bullies can easily victimise a younger person on their own. Because of their greater number and power, they turn him into a victim. The –ize ending is used to turn a noun into a verb and has been in use in English since the 16th century. However, today it seems to be a characteristic of American English while the –ise ending, which reflects the influence of the French language, is more common in British English.

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Voco = I call

The Latin verb, voco, is also related to the Latin noun, vox vocis = voice, which appears in French as la voix.

In English most nouns have one form to which an -s is added to make it plural, but in Latin and Greek, nouns have several forms depending on how they are used.  After prepositions, for example, the ending of a noun changes so that it has a different form.  The form vox is used only when it is the subject of a sentence, but most other parts come from the stem, vocis, which is known as the genitive and means of the voice. It is the equivalent of the English apostrophe s in nouns, e.g. the voice's strength.  

Present tense  Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
(I call)
(to call)
(I called)
(called from 'I have called')

voice   noun and verb  (la voix French)
unvoiced   un- = not
voiceless   -less = without
viva voce   Latin  vivus = living
vociferous -ous = an adjectival ending = full of
to vociferate  (ferendum = bearing)
vocabulary noun
voca-al = adjectival ending
to vocalise, vocalize
vocalist  -ist = one who

unequivocal  un- = not

advocacy  noun
to convoke con = together
to evoke e, ex = forth, from
to invoke in = on, upon
to provoke pro = forth

to revoke  re = back

vocative case

vocation  -ion = noun ending
vocational  adjective

to equivocate  equi = equal

to advocate ad = (to), for
evocative of adjective
an invocation  to
provocative behaviour
revocation  -ion = act of

The word voice seems to have picked up the letter i from the French, la voix, and the word vowel has picked up a w.  Where this w came from, I don't know.  In English the letter w is called a double u but is written both as a double u and a double v, while in French it is called a double v and is found in borrowed words only.   It could be that the w was introduced into the word vowel to separate the o and the e and to show that both vowels are pronounced, since in words like toe, the o and the e are pronounced as one sound, an o.

The five English vowels, a, e, i, o, u,  could be called the voices of the alphabet because, unlike the consonants, they are vocalised (they have sounds).   Viva voce is Italian for an oral examination, as opposed to a written one.   It literally means with living voice.   'Viva the queen' means '(Long) live the queen!';  it is like a cheer or an hurrah.  The term sotto voce means under the voice or breath and so whispered, while in pianoforte music the hand marked with sotto voce plays beneath the other hand.

The infinitive vocare shows us that the vowel in words like vocabulary is an a.

 Vocabulary might be described as a list of words which name objects, ideas, and feelings in a particular language. Every person has their own personal vocabulary, that is, the words they know and use.

The suffix or ending -ary is used to form nouns and adjectives and has the idea of
a) a place where and b) being connected with.   Thus, vocabulary is connected with what things are called, i.e. words.   Your vocabulary is the collection of words known to or used by you.

Without vocal cords we would have no voice and we wouldn't be able to voice our ideas.   People who are said to be very vocal are those who air their feelings freely.   In music the vocal score is written for the singers and a vocalist usually sings popular songs with the backing of an instrument.

In the three words with equi- in them, the -qui is stressed. To equivocate is to be ambiguous, to call it equal ways or to make equal calls, perhaps, so that the meaning is unclear. Unequivocal is the opposite and means plain and clear. Its first syllable has a secondary accent.

No doubt you've spotted the k in the verbs under the present tense.   The letter k has the same sound as the hard c in English.    The soft c, which sounds like an s, generally results from French influence, as in the words cell, celery, cent, cigarette, and cinema.  In our group of words voice and vociferous have the soft cVociferous suggests having a voice that carries and so a vociferous cry is a really loud one.

The first c in advocacy is hard and the last c is soft and sounds like an s.  The endings -cy, -acy, -ancy, -ency, -ance and -ence are common noun endings and have a soft c.   The word advocacy has the idea of the act or process of calling or speaking in favour of someone.  A lawyer advocates in court on behalf of his client. 

To provoke is probably the most common verb in the list.  It suggests that certain behaviour calls forth from another a strong emotion like anger.   Provocation has often been used as a defence in crimes of violence.   Words ending in -ion and -tion are usually nouns formed from verbs and are very common.  Provocation is the act of calling forth a reaction; provocative conduct does the same thing.   A convocation is the calling together of a large number of people and thus it can be many people gathered together for a particular purpose, such as in a conference.   The calling back or cancelling of a promise, decree, vow or oath, is the idea behind revoke and revocation.

Underneath the past participle heading you'll see the word vocative. The -ive is an adjectival ending or suffix, and vocative stands for vocative case.  When we call out to our friends, “Bill, Joan, come here!”, we are using the vocative case. If you were speaking in Latin, there could well be a different form for Bill or Joan. Poets used to call upon the muses to inspire them and many poems begin with an invocation, a few lines asking the muse for help. Another adjective with the suffix -ive, is evocative, which is often followed by the preposition of. A scene, painting or poem may be evocative of a past happy or sad event.

The word vocation suggests one's calling.   People who feel they have been called to a certain profession or employment consider it their vocation or calling in life.   It is more than a job.   On the other hand, the word avocation suggests a minor occupation.

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