How Greek Has Influenced The Evolution Of The English Language
The English language is one that is constantly evolving and changing in the ways it is used. As such, it isn’t uncommon for any given word to take on new meanings or be infused with influences from other languages. If you’ve ever taken a class on English or grammar, you probably know that there are many words within the English language that are of Greek origin. The significance of this is that much of the modern English lexicon was influenced by Greek, likely because so many ancient texts were written in Greek. However, it wasn’t just the words that have been passed down from those old writings; these days we can see how the Greeks have influenced our common use of words today.
Words with Greek Origins
When you look at words whose origins are Greek, you will find that many of them are part of everyday vernacular. In fact, you probably use these words without even realizing that they have Greek roots! Examples of these words include:
- Abrogate: This word has its roots in the Latin language, but it often appears in legal documents with the Greek term “anullia”. Essentially, this means that it is given or granted with either no conditions attached or with conditions that will expire later.
- Accessory: This word is used to denote a person or thing that is not the main topic of discussion but is still relevant to the situation. The Greeks used a word that meant “something that comes along with another thing” to describe this.
- Accomplice: An accomplice is someone who assists in an illegal act. The word accomplice comes from the French “accompagner”, which means “to go along with”. The Romans later adopted this word and altered it to “applicare”, which means “to put alongside”.
- Advance: This word can be used to describe the act of moving forward in a positive manner, or the act of paying money to someone before the due date. The word advance comes from the French “avancer”, which means “to move forward”. The Romans later adopted this word and changed it to “advancere”, which means “to go forward”.
A brief history of Greek influence on the English language
The oldest known texts written in English are the Anglo-Saxon poems Beowulf and Genesis. These texts were written in the 11th century CE, so it’s safe to assume that English wasn’t a very mature language at that time. - At that point, there were many different dialects of Latin being spoken around Europe. The Romans had invaded Britain and brought Latin to the island, which subsequently became the native language of the British Isles. - As the years went by, Latin was being used less and less, and the people of Britain began incorporating the words from their native languages into their daily speech.
This means that, when it came time for the British to start writing again, they still used Latin but also incorporated words from the languages of their neighbours.
The languages that contributed most to early English vocabulary were Anglo-Saxon (spoken by the invading Germanic tribes), Old Norse (spoken by Scandinavian settlers in northern Britain), and Gaelic (spoken by the native population of Scotland). - Greek was spoken in southern Britain during the Roman Empire, but it wasn’t until the Ottoman Empire (the rulers of Greece) invaded and controlled that country that English speakers were reintroduced to the language.
Words With Greek Roots: Vocabulary words
The English language has many words that are derived from Greek roots relating to philosophy. These include:
- Epistemology – This is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge.
- Metaphysics – This is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter.
- Ontology – This is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence, identity, and reality.
- Axiology – This is the branch of philosophy that deals with the study of value, including ethics and aesthetics.
- Logos – This is a system of thought that explains a certain concept.
- Pathos – This is a system of thought that tells an emotional story.
- Ethos – This is the system of thought that reveals a person’s character.
- Ethnography – This is the study of the world’s cultures and societies.
- Ethnology – This is the branch of science that studies the origins and development of cultures.
- Ethical – This is something that is morally right.
Words With Greek Roots: Grammar words
- Abstraction - An abstraction is a concept or idea that is not connected to a physical thing. In the English language, the word abstraction comes from the word noumenon, which means an idea or concept in ancient Greek.
- Adversary - An adversary is a person who you are in conflict with. In the English language, the word adversary comes from the word antilogein, which means to speak against or oppose in ancient Greek.
- Adverb - An adverb is a type of word that describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb. In the English language, the word adverb comes from the word adobos, which is a modifier in ancient Greek.
- Bias - Bias is the inclination toward a particular point of view. Although it is often associated with negative connotations, a bias can also be a positive thing. In the context of grammar, bias is a word or phrase that gives direction to the reader or listener.
- Cacophony - A cacophony is a harsh and unpleasant sound. In the English language, the word cacophony comes from the word cacophanes, which means a bad sound in ancient Greek.
- Discord - Discord is a state of conflict between people or groups. In the English language, discord comes from the word discordia, which means conflict in ancient Greek.
- Etymology - Etymology is the study of the origin of words and phrases. In the English language, etymology comes from the word philology, which is the study of language in ancient Greek.
- Hypothesis - A hypothesis is an unproven theory or idea. In the English language, the word hypothesis comes from the word hypothesis, which means an assumption in ancient Greek.
Adverbs Based on Graeco-Roman Roots
The English language has many adverbs that are derived from Greek roots. These include:
- Potentially - This word denotes a situation that could happen in the future. The word potential comes from the Latin “potentia”, which means “power”.
- Previously - This word denotes something that happened before another event. The word previously comes from the Latin “prior”, which means “earlier” or “first”.
- Sufficiently - This word denotes that something is enough or sufficiently fulfilled. The word sufficient comes from the Latin “sufficio”, which means “to be enough”.
- Logically - This word denotes that something is logically sound. The word logic comes from the Greek “logos”, which means “word”.
Idioms With Graeco-Roman Roots
The English language has many idioms that are derived from Greek roots. These include:
- An Arm and a Leg - This idiom refers to a high price. The word arm comes from the Latin “brachium”, which means “arm”.
- Bandwagon - This idiom refers to a group of people who follow the crowd. The word bandwagon comes from the Latin phrase “cum bando”, which means “with the cry”.
- Cold Shoulder - This idiom refers to a person or group’s refusal to acknowledge or welcome another person or group. The word cold comes from the Greek “kalos”, which means “fine” or “beautiful”.
- Drop off the Grid - This idiom refers to a person who is no longer in communication with others. The word grid comes from the Greek “grode”, which means “cart”.
- Greek to Me - This idiom refers to something that is incomprehensible or confusing. The word Greek comes from the Greek “Graikos”, which means “of or relating to Greece”.