Lesson 4: Easy vocabulary

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You will be amazed how many Greek words you already know. Greek words turn up all over English, especially in scientific and technical terms. In this lesson we’ll learn some vocabulary - some of it even potentially useful - and for each word we’ll see an associated word in English that will help you remember it. Sometimes the English word might be an obscure one; but then you’ve learnt a new English word too!

We’ll start from καλός, which, you’ll rememeber, means ‘nice’.

Greek word Meaning How do I remember that?
γράφω I write calligraphy=nice writing
γη earth geography=writing about the earth
λόγος reason geology=reasoning about the earth
βίος life biology=reasoning about life
μικρός small microbe=small life
φωνή voice microphone=small voice
πολύ much polyphony=many voices
κακός bad cacophony=bad voice
κράτος political state kakistocracy=rule by the worst
δήμος people democracy=rule by the people
γράφω I write demography=writing about people
δύο two digraph=two (symbols) written together
χρώμα colour dichromatic=having two colours
μόνο only monochromatic=having only (one) colour
λίθος stone monolith=single stone
μέγας big megalith=big stone
πόλη city megalopolis=big city
μητέρα mother metropolis=mother city
όνομα name metronymic=named after the mother
πατέρα father patronymic=named after the father
αρχή authority patriarchy=authority of the father
λίγος, ολίγος few oligarchy=authority of the few
πουλώ I sell oligopoly=situation of few sellers
δύο two duopoly=situation of two sellers

With a decent English dictionary - one that includes etymologies - you can construct your own lists like the ones above. A warning, however: usually, English words are based on ancient Greek rather than the modern language. As you might expect, things have changed a bit over 2000 years or so, and there’s a chance you’ll hit a word that’s fallen out of use. For example, you might guess, on the basis of words like ‘hippodrome’, ‘hippology’, ‘hippiatric’ ‘hippopotamus’ etc. that the Greek for ‘horse’ was ίππος. You’d be right, after a fashion, and be understood, but you might get laughed at if you used it in everyday speech; however, if your concern over being laughed at overrides your desire to communicate perhaps you’d best not bother learning a foreign language! (The word ίππος is still used for ‘horsepower’ when describing car engines and the like, but the usual word for ‘horse’ is now άλογο, which means ‘thing without [power of] reason’ - see λόγος above. Ancient Greeks did not have a high opinion of the intellectual capacity of their horses).


This page most recently updated Sat 22 May 10:34:39 BST 2021
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