Barry’s Blog # 154: Creative Etymology for a World Gone Mad, Part Two of Three


Part of the work of bringing soul back into the world is learning to address each other with beautiful, complex, multi-faceted, nuanced (slight difference, shade of color, mist, vapor, cloud) language (tongue; Spanish: lengua), and to know how our words have evolved over many centuries from their original Greek, Latin, Germanic or other meanings.

So here is a very incomplete list of English words with surprising (related to comprehend) roots, original meanings and connections to other common words.

I invite you to bookmark an etymology dictionary on your computer. Get into the habit of wondering, “Hey, what does that word mean? Is it related to this other one? Why?”

Adolescence             – Becoming adult; related to nourish, old

Adulate                      – To wag the tail

Aggravate                  – To make heavier; related to grief

Agony                         – A struggle for victory; related to protagonist, act, antagonize

Alcatraz                     – Large web-footed sea bird, related to albatross

Alcohol                       – To stain; related to kohl, powder used to darken the eyelids

Amateur                     – One who loves; related to amor

Ambition                    – A going around to solicit votes.

Ambivalent                – Both strengths; related to valiant

Amnesia                    – Loss of memory (the goddess Mnemosyne); related to mind

Analyze                      – From Dionysus “the Loosener”; related to catalyst, release, lose, solve

Anesthetic                 – Lack of sensation (to pleasure or pain), loss of beauty

Anger                         – Tight, painfully constricted, narrow, to squeeze; related to anxious

Animate                     – To give life to, from anima (“life, soul, breath”), related to animal

Anthology                  – Gathering of flowers

Anxiety                       – Tight, constricted; possibly from Ananke, goddess of Necessity

Apocalypse               – To lift the veil; related to Calypso

Apprentice                 – Someone learning; related to apprehend

Arena                         – Sandy place to soak up blood in Roman or Spanish amphitheaters

Arctic                          – The Bear constellation

Assassin                    – Related to hashish

Assist                         – To take a stand; related to resist

Asterisk                      – Little star

Astound                     – To thunder, deafen, related to astonish

Astronaut                   – Sailor of the stars

Atone                         – To be at one

Auspicious                 – Divination by observing the flight of birds; related to augur, auspices

Author                        – One who causes to grow; related to authority, augment

Average                     – Financial loss incurred through damage to goods in transit

Ballet                          – To throw one’s body; related to ball, diabolic, parable, devil, metabolize

Barbarian                  – Unintelligible speech of foreigners

Believe                       – Related to love, libido, lovely

Bible                           – From Byblos, the port that exported papyrus; related to bibliography

Bless                          – Blood sprinkling on pagan altars; possibly related to wound

Boil                             – Related to bull (Papal edict)

Book                           – A beechwood tablet on which runes were inscribed

Boulevard                  – Top surface of a military rampart; related to bulwark

Bowel                         – Sausage; related to botulism

Bugger                       – A Bulgarian

Caesar                       – Leader who has long hair; related to Kaiser, czar, caesarian

Calendar                    – Calends, the first day of the Roman month, when debts fell due

Canard                       – To half-sell ducks

Cancer                       – Crab-shaped; related to canker

Capital                       – Pertaining to the head; related to capitalism, capo (Mafia), decapitate

Capitol                       – From temple of Jupiter on Rome’s Capitoline Hill

Carnival                     – To temporarily stop eating meat; related to carnage, incarnation

Casino                       – Little house

Cataclysm                 – To wash down; related to cloaca

Catastrophe             – To turn downward

Catholic                     – Universally accepted; related to whole

Cereal                         – From the Roman Goddess of agriculture, Ceres (Greek: Demeter)

Chattel                       – Property, goods; related to cattle

Checkmate                – The King is dead

Chemical                   – From alchemy, that which is poured out

Chivalry                     – Horsemen; related to cavalier, cavalry

Chlorine                     – From the goddess Chloris/Chloe; related to chlorophyll, chloroplast

Chorus                       – A dance in a circle, enclosed dancing floor; related to choreography

Circle                          – Related to circus, circumstance, cycle, chakra, zodiac, Circe

Collude                      – To play with

Combat                     – To beat together; related to battle, batter

Comet                        – Long-haired star

Communicate           – To make common

Companion               – Bread mate; related to accompany

Compassion             – To suffer together

Compete                    – To petition the gods together; related to competent

Complain                   – To strike, beat the breast; related to plague

Complicate                – To fold together; related to complicit

Compost                    – To place together; related to compote, position, posit

Comrade                   – Sharing the same room or bed; related to camera, chamber

Condescend             – To go down together

Condolence             – To suffer together; related to doleful

Condom                     – A glove

Conflagration            – Burning together; related to flagrant, bleach (v.)

Conflict                      – To strike together; related to afflict

Confound                  – To pour together

Congregate               – To collect in a flock, related to gregarious, aggregate

Conjugal                    – To yoke together, related to jugular, conjugate

Conjure                      – With the law

Conspire                    – To breathe together

Consider                    – With the stars; related to desire

Conscious                 – To be mutually aware; related to conscience, science

Constipate                 – To pack or cram together; related to stiff

Contagion                  – Touch closely; related to contact

Converse                   – To turn about with

Convince                   – Related to conquer, victory, invincible

Cosmetic                   – Good order; related to cosmos, cosmic

Courage                    – Heart; related to discord, record

Create                        – Arise, grow; related to crescent

Crisis                          – Turning point in a disease, indicating recovery or death

Culture                       – Tend, guard, cultivate; related to colony

Cure                           – Take care of; related to curate, accurate, curious

Curfew                       – Ringing of a bell in the evening hour; signal to cover the fires

Currency                    – Value of herd animals that run; related to car, career, cargo

Custom                      – Related to costume

Cynic                         – Dog-faced; related to canine, canary

Damn                         – Damage, harm; loss, injury; a penalty; related to indemnity

Danger                       – Power of a lord or master; related to domain, dominate, domestic

Decadent                   – To fall apart; related to accident, cadaver, casualty

Decimate                   – Killing one prisoner in ten at random

Delight                       – Related to dilettante, delicious

Debate                       – To beat down

Decrepit                     – To crack, creak; related to raven

Dilapidate                  – To throw stones at; related to lapidary

Deliberate                  – To weigh in scales; related to Libra

Deluded                     – Out of the game

Demon                       – Related to daemon, jinn, genie (genius)

Deprecate                 – To pray against; related to postulate, prayer, precarious

Desire                        – Await what the stars will bring; related to consider

Despair                      – To lose hope (French: espoir), related to desperate, desperado

Destroy                      – Un-build; related to structure

Diabolic                      – To throw across; related to ballistic, devil, ball, ballet, ballad

Dilettante                   – Related to delight

Dinosaur                    – Terrible lizard (from Deinos, son of Ares), related to dire

Disaster                     – Against the stars

Discourse                  – A running about

Divide                         – Related to widow, with

Doctor                        – Make to appear right; related to decent

Economy                   – Ordering of the household

Educate                     – To bring forth what is within, to lead; related to Duke

Electric                       – Resembling amber

Elude                         – Out of the game

Emotion                     – To move out, remove, agitate

Empathy                    – Feeling suffering, related to pathos, pathetic, empathic, sympathy

Employ                       – Entangle, enfold; related to implicate, ply, imply, deploy

Encyclopedia            – Training in a circle

Entertain                    – To hold together

Enthusiastic             – Filled with a god

Epidemic                   – Among the people

Eskimo                       – Eater of raw meat, or snowshoe-netter

Excruciating              – Related to crucify, cross

Exhilarate                  – To make cheerful; related to hilarious

Exonerate                  – To remove a burden; related to onus, onerous

Experiment                – Try, risk; related to experience, peril

Explain                       – To flatten or limit

Explore                      – To weep, cry out; related to deplore

Extort                         – To twist or wrench out; related to torque

Extravagant             – To wander outside

Exuberant                  – Overflowing; related to udder

Family                        – Servants of a household

Fan                             – Inspired by a god (fanatic); related to feast, fancy, festival

Fascinate                  – Amulet in the form of a phallus

Fate                            – Spoken by the gods; related to fame, fable

Fatal Flaw                 – To miss the mark in archery

Feminine                   – She who suckles; related to fecund, affiliate, fennel, fetus, fawn

Flesh                          – From German fleisch (pork, bacon)

Forest                         – Outside; related to foreign, door

Fornicate                   – Arch, vaulted chamber or opening; related to furnacethermal

Fortune                      – From Roman goddess of luck Fortuna

Fragment                   – A piece broken off; related to fraction

Gamble                      – Related to game, gamey

Gargoyle                    – Waterspout, from French for throat, related to gargle

Gasket                       – Young girl; whore, harlot, concubine; related to garcon

Genius                       – Guardian deity watching over one from birth; related to genie, genial

Gentle                        – High-born; related to gentry, gentrify, gentleman, genus, genteel

Ghetto                        – The iron foundry (getto) in Venice where the Jews had to live

Glamor                       – Female enchantment, occult knowledge; related to grammar

Glaucoma                  – Owl, “Gray-eyed Athena”, related to glaucous

Grotesque                 – Of a cave; related to grotto

Grow                          – Related to grass, green

Guru                           – Heavy, weighty; related to grave

Happy                        – Good luck, prosperous; related to happen

Harmony                    – Means of joining; Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite

Hell                             – Norse goddess, one who covers up or hides something

Heretic                       – One who is able to choose freely

Hermetic                    – Dealing with the occult; from Greek god Hermes

Hierarchy                   – Rule by a high priest

Host                            – Related to hospitality, hospital

Humiliate                   – Related to humus, humor, humble, human, humid, posthumous

Hypnotic                    – From Hypnos, Greek god of sleep

Hypocrite                   – Stage actor; deciding under; related to crisis

Hysterical                  – Of the womb, related to hysterectomy

Idiot                            – One who will not participate in public affairs

Illusion                       – In the game, to play with; related to ludicrous

Imbue                         – To keep wet; to soak, saturate; related to imbibe

Immolate                   – To sprinkle with corn meal as sacrifice; to grind; related to mallet

Impeccable               – Not capable of sin

Impetuous                 – Done or given with a rush of force; related to impetus, petition

Impudent                   – Unashamed; related to pudenda

Inaugurate                 – To divine the future, related to augur, augment, contemplate

Incense                      – That which is burnt; related to incendiary

Infantry                      – Unable to speak; related to infant, infantile

Infatuate                    – To make a fool of

Infinity                        – Not ending; related to finish, fix

Ink                               – To burn in; related to caustic

Inspire                        – Fill the heart with grace; related to spirit (breath of a god)

Initiate                        – To begin, enter

Innocent                    – Related to noxious

Instruct                       – To pile on, related to construct, structure

Intelligence                – To choose, read; related to lecture

Inter                            – Into the earth, related to territory, turmeric, Mediterranean

Interested                  – To be between

Intrigue                      – To entangle; related to intricate

Investigate                – Related to footprint

Jumbo                        – Elephant (Bantu)

King                            – Leader of the people; related to kin, kind, child, kindergarten

Laconic                      – To speak concisely, as did the Laconians (Spartans)

Laxative                     – Loosen; related to lax

Left (side)                  – Related to sinister

Liberty                        – From Liber (Dionysus), related to liberate, liberal

Library                        – The inner bark of trees; related to leaf

Limit                           – Threshold; related to liminal, preliminary, eliminate

Lucifer                        – Light carrier; related to lucid, infer, transfer, refer

Lunacy                       – Insanity, triggered by the moon’s cycle

Magic                         – Of the learned and priestly caste (Magi)

Malaria                       – Bad air

Mania                         – Related to mind and maenad (a female follower of Dionysus)

Manure                      – Work with the hands, cultivate; related to maneuver, manage

Masturbate                – To defile/stupefy by hand; related to manual, stupid

Materialism               – From mater (“mother”)

Melancholy                – An excess of black bile; related to cholera

Mellifluous                 – Honey flowing; related to fluent, fluid

Menstruate                – Monthly; related to moon, measure, metric

Mentor                        – Athena in disguise; one who thinks; related to mind, mania

Mercury                     – Roman god of tradesmen Mercurius; related to market, mercy

Metaphor                   – To carry over, to bear children

Migrate                       – Related to mutate

Mile                             – 1,000 double paces

Miracle                       – Smiling

Monster                     – Divine omen, portent; to warn; related to mental, mind, mantra

Morphine                   – From Morpheus, the Roman god of dreams

Move                          – Related to moment, momentum

Muscle                       – Little mouse

Museum                     – Shrine of the Muses; related to amuse, bemuse

Mystery                      – To close, shut; related to mute

Narcissism                – Related to narcissus and narcotic

Negotiate                   – To clear a hedge, fence, or obstacle on horseback; related to deny

Noble                         – One who knows him- or herself; related to Gnosticism, narrate

Nice                            – Ignorant, unaware

Nomad                       – Wandering with flocks; related to nemesis, numerical, nimble

Normal                       – Made from a carpenter’s square

Nostalgia                   – Longing for another place (not time); desire for homecoming

Nuanced                    – Slight difference, shade of color, mist, vapor, cloud

Number                      – Related to nemesis

Nun                            – A term of address to elderly persons; related to nanny.

Obey                          – Listen to, pay attention, related to audience

Oblivion                     – Rubbed smooth, ground down; related to obliterate

Opportunity               – Entrance or passage through, related to port, pore, report

Orchid                        – Testicle

Orgy                           – A secret rite, dedicated originally to Dionysus

Ostracize                  – To banish by voting with pottery fragments; related to bone

Pagan                        – Country dweller

Panacea                    – Cure-all; related to iatrogenic (illness caused in a hospital)

Pandemonium          – Related to pancreas, panorama, pantheist, pantheon, pantomime

Panic                          – Of the god Pan, who caused frightening sounds in the woods

Panzer tank               – Armor for the belly; related to paunch

Parable                      – Comparison, throwing beside; related to parley, parlance

Paradise                    – A walled garden

Paraphernalia           – A woman’s property besides her dowry

Passion                      – Suffering, enduring; related to patience

Pastor                        – Shepherd (of souls); related to pasture, pastoral

Pardon                       – To give wholeheartedly; related to donate

Peculiar                      – Property in cattle; related to pecuniary

Penetrate                  – To access the innermost part of a temple or store of food

Perfume                     – To smoke through; related to fume, fumigate

Personality                – From persona, to speak through a theatrical mask

Pharmacist                – Related to scapegoat, the drug that cures what it caused

Philadelphia             – City of brotherly love (“from the same womb”)

Philosophy                – Love of knowledge

Photograph               – Light-writing

Planet                         – Wandering star

Plutocracy                 – Rule by the wealthy (Pluto, god of wealth), overflowing

Pneumatic                – Of spirit, spiritual

Politics                       – Citizens, city

Pomegranate            – Apple with seeds, Pomona (Goddess of fruit); related to grenade

Pompous                   – Solemn procession (Hermes psychopomp, guide to the underworld)

Pontiff                         – To make a bridge; related to pontificate, pontoon, punt

Posse                         – Body of men, power; related to potent

Preposterous            – Before-behind

Privilege                     – Law applying to one person, related to private

Problem                     – Thing put forward, thrown; related to ballistics, dance

Profane                      – Out in front of the temple

Profound                    – Proceeding from the bottom or floor; related to fund

Promethean              – To see or think ahead

Propaganda             – Doing Catholic missionary work; related to propagate.

Providence                – Foreknowledge; related to provide

Provoke                     – To call forth; related to vocation, vocal, voice, evoke, invoke

Prurient                      – Itching

Psyche                       – Invisible animating principle; Greek for “butterfly”

Pudendum                – Thing to be ashamed of

Pumpernickel            – To break wind

Pundit                         – A learned Hindu

Quarantine                – Forty days and nights

Radical                       – Root part of a word; related to radish

Rape                          – To be carried away, related to rapid, raptor, ravish and rapture

Reconcile                  – To make friendly again; related to council

Record                       – To learn by heart; related to courage

Redeem                     – To buy back

Regret                        – To weep

Rehearse                  – To rake over; related to hearse, hirsute

Religion                     – To bind fast, related to rely; or: to read again, related to lecture

Remember                – To be mindful of; related to memoir, mourn

Remorse                    – To bite back; related to mordant

Renegade                 – Christian turned Muslim; related to renege

Repent                       – Related to penal, penalty, Pentheus (“man of sorrow”)

Resilience                 – To jump again

Respiration                – To breathe again, from spiritus (breath of a god)

Respect                     – To look at again

Rhapsody                  – To stitch songs together

Rhythm                      – To flow; related to rheumatism, maelstrom, diarrhea

Ritual                          – A counting; related to arithmetic, rite

Rosemary                  – Dew of the sea

Royal                         – To move or direct in a straight line

Sabbatical                 – Seventh year, for resting – related to Sabbath

Sabotage                   – To throw a wooden shoe (sabot) into the machinery

Sacred                       – Related to sanctify, sacrosanct, saint, sacrilege, sanctimonious

Sacrifice                     – To make sacred

Sacrum                      – Sacred bone (the one offered in sacrifice)

Sad                             – Related to sated, satiated

Salary                         – Soldier’s allowance for the purchase of salt

Sarcasm                    – To strip off the flesh; related to sarcoma, sarcophagus

Savage                      – Forest dweller

Scene                         – Wooden stage for actors; tent or booth; giving shade

Science                      – To cut; related to conscious, schism, schizophrenia, shit, scat,

Scrutinize                  – To search through trash; related to shred, inscrutable

Serendipity                – Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island

Shampoo                   – To press, knead the muscles

Silly                             – Blessed, happy, blissful

Stagnate                    – To seep, drip; related to stalactite

Slave                         – A Slavic person

Sniper                        – A marksman who can hit a tiny snipe bird

Soldier                       – One who has been paid in gold coins (solidus); related to solid

Solstice                      – The sun stands still

Soul                            – Coming from the sea, the stopping place between birth and death

Source                       – To rise, as a spring; related to resource, resurgent

Spirits                         – That which can unite the elements of the philosopher’s stone.

Superfluous             – Overflowing, related to fluent

Surveil                        – Related to vigil

Suture                        – Stitch together; related to couture, sew, seam, suture and souvlaki

Symbol                       – That which is thrown together; related to ballistic, dance, emblem

Symptom                   – To fall together with

Talent                         – Balance, weight; sum of money

Tenor                         – To hold (one’s voice), related to tenet

Territory                     – Where people are warned off; related to terrible, terrific

Testify                        – Swear on one’s testicles (?)

Text                            – A thing woven

Therapy                     – Attend, do service, take care of

Think                          – Cause to appear to oneself; related to thought, thank

Theory                       – Looking at, viewing; related to theater

Thesaurus                 – Related to treasure

Toxic                          – Pertaining to arrows, bows, archery

Torment                     – Twisted cord, sling for hurling stones; related to torque.

Touch                         – To knock, strike; related to touché

Tragedy                     – Goat song (originally to Dionysus)

Trophy                       – To turn; related to apostrophe, atrophy, tropical, trope, troubadour

Uncanny                    – Not knowing wise or cunning

Utopia                        – No place

Vaccine                      – Pertaining to cows

Vagabond                  – Related to vague, vagus

Value                          – To be strong; related to valiant

Vanilla                        – Little pod; related to vagina

Venereal                    – Related to Venus, goddess of love

Vengeance                – To set free; related to vindicate

Virtue                         – Man; related to virile, world, werewolf

Vote                            – A promise to a god; related to vow

Vulgar                        – Of the common people; related to Vulgate

Vulnerable                 – Capable of wounding; related to Valhalla (hall of the battle-slain)

Wander                      – Related to wind

Weird                         – Fate, to turn, bend; related to wrong, versus, version, diverge

Whiskey                     – Water of life

Whole                         – Uninjured; related to heal, health, holistic

Xenophobia             – Fear of the stranger – or of the guest

Yes                             – To be

Yoga                           – Union, to join; related to jugular, yoke, junction, joint, conjugate

Zero                            – Empty place, desert; related to cipher, sunyata (“emptiness”)

Read Part Three Here.

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1 Response to Barry’s Blog # 154: Creative Etymology for a World Gone Mad, Part Two of Three

  1. Pingback: Barry’s Blog # 153: Creative Etymology for a World Gone Mad, Part One of Two | madnessatthegates

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