Greek and Latin Roots: S Base Words

After a book break, I’m back with more linguistic roots from Greek and Latin. These are all of the base words that begin with S. (Suffixes and prefixes will come later.) For a review, you can browse old entries.

Base Meaning Example
sanct(u) holy, sacred sanctuary
scend, scens step, climb descend, ascension
scop look, watch microscope
scrib, script write scribe, scripture
sec(t) cut, slice secant, section
secut, sequ follow prosecute, sequel
sed, sid, sess sit, settle sediment, reside, session
semi one half semicircle
sent, sens think, feel sentence, sensation
seps, sept infection sepsis, antiseptic
serv, servat save, keep, serve servile, reservation
sex six sextet
sist stand persist
sit food, feed parasite
sol(i) alone, only, one solitaire
solv, solut free, loosen dissolve, solution
somn(i) sleep insomnia
son, sound sound resonate, resound
soph wisdom, wise philosophy
sorb soak absorb
spec, spic, spect watch, look at specimen, conspicuous, spectacle
(s)pir breathe perspire, expire
sta, stanc, stat stand stable, stance, static
stle, stol send epistle, apostle
strain, strict, string tie, bind, squeeze restrain, restrict, stringent
stru, struct build construe, destruction
sui (swi) pig, hog swine

Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Big Words in English

Big words are fun, aren’t they? Of course they make you sound smart, and they might be handy in a game of Scrabble or Words With Friends, but (at least in English) they often have a specificity that is in and of itself fascinating.

The hyper-linguistic polysyllabic speech association!

If you’re an English student, I admit that precisely because of this specificity many of this words don’t exactly have “high coverage.” In other words, they’re not very useful. But they’re fun, and they can still be useful as a learning tool. Most of the words in English that you would consider “big” aren’t just random collections of letters; rather, they’re collections of different smaller words or word pieces (bases and affixes). The strategy you use to learn about or understand a word like paraskevidekatriaphobia can be applied to shorter, less complex words you might actually encounter in your life or in your studies.

So, in honor of paraskevidekatriaphobia, I’m going to spend every Friday the 13th looking at bigwords! Starting, of course, with paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Now, let’s assume that you didn’t already know that it means “fear of Friday the 13th.” Could you figure it out?

The first and biggest clue is in the last little word piece (or morpheme, if you want to be technical): phobia. Fear. If you know that, then you know that a phobia is a fear of something. You might have seen arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) before, as those seem to be fairly common fears. There’s a whole list of different phobias, in fact, if you feel like whiling away an afternoon.

If you know that “phobia” comes to English, via Latin, from the Greek word for fear (phobos), you might think to look at the rest of the word through a Greek lens: paraskevidekatria-. As it turns out, this would be the right way to go. Paraskevi is Greek for Friday, and dekatreis refers to the number 13. While “paraskevi” might be somewhat obscure, at least for those who don’t speak Greek*, in “dekatreis” one can see connections to other common roots: decem and decim for “ten,” and tri for “three.”

So, do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia? Or how about somniphobia? Nyctophobia? When I was a child, I had a pretty bad case of agyrophobia: fear of streets. (Don’t worry. I got better!)

A final point on phobias: since the word has crystallized into the language both as “fear” and “aversion” (see, for example, homophobia and Islamophobia to refer to attitudes that aren’t the traditional irrational fear of a phobia, but rather a cultural and/or personal revulsion), English has taken a tendency to take words from other languages and stick them on the end. Not just with phobia, either; there is a tendency to mix different languages. But that’s what makes English so fascinating!

*While writing up this blog post, I wondered if the para- in “paraskevi” might have the same root as pent (five), as in the fifth day of the week (much like the Russian names for the weekdays), but this turned out not to be the case. The word is related to the Greek word “to prepare” and apparently is named after Friday preparations for the Sabbath.

Word of the Year, 2017: Courage

There’s something about new beginnings, especially new years, that inspires people to make changes. Improve themselves.

Of course, people are notoriously bad at sticking with their new year’s resolutions. I have a better track record than most—because I’ve never been much for resolutions to begin with. I just do my thing, you know?

Towards the end of 2015 (or maybe the beginning of 2016?), I came across a lot of online discussion around the idea of, instead of resolutions, having a yearly word or mantra. The word focus jumped out at me before I even decided to commit myself to that idea; focus became my guiding word throughout 2016. It’s hard to do any kind of compare and contrast, of course, since I can’t exactly go back and relive 2016 without keeping the idea of focus in mind, but I like to think that I became marginally more productive and maybe even happier? Enough so that I decided to choose another word for 2017: courage.

It’s kind of scary to move to another country, to try to establish yourself as a freelance professional, to live in a world with Donald Trump and Jimmie Åkesson and UKIP, but you can’t really opt out of the scary bits. Too many times I’ve had an idea for something, or an urge to do something, only to ignore it because it might be difficult or I might make an ass of myself. Reminding myself of my own courage will get at least some of those things done; being inspired by the courage of others will maybe make it a little easier.

But the word itself, “courage.” Where does it come from?

English lifted it from Old French’s corage, meaning “heart; innermost feelings; temper.” And as you trace the word back through to proto Indo-European, this connection with both the physical organ of the heart and the more abstract notion of a person’s heart as their innermost strength and desire. Even as the English usage of “courage” refers to something like bravery, and being unafraid, it has a historic connection with the self in a way that “brave” does not—”brave” traces its roots through synonyms for bold, savage, wild, and other descriptions of behavior rather than character. (And behavior that is most likely reckless or even endangering.)

When facing uncertain times and an uncertain future, it’s important to remember you are, in your heart and in your core, so that you don’t compromise your most cherished principles.

Do you have a word of the year for 2017?


Greek and Latin Roots: Q and R Base Words

It’s time for the next installment in this series on classically-derived roots in the English language! Q and R are both small categories, so I’ve put them together. Remember, these are word bases, not prefixes or suffixes.

If you would like to review previous entries, you can browse the links below:

Base Meaning Example
quadr, quart four quadrilateral, quarter
quint five quintillion
ras scrape rash, erase
reg, rig, rect straight, guide regular, incorrigible, correct
rupt break interrupt

Thoughts on Busuu Web Portal

Time for a long-overdue review of the Busuu language-learning portal!

What is busuu?

Busuu is a language-learning website as well as a smartphone app. It offers courses in 12 languages, including English.  You can focus on business, travel, or culture. The lessons typically include flashcard drilling, short dialogues, writing practice (corrected by other site users) and speaking practice (also evaluated by other users). This review will focus exclusively on the web version, though it looks like the web and mobile version are identical in content and presentation.

The main menu on Busuu after you create an account and start learning.

What do I like about busuu?

The site design is crisp and intuitive. It’s easy to find your way around. The lessons themselves are nicely varied, and they provide recordings as well as images for every new word or phrase. Additionally, when the lexical target is just a single word, they provide a sample sentence along with the word, the recording, and the image. Overall, the presentation is fairly thorough.

Unlike its free competitors, busuu is officially partnered with McGraw-Hill, one of the biggest educational companies and textbook publishers in the business. Busuu subscribers have the option to take a certification test from McGraw-Hill that will officially (or at least, in some capacity) grade the user on a particular CEFR level (from A1 to B2). This might be of value to anyone who needs English for a job, though of course you should check with your employer (or whoever) about whether or not they would recognize such a certificate. I’m not aware of any other language-learning portal that has such a partnership.

What don’t I like about busuu?

Busuu leans heavily on the user subscription model. If you look at the menu image again, you’ll note that some of the lesson icons have a small crown icon next to them. That means those lessons aren’t available until I subscribe.

The vast majority of material in this lesson is only available to subscribers.

Additionally, none of the quizzes or tests are available without a subscription, and learning research has repeatedly demonstrated that testing is one of the most efficient ways to learn new material. Another review has put those assessments on blast, however, so take that for what you will. Moreover, there are numerous complaints about just how difficult it is to cancel a subscription if you decide you no longer want it.

Of course I believe that people deserve to be paid for their work. (I’m a writer and an artist in my other lives–I know how easy it is for work to be devalued!) But I personally prefer the Coursera model: you get the information for free but have to pay for the certification. Especially when you consider the glut of EFL instruction material on the Internet (and the raw amount of English-language content), and the fact that their partnership with McGraw-Hill gives their certificate some serious brand recognition, the Coursera model seems both the most effective and the most fair.

They also like to tout the “22.5 hours of busuu is like a university level course!” all over the place, without giving the full context. The “22.5 hours” number is taken from one study that busuu funded at CUNY and University of South Carolina. I’m not going to go into a discussion of this particular study here; I just want to point out that (1) this was a single study (2) funded by busuu. As far as I know, the data hasn’t been replicated in other independent research. Personally, I’m skeptical about how this claim would hold up in the wild, if only because the material presented is generally limited in scope (especially in the free version), even if the presentation itself is varied and thorough.


If it turns out their McGraw-Hill certification will help you land a job or a promotion, then go for it (or don’t), but otherwise? There are better options out there.

Greek and Latin Roots: “P” Base Words

Next up on our tour of English’s classical base words is “P.” Remember, the following list does not include affixes (prefixes or suffixes); just the core, base words to which affixes are often attached!

If you would like to review previous entries, you can browse the links below:

Base Meaning Example
pac peace pacify
pan(t) all, every panacea, pantomine
p(e)ar appearance, seem apparition, disappear
par(t) produce, beget separate, post partum
past(or) shepherd pasture, pastoral
path(o) feeling, suffering sympathy, pathology
pati, pass feeling, suffering patient, compassion
patr(i), patern father, fatherland patriot, paternity
ped foot, feet pedal, impede
pel, puls, peal drive, push dispel, impulse, repeal
pend, pens weight, hang, pay pendant, suspense
penta five pentagon
petr stone petrify
phem word, saying euphemism
pher bear, go periphery
phil(o), phil(e) love, friend philosophy, Anglophile
phon voice, call, sound telephone
photo light photograph
phragm block, enclose diaphragm
phyt plant neophyte
plac calm, please placate
ple, plex, ply fold, multiply multiple, duplex, imply
plur, plus more plural, plus
pne(um) breathe apnea, pneumonia
pol(is)(it) city, citizen acropolis, political
pon, pos, post, pound put, place components, positive, compound
port carry import
poss, pot power impossible, potentate
preci price, value precious
punct(u), pung pierce puncture, pungent


Greek and Latin Roots: “O” Base Words

Apologies for my sudden disappearance! I clearly overestimated how much time I’d have to blog during this academic quarter. I’m back on an even keel now, so let’s continue with our list of “O” base words based on Greek and Latin sources.

Base Meaning Example
oct(a) eight octave
ocl(e), ocul eye monocle, binoculars
od song parody, ode
odont tooth orthodontist
omni all, every omnivore
onym word; name pseudonym
ortho straight orthodoxy
ov sheep ovine


Greek and Latin Roots: “N” Base Words

Halfway there! Today’s post features classical base words that begin with “N.” If you want to review previous entries, here they are:

Base Meaning Example
navig sail navigate
neo new neonatal
nihil nothing annihilate
noc, nox harm innocent, noxious
non, nov nine nonagon, November
noun name pronoun
nov new innovate


Greek and Latin Roots: “M” Base Words

I’m back from vacation, and now that I’m relaxed and refreshed it’s time to continue my series on classically derived base words. (Again, these are not prefixes or suffixes. Those are coming later.) Today is brought to you by the letter “M.” For a refresher course in past installments, you can refer to past entries.

Base Meaning Example
m(eridiem) noon, midday ante meridiem (A.M.)
magn big magnify
mal(e) bad, wrong malevolent
man, main stay, remain permanent, remain
man(u) hand manual
mast round bump, protrusion mastoid
matr(i), matern mother matrimony, maternal
me(a) wander, go meander
medi middle medium
meter, metr(o), metri(i) measure centimeter, metronome, metric
mill one thousand millimeter
miss, mit send missile, permit
mnem, mnes memory mnemonic, amnesia
mole mass molecule
mon(o) alone, only, one monologue
mord, mors bite mordant, morsel
morph shape, form amorphous
mor(t) dead moribund, mortal
mov, mot, mobil move move, promote, mobile
mur wall mural

Greek and Latin Roots: “L” Base Words

More classical base words again, this time ones that start with “L.” Please keep in mind that these are base words, rather than prefixes or suffixes. We’ll come to those in a later post (though there are already some preliminary posts under the “affixes” tag). If you want to review the rest of the base words we’ve covered so far, here are the posts to go over:

Base Meaning Example
lab take syllable
labor work laborious
later side unilateral
lav wash lavatory
leg, lig, lect pick, read legible, eligible, collect
leo(n) lion leonine
libr book library
lingu language linguistics
liter letter literate
lith stone monolith
loc(at) place local, location
locut, loqu speak, talk elocution, eloquent
log word, reason, study logic
luc, lumin light lucid, luminous
lud, lus play, trick, mock elude, illusion
lup wolf lupine