top of page

Wordy Weekly XV

We are half-way through the alphabet. Several interesting words today.


i) MAGIC: the word needs no definition: ‘making things happen without apparent explanation, by some unseen power’. It comes from the Greek adjective ‘μαγικος’ – ‘in the manner of the Persian ‘magi’, who were from the priestly class. They were regarded as having special powers. The Latin ‘magica’ came from this word, perhaps more specifically the phrase ‘μαγικη τεχνη’.

ii) METAMORPHOSIS: ‘a change from one thing or form into another’. The Greek prefix ‘μετα’ denotes ‘change’ and the noun ‘μορφη’ and verb ‘μορφοῦν’, a ‘transformation’ or ‘to transform’. There are many derivatives in English containing the ‘meta’ prefix or ‘morph’ in some form (pun intended!): METAPHOR: literally ‘change carrier’, the literary technique whereby two unconnected things are connected to suggest resemblance or a particular quality, for example, ‘that athlete is a tower of steel’; MORPHOLOGY: in biology, this refers to the study of the structure of organisms, in linguistics, patterns of form in a language; in popular culture, the Mighty MORPHIN Power Rangers, who change into their powerful avatars/robotic forms. Interestingly, ‘to morph’ by itself has come to mean ‘to change’.

iii) MELODY: a musical derivative this week. It is a lovely word derived from the Greek ‘μελος’ – ‘song, part, limb’, and ‘ᾠδη’ – ‘song or poem’, so a ‘part of a song’ or ‘part song’. MUSIC: also a Greek word originally, from the adjective ‘μουσικη’, meaning ‘of the muses’, the nine goddesses of poetry and song. In Greek, poetry and song, are the same words, and so in Latin, ‘CARMEN’. Poetry was usually sung.


i) MOTOR: ‘a contraption which makes something move’, and the word itself is a late Latin word. ‘MOTOR’ comes from the Latin verb ‘moveo, movere, movi, motum’ (to move’, specifically the fourth part, the supine (the fourth principal part is also sometimes given as the perfect passive participle – for ‘moveo’ this would be ‘motus’). Related words ‘MOTION’, ‘MOVEMENT’, ‘MOVABLE’ are also derivatives, and even the word ‘MOTIVE’ (which as a die-hard crime novel and drama fan, I couldn’t resist including

ii) MUNITION(S): ‘an item, or materials, carried for a particular purpose (generally a military one)’. The word comes from the Latin verb ‘munio, munire, munivi, munitum’, deriving directly from the fourth principal part ‘munitum’ (sometimes given as ‘munitus’, see ‘MOTOR’, above). Latin also had the noun ‘munitio’.

iii) MINITABUND: I remember first encountering this word on the wonderful ‘Call My Bluff’, with Bob Holness hosting and teams led by Sandi Toksvig and Alan Coren (both legends). And for once, I actually managed to call the correct meaning, proof that being a Classicist can be useful. ‘MINITABUND’ meaning ‘threatening’, and connecting this to ‘moribund’, I thought it probably was Latin. Remembering my deponent verbs* (if you’re not sure what these are, they are great and are defined below), I recalled the ‘verb’ ‘minor, minari, minatus sum’, and thinking that ‘MINITA-‘ could be connected to ‘MINATUS’, I went for ‘threatening’. I was not completely correct in the derivation, however. There is a later Latin verb ‘minito, minitare, minitavi, minitatum’, but this may well have come from ‘minor’. Wondering about the’ -bund’ part, I met with general uncertainty. However, I have a suggestion, which came to mind when I put a minitabundus’ word into the SPQR App Dictionary on my phone, which parsed the end of the word as follows:

minitabund, -abunt

What struck me was the ‘-abunt’, which immediately made me think of the end of the Latin future tense, the third person plural ‘-bunt’ – ‘they will…’. -bund’ adjectives in English usually carry the sense ‘about to…’ or ‘in the process of…’, for example:

moribund - dying, about to die

(I was once described as belong to a ‘moribund’ species, Classicists!

But I do not believe this is the case, namely that we are a moribund species).

I, therefore, suggest that the adjective suffix ‘-bundus’, was originally the Latin future tense ending ‘-bunt’. It would be interesting to see if ‘moribuntus’ or 'minitabuntus' are ever attested anywhere.

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page