Wordy Weekly XVIII

Updated: May 31, 2021

Gone for a ‘P’. Okay, bad pun. But, yes we have reached ‘P’.

Bumper Greek week! Why?

1. Greek has its own letter ‘P’ = π. (is a circular Mac computer an Apple π).

2. Greek has two letters which English transliterates with ‘P’ + another letter.

Φ = phi

Ψ = psi

3. Greek also has several words that begin with ‘pt’ = πτ (no, not as in a ‘peaty’ whisky, never mind).

i) PANORAMA: ‘a view of everything’, ‘or a wide view’, literally ‘seeing everything’.

PAN, is the Greek παν meaning ‘all or everything.

ORAMA, is formed from the Greek verb ὁραω, ‘I see’.

παν forms a prefix to several English words, PANdemic, PANTOmime, for example, and means ‘all/everything’ just as in PANORAMA.

ii) PETAL: our word ‘petal’, referring to the pretty, generally colourful pieces that surround the centre of a flower comes from the Greek πεταλον meaning a ‘thin sheet’ or ‘leaf’, neuter of the adjective πεταλος meaning ‘spread out’. petalum in Latin meaning ‘metal sheet’.

iii) PHILTRE: ‘charm, potion’. The word comes from the Greek φιλτρον, also meaning ‘charm’ or ‘potion’. If you fancy a laugh, there is a very funny episode of Up Pompeii called the ‘Love Philtre’. I expect you can make a fair guess about what happens. It’s hilarious.

iv) PHOTOGRAPHY: ‘the process by which a picture taken by a camera’. The derivation of this word is rather interesting and reminds us of the original process of photography, rather than the quick smartphone snap or selfie with one-click upload that we have all become so used to. PHOTOGRAPHY is literally ‘writing by light’.

PHOTO comes from φωτος = light

GRAPHY comes from γραφη = writing

The 1839 definition, given by ‘Etymonline’, nicely captures the word’s reflection of the original process of PHOTOGRAPHY:

‘the art of producing images by application of chemical changes produced by certain substances by the action of light or other radiant energy’.


v) PSYCHIATRIST: We met this word briefly a few weeks ago when we hit the letter ‘i’ and I looked at ‘-iatrist’ as a suffix in English, which comes from the Greek meaning ‘doctor/physician’.

PSYCHE comes from ψὺχη = mind, soul, spirit

So, a psychiatrist is a doctor of the soul or mind.

Just to throw in another ‘P’ derivative, a PODiatrist is a foot doctor. You may remember we met the Greek for ‘foot’ (πυς) in week one, where we explored the plural for OCTOPUS. (More comedy recommendations, and very appropriate to this entry – in the episode ‘The Psychiatrist’ (first episode of season 2, I think???) of the wonderful Fawlty Towers, Basil gets ‘PODIATRIST’ and ‘PAEDIATRICIAN’ completely confused).

vi) PTERODACTYL: Who doesn’t love dinosaurs? The famous winged dinosaur has a name meaning ‘wing-finger’.

PTEROS is πτερος = wing

DACTYL is δακτυλος = finger

vii) PLANET: If you’re going to orbit the sun, you had better ‘PLAN-IT’ well. SORRY! But yes, the word planet, namely the rocks of varying size that orbit the sun along with us take their collective name from Greek. The word πλανητης means the wanderer, and its related verb πλανασθαι – to wander. I think it is rather charming that the ‘planets’ are 'the wanderers' in the sky.


i) PRETEXT: ‘an alleged reason or excuse that is openly given, but which likely hides the real reason for something’. The Greek historian Polybius, believed it was very important to discover whether the reason or motivation given as being behind an action was, in fact, the real reason, or simply the one publicly declared. The Greek word is προφάσις. Our word comes from the Latin verb ‘praetexo, praetexere, praetexui, praetextum’, specifically, the fourth part of the verb. The verb

ii) PROCRASTINATE: ‘to put off, defer to another time (often without good reason’. Yep, we’ve all done it, and yep, it’s a Latin word, deriving from the past participle ‘procrastinatus’ of the verb ‘procrastino’. The Latin verb specifically means ‘put off until tomorrow’. The middle part of the word ‘CRAS’ is the Latin for tomorrow.

iii) PATENT: ‘open’. The word comes from the Latin ‘pateo’ meaning ‘to be open, lie open’. The sense of the word meaning ‘copyright’ also comes from ‘pateo’. In the fourteenth century a ‘patent’ was an open letter granting official permission for something’, a shortening of the French (ultimately from Latin) ‘lettre patent’.

iv) PETITION: ‘a document submitted to request or demand something’. This essentially is the Latin word ‘petition, petitionis’, which means ‘a seeking’ or ‘a demand’, and was also the term for the official ‘seeking’ of office by candidates for the various Roman magistracies. A late-Republican text, the Commentariolum Petitionis (just call it the Comm Pet, it’s much easier), attributed to Cicero’s brother Quintus, deals with the business of political campaigning. Its cognate verb is ‘peto, petere, petivi, petitum’, which means ‘seek, demand, beg’.

v) PULCHRITUDINOUS: ‘beautiful’. I love this word and it is a derivative I used to flourish before my year 9-11 classes, after a lesson were a pupil announced that there ‘definitely’ (not ‘definately’, but I did bring it up in the line of my duty, haha) was no English derivative from the lovely Latin word ‘pulcher’ , meaning beautiful. It is also a Latin name from the gens (family) Claudii. Well, there is. The Latin noun ‘pulchritudo’ (meaning beauty) is this charming, if admittedly a little old-fashioned, word’s origin.

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