Most people know the connotation of the words they use daily but rarely ever recognize the origins of such words. Most words can be broken down and traced back to other languages.
According to dictionary.com, “About 80% of the entries in any English dictionary are borrowed, mainly from Latin. Over 60% of all English words have Greek or Latin roots.”
With the majority of English words stemming from Greek and Latin, identifying which words come from which original language can become difficult as there are a plethora of roots from both dialects. Many of the roots are actually the same from both Latin and Greek.
A root is similar to a prefix of a word yet is not always placed in the beginning of the word. They give a word a base meaning, or alludes to a specific definition.
Starting with Latin, some common roots are ante, bio, epi, gen and retro. These roots form words all around, like antebellum, biology, generation and retrospect; however, these are not just coincidental words with the same three or four letters in sequence.
Ante actually means before. This root is not only used in English: the root can also be found in other languages, as ante directly translates to before in Spanish. Many roots and meanings of words are more directly related in multiple dialects than many may realize.
Bio means life. One can see this in the word biography, which is a written account of another person’s life.
Gen means race, family or kind. Such words like generation and gender use the root gen to derive their meanings.
Retro means the same as it is used regularly: backward. Even though the English language has retro as its own word, the root makes an appearance in other words such as retrogress and retrospect.
When looking at Greek roots, but also Latin, many can be used to compose a single word.
The word bibliophile, according to dictionary.com, is a person who loves or collects books. This definition is perfect for the word, as many definitions seem to be once a person discovers roots of the word. The root bibli means book, as in bibliography and Bible. The root phil means love, such as philosophy and pedophile. The two roots together form an extremely fitting meaning of lover of books.
Another simple word, sympathy, has the same composition. Sympathy, according to dictionary.com, is the “harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.” Breaking the word up reveals there are two roots constructing the word: sym and path. Sym means same, and path means emotion; the roots together correlate exactly with the definition of the word.
As many everyday words contain specific segments of letters that give the word a definite meaning, one can learn many new and interesting meanings and origins of the English language.
Simply learning of roots can make English much more intriguing and could even serve a traveler well since other dialects also use the same roots.
Next time when reading a book, speaking out loud or even going abroad, try to recognize the composition of words because they are likely made up of parts from other languages.
No matter if one is getting into an automobile, walking into geology class or celebrating someone’s birthday, roots are all around; it is about time English speakers give roots the recognition they deserve.