Chapter 18: The Greek Noun (Declension 3)

§117. Analysing Greek Compound Words

When we first looked at WORD ANALYSIS, in Part I, §43, we saw that it involved “breaking up” a word into its component parts; this, as we’ll soon discover, is what ἀνα-λυσις means in Greek.

When we were dealing with Latin derivatives, it was usually possible to start with a hypothetical reconstruction of the Latin etymon; for example, we might trace the English collaboration from a Latin source-word collaboratio, which could then be identified and explained, element by element. This same element-by-element explanation is desirable in analysing Greek derivatives; but it will seldom be a good idea to invent an original Greek compound form. Indeed, complex English words derived from Greek are more often than not modern inventions, and they would look ludicrous in the Greek alphabet. If you know that our word began life as a Greek compound—that metropolis, for instance, was a Greek word μητροπολις—then give that Greek form, by all means. Otherwise or when in doubt, it’s probably better merely to explain the component parts; and you can display your knowledge of Greek, if you wish, in identifying these separate elements.

Here are a few typical examples of how you might perform this exercise. You are encouraged to develop your own way of conveying this information, as clearly and as succinctly as possible.

pterodactyl < G pter-o-dactyl: pter– (πτερον, “wing”) + –o– (connecting vowel) + –dactyl (δακτυλος, “finger”)
photography < G phōt-o-graphy: phōt– (φως, φωτος, “light”) + –o– (connecting vowel) + –graphy (-γραφια, “writing”)
psychologist < G psych-o-log-ist: psych– (ψυχη, “soul”) + –o– (connecting vowel) +
log– (-λογια, “study”) + –ist (-ιστης, agent noun suffix)

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§117. Analysing Greek Compound Words by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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