§114. Greek Nouns of the Third Declension

To a greater extent than in the 1st and 2nd declensions, the Greek 3rd declension contains many words that appear in English in exact or conventional transliteration. Some of these are proper names from religion and mythology: Ζευς, Προμηθευς, ’Οδυσσευς, ’Ατλας, Τιταν, Καλυψω, Κυκλωψ, Στυξ = Zeus, Prometheus, Odysseus, Atlas, Titan, Calypso, Cyclops, Styx. Many 3rd declension common nouns have also entered English without adaptation: μαρτυρ, νεκταρ, λαρυγξ, κλιμαξ, ἀρωμα, κωμα, πολις, μητροπολις, πυλων, κυδος, ὑβρις = martyr, nectar, larynx, climax, aroma, coma, polis, metropolis, pylon, kudos, hubris. (Both these lists could be extended substantially.)

What follows is a fairly daunting word-list; perhaps you can subdivide it into two or three instalments for learning purposes. If only one Greek word is listed, that will be the nominative (vocabulary) form, which provides an obvious base or combining form. If two Greek words are given, the second will be the genitive singular (= base + -ος).

ἀηρ aēr air aerodynamic
πυρ pyr fire pyromania
ὑδωρ hydōr (hydr-) water hydraulic
δαιμων daimōn god, spirit demonic
χειρ cheir hand chiropractor
πους, ποδος pous, pod- foot podiatrist
γαστηρ, γαστρος gastēr, gastr- stomach gastronomy
ὀδους, ὀδοντος odous, odont- tooth orthodontic
ῥις, ῥινος rhis, rhin- nose rhinoceros
φως, φωτος phōs, phōt- light photograph
ἀνηρ, ἀνδρος anēr, andr- man polyandry
γυνη, γυναικος gynē, gynaik- woman gynecology
παις, παιδος pais, paid- child p(a)ediatric
γερων, γεροντος gerōn, geront- old man gerontology
πολις polis city acropolis
ἀλγος algos (alg-) pain neuralgia
βαρος baros (bar-) weight barometer
ἐθνος ethnos (ethn-) nation ethnic
ἠθος ēthos (ēth-) custom, character ethos
αἱμα, αἱματος haima, haimat- blood haemophilia
δερμα, δερματος derma, dermat- skin hypodermic
ὀνυμα, ὀνυματος onyma, onymat- name synonym
(ὀνομα, ὀνοματος) (onoma, onomat-) onomatopoeia
σωμα, σωματος sōma, sōmat- body psychosomatic
χρωμα, χρωματος chrōma, chrōmat- colour chromosome

First, a few comments on English spelling. You have learned that the Greek diphthong αι became regularly adapted in Latin as ae. That convention is reflected in the derivatives of γυναικ- (gynaik– “woman”), παιδ- (paid– “child”), and αἱμ- (haim-, “blood”). What can be confusing is that this ae may be either maintained in English or reduced further to e. The full development is illustrated in the progression from G δαιμων to L daemon to E demon.[1] Thus there are two correct spellings for the medical specialist who treats children—paediatrician or pediatrician. If you look under “Physicians and Surgeons” in the Victoria Yellow Pages, you will find both spellings used (probably revealing the geographical or educational origin of the specialist). The same is true of gynaecology or gynecology, haemorrhage or hemorrhage. In Canadian usage, there is an overwhelming trend towards the simpler e spelling. The only problem with this simplification is that it can sometimes create minor confusion. A perfect example is the Greek root παιδ- (paid-, “child”). If it is kept as paed-, the etymology of its derivatives will be abundantly clear; if, however, it is reduced to ped– (as is customary in North America), it becomes identical in form to the unrelated Latin root for “foot.” Because of Latin derivatives like pedal and pedicure—and the hybrid pedometer (an instrument to measure walking speed)—one may run the risk of associating orthopedic (orthopaedic) with feet, or of wrongly viewing pedophilia as some kind of foot fetish. Other derivatives of παιδ- include pedagogue (G παιδ-αγωγος, “child-leader” > L paedagogus), pedagogy, encyclopedia,[2] pederast (“child-lover,” now almost completely supplanted by pedophile, a word that dates only from 1951), and pedodontist (< παιδ-οδοντ-ιστης,[3] a dentist who works on children’s teeth). Notice, by the way, that the first -o- of ped-odont-ist is not a connecting vowel, since it begins the base form that means “tooth”; we should similarly divide the words orth-odont-ist and peri-odont-ist.

The first noun in Table 18.1, ἀηρ, became the Latin loan-word aēr, after exact transliteration; this was the source (through Old French) of English air. To make it clear that this Latin word has two syllables, we may wish to use the diaeresis[4] mark, spelling the form as aër. When the word aerial first entered the English language, it was pronounced “a-er-i-al.” If the initial two letters had evolved from the Latin diphthong ae, the modern English spelling would likely have become “erial.” Our word airplane was originally (1866) adapted from French as aeroplane, and may still be spelled that way; the form was apparently intended to mean “air wanderer” (cf. planet), though its second element soon became associated in usage with the more obvious plane (< L planus).

The alternative bases of γυνη, γυναικος (gun- and gunaik- ) are apparent in the contrast between mis-o-gyn-y or andr-o-gyn-ous, on the one hand, and gynec-o-logy, on the other. Words like σωμα and χρωμα may have two combining forms; see English chrom-o-some, as opposed to chromat-ic and pysch-o-somat-ic. Again, phos-phorus (< φωσφορος, “light-bearing”) can be contrasted with phot-o-graph. Greek was unlike Latin in this capacity to use two different forms of the same noun in forming derivatives or compounds. The phenomenon does represent a complication in English word analysis.

If your physician is a foot specialist, (s)he is perhaps a podiatrist (“foot healer”). However, if the medical practice is concerned with hands and feet, the doctor will be a chiropodist (< χειρ-ο-ποδ-ιστης). Some other medical specialties from Table 18.1 are gynecology, gerontology, dermatology, and haematology.

  1. In the semantic area, this word is a fine example of PEJORATION or deterioration of meaning (§15), since the original Greek word had a very positive denotation—a divinity or spirit (Socrates’ inner voice).
  2. The word encyclopedia (still often spelled encyclopaedia in the U.K.), is derived from G παιδεια (paideia < παις), “education” (of children). The compound meant “circular (i.e., complete) education.”
  3. We'll be meeting the suffix -ιστης many times. A 1st declension masculine ending, it may be viewed as the Greek counterpart of the Latin AGENT SUFFIX -or. Occasionally a Greek noun in -ιστης was adapted as a 1st declension Latin noun in -ista. Whether or not there was an intermediate Latin form, the suffix appears in English as -ist.
  4. The word diaeresis looks as if it might have been derived from ἀηρ. That is not the case; however it is a Greek derivative, from δια + αἱρειν (“to take apart”).


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part II - Greek Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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