The Greek roots of English

When it comes to the Greek language, we actually know more words than we think we do. In the book titled “You Speak Greek, You Just Don’t Know It” by Annie Stefanides, there are more than 6,000 Greek words listed that are used in the English vocabulary, but the author claims that these are merely examples of the 40,000 Greek words used in the English language. Every word we speak has a meaning of which the essence may be rooted much deeper than you think.

The Greek language is a branch of the Indo-European language family and English evolved from this language family. It is often difficult to pinpoint the exact roots of a language due to the mix of influences but it is possible through comparative studies to find similarities in different Indo-European branches. English words of Greek origins are usually a hybrid between Latin and Greek which makes it hard to determine exactly how many words are directly derived from Greek, but about 80% of all English words are from Greek and Latin origin with an estimated 40,000+ words of Greek origin. Think of words such as “rhetorical” from the Greek “ritorikos” and “skeptical” from the Greek “skeptikos”. The Greek influence can be seen in the “rhetoric? and “skeptic” but the “-al” is derived from Latin.

Greek is also known as the prime source of European academic language. This is especially true in Medicine where Greek is referred to as the language of Medicine with up to 90% of words derived from Greek. It doesn’t stop there as Greek can also be found in many other disciplines including politics, literature, music, science, theater, and zoology to mention a few. Think of words such as “dialogue” derived from “dialogos”, “lyric” from “lirikos”, “metaphor” from “metaphora”, and “anaesthesia” from “anesthisia”. Even Greek prefixes, suffixes and stems are found in English, for example, “syn-” from the Greek “sin” meaning plus, with or together which can be seen in the words such as “synchronise” or “synergy”.

The prime example that shows the extent to which Greek exists in the English language today, can be seen the in the two speeches from 1957 and 1959, respectively, made by Professor Xenophon Zolotas, a Greek economist, interim Prime Minister, Governor of the Bank of Greece and Governor of the Funds for Greece. His speeches are in English but he uses solely Greek words, with exception of articles and prepositions. He began his speech with the following: “I always wished to address this Assembly in Greek but realised that it would have been indeed “Greek” to all present in this room. I found out, however, that I could make my address in Greek which would still be English to everybody. With your permission, Mr Chairman, l shall do it now, using with the exception of articles and prepositions, only Greek words.”

Zolotas continued the first speech with: “Kyrie, I eulogise the archons of the Panethnic Numismatic Thesaurus and the Ecumenical Trapeza for the orthodoxy of their axioms, methods and policies, although there is an episode of cacophony of the Trapeza with Hellas. With enthusiasm, we dialogue and synagonise at the synods of our didymous organisations in which polymorphous economic ideas and dogmas are analysed and synthesised. Our critical problems such as the numismatic plethora generate some agony and melancholy. This phenomenon is characteristic of our epoch. But, to my thesis, we have the dynamism to program therapeutic practices as a prophylaxis from chaos and catastrophe. In parallel, a Panethnic unhypocritical economic synergy and harmonisation in a democratic climate is basic. I apologise for my eccentric monologue. I emphasise my euharistia to you, Kyrie to the eugenic and generous American Ethnos and to the organisers and protagonists of his Amphictyony and the gastronomic symposia.

The second speech: “Kyrie, it is Zeus’ anathema on our epoch for the dynamism of our economies and the heresy of our economic methods and policies that we should agonise the Scylla of numismatic plethora and the Charybdis of economic anaemia. It is not my idiosyncrasy to be ironic or sarcastic, but my diagnosis would be that politicians are rather cryptoplethorists. Although they emphatically stigmatise numismatic plethora, they energise it through their tactics and practices.

Our policies have to be based more on economic and less on political criteria. Our gnomon has to be a metron between political, strategic and philanthropic scopes. Political magic has always been anti-economic. In an epoch characterised by monopolies, oligopolies, monopsonies, monopolistic antagonism and polymorphous inelasticities, our policies have to be more orthological. But this should not be metamorphosed into plethorophobia, which is endemic among academic economists. Numismatic symmetry should not hyper-antagonise economic acme. A greater harmonisation between the practices of the economic and numismatic archons is basic.

Parallel to this, we have to synchronise and harmonise more and more our economic and numismatic policies panethnically. These scopes are more practicable now when the prognostics of the political and economic barometer are halcyonic. The history of our didymous organisations in this sphere has been didactic and their gnostic practices will always be a tonic to the polyonymous and idiomorphous ethnical economies. The genesis of the programmed organisation will dynamise these policies. Therefore, I sympathise, although not without criticism on one or two themes, with the apostles and the hierarchy of our organs in their zeal to program orthodox economic and numismatic policies, although I have some logomachy with them.

I apologise for having tyrannised you with my Hellenic phraseology. In my epilogue, I emphasise my eulogy to the philoxenous autochthons of this cosmopolitan metropolis and my encomium to you, Kyrie, and the stenographers.”

So, next time you hear the saying “it’s all Greek to me” referring to something being incomprehensible or not understandable, just remember that in the literal sense of the phrase it may truly be all Greek!

Researched & written by Emma Greenwood
MA in Heritage Management



Acme: the highest point of development, point of perfection

Agony: great pain or suffering of body or mind

Amphictiony: metaph. congress, meeting

Anaemia:  lit. deficiency of red blood cells; metaph. lack of vitality, power, vigour

Analyse: examine or study sth in order to learn about it

Anathema: excommunication, curse of the church

Antagonism: active opposition

Apostle: one of the 12 chosen by Jesus to spread His teaching. Metaph. leader or teacher of reform

Archon: a higher magistrate in ancient Athens, any ruler

Axiom: statement accepted as true, without proof or argument

Autochthon: of the land itself, an indigenous inhabitant


Barometer: instrument which measures the atmospherical pressure


Cacophony: discord

Catastrophe: great suffering or destruction

Chaos: complete absence of order, confusion

Charybdis: see Skylla

Cosmopolitan: free from national prejudices because of wide experience of the world

Criterion, a: principle by which sth is measured for value

Crypto-plethorist: hidden, secret- inflationist


Diagnosis: the determination of the nature of sth from observation of symptoms

Dialogue: conversation, talk

Didactic: intended to teach

Didymous: twin

Dogma: belief to be accepted as true without question

Dynamise: to make more active, productive


Ecumenical: universal

Emphatically: with special value or importance

Encomium: very high praise

Endemic: (for disease)-regularly present in a country or among a particular class of people

Energise: to do things with force, vigour

Epilogue: the last part of a literary work

Episode: one event in a chain of events

Epoch: period of time, era

Ethnical: of race, the races of mankind. Ext. national

Ethnos: race, ext. nation

Eucharistia: The Holy Communion, Thanksgiving

Eugenic: having good inherited characteristics, noble, kind


Gastronomic: adj. of gastronomy, the art of choosing and eating good food

Genesis: beginning, starting point

Gnomon: indicator provided by the stationary arm whose shadow indicates the time on the sundial

Gnostic: pertaining to knowledge


Halcyonic: calm, peaceful, wealthy, prosperous

Harmonise: bring a thing into harmony with another, be in agreement

Heresy: adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma; dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion or practice

Hierarchy: organisation with grades of authority from lowest to highest


Idiomorphous: having a form of its own

Idiosyncrasy: way of thinking or behaving that is peculiar to a person

Inelasticity: lack of elasticity, adaption

Ironic: containing irony, use of words to express sth other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning


Kyrie: Sir, Lord (when addressed to God)


Metamorphose: change the form, the nature of sth

Metron: measure

Metropolis: capital, the biggest city in a country

Monopoly: possession of the sole right to supply, to trade

Melancholy: depression of spirit


Numismatic: consisting of coins, paper money; econ. monetary


Oligopoly: market condition that exists when there are few sellers who can greatly influence the market factors

Orthodox: having opinions or beliefs which are generally accepted or approved

Orthological: be in accordance with the correct, right logic


Panethnic: international

Parallel: extending in the same direction, never converging or diverging; having the same course, tendency

Philanthropic: engaged in philanthropy, beneficent, benevolent

Philoxenia: hospitality

Phraseology: manner or style of verbal expression, characteristic language

Plethora: overabundance, excess

Plethorism: inflation

Plethorophobia: fear of inflation

Polymorphous: having various forms

Polyonymous: having or known by several or various names

Prognostics: prediction of sth in the future

Prophylaxis: prevention

Protagonist: the leading character, the principal person


Sarcastic: bitter, derisive, mordant

Scope: aim, purpose

Skylla or Scylla: together with Charybdis, monsters of Greek mythology, mentioned by Homer. They lived in the strait of Messina (Sicily). To be between Skylla and Charybdis = to deal with two perilous alternatives.

Sphere: a round body, whose surface is, at all points, equidistant from the centre

Stenographer: a person who specialises in taking dictation in shorthand

Stigmatise: set some mark of disgrace or infamy upon

Symmetry: the correspondence in size or form on opposite sides of a line or point

Sympathise: share in a feeling

Symposium: a meeting or conference for the discussion of a subject or topic

Synchronise: to move, to operate at the same rate and exactly together

Synergy: combined action or function

Synod: assembly, council

Synthesise: to combine parts or elements into a single entity


Theme: subject, topic

Thesaurus: treasure

Therapeutic: heeling

Thesis: theory, position, proposal

Tonic: anything invigorating physically, mentally or morally

Trapeza: bank

Tyrannise: to torture


Unhypocritical: a person who does not pretend to be what he is not


Zeal: fervour for a person, cause or object; eager, desire, ardour, passion

Let's keep in touch!

Give us your email and we’ll keep you in the loop.

We'll never share your email with anyone else.