Help me learn a very selective slice of Greek and Latin words.
March 13, 2012 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Is there a resource where I can learn about the Greek and Latin words that commonly underlie words and names in English? I don't want to learn Greek or Latin, I'm talking about only the words which are commonly useful as 'clues'.

Some examples (these probably aren't all correct): mortis (death), chronos (time), cryo (ice), pyro (fire), pelagos (sea), didymos (twin), dysprositos (hard to get). These kind of words and more crop up when you Wikipedia the etymology of a name and I enjoy when I'm able to spot them first, so I'd like to expand my stock.

Any books, websites, anything you can point me to? Or does nothing like this exist?
posted by Kirn to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can always start with wikipedia.
posted by drlith at 5:12 AM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: Greek and Lation roots
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:12 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

More Wikipedia Greek and Latin

I haven't read Latin for Everyday Life but it looks like it's in the area you're looking for, and he's written a few sequels.
posted by Gomoryhu at 5:22 AM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: Way back in high school, we used the book Word Power Made Easy exactly for this sort of classical root-based vocabulary building. I was already into this approach to learning words at the time, but I still had generally positive feelings toward the book. I'm sure there are other similar books out there, though, so you might just want to go to a book store and flip through their offerings.
posted by Schismatic at 5:27 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have any good sources to offer, but just a word of advice to keep your mind open to alternate transliterations. As in, one of my favorite words kakistocracy is not listed in the resources above but (as I just learned from perusing them) its prefix comes from the same Greek word as cacophony's.
posted by psoas at 6:38 AM on March 13, 2012

If you get a good dictionary, such as an Oxford English dictionary, it will have etymological roots in it.

There's also the Online Etymology Dictionary. His sources are pretty thorough, you could probably find something among them (especially the "Dictionary of Word Origins" looks like it might be up your alley).
posted by fraula at 6:53 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are a few sets of vocabulary books for kids that focus on teaching through roots. Advantage: you'll get commonly used roots, not SAT/GRE obscurities. Check out Prestwick House publishers, which has two series, and this set:

Problem is, of course, they're pricey. Maybe just look at the tables of contents, if you can find them, and go from there...
posted by SpiralT at 6:54 AM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I should have found that Wikipedia page, d'oh. This all looks great though, and particularly the Word Power book, thanks Schismatic.
posted by Kirn at 8:05 AM on March 13, 2012

I know you best answered already, but I'm seconding the Online Etymology Dictionary. It is what I use to teach etymology to high schoolers - if it's not there, it's hard to find anywhere else.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:38 AM on March 13, 2012

The daily email (and full archives) of A Word A Day may also be of interest to you, as he will often go through the full chain of the etymology of a word down to Indo-European stems. Also, they're entertainingly grouped by week, but searchable on the website, in case you just want to look up a specific stem pattern.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:56 AM on March 13, 2012

Isaac Asmov's book "Words from the Myths" was a favorite of mine - you get the roots and the stories they come form.
posted by PussKillian at 10:29 AM on March 13, 2012

If you want something that doesn't require turning on the computer, I suggest getting yourself a copy of the oxford dictionary of english etymology from your local book shop.
posted by chapps at 10:31 AM on March 13, 2012

I had the pleasure, many years ago, of taking a summer course in Greek and Latin etymology (thanks, CTY!). Our textbook was Donald M. Ayers' English Words from Latin and Greek Elements.
posted by Orinda at 6:27 PM on March 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
posted by Kirn at 5:27 AM on March 16, 2012

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