Etymology of the word "philosophy" in Greek (and English)
February 6, 2015 7:01 PM   Subscribe

If it means "the love of knowledge," as it is commonly given in dictionaries, why isn't it "sophophilia" on the analogy of Anglophilia, necrophilia, bibliophilia, etc?

Why doesn't "philosophy" [ϕιλόσοϕος + -ία] etymologize to "the wisdom of love"? Which, if I remember my Symposium from many years ago, wouldn't be too far off the mark.
I'm assuming that there are combining rules in Greek that I am unaware of and that answer this question. That's what I'm looking for: the Greek rules. Which element determines which is the action and which is the object of the action?
"Philosophy" is just an example; I could have asked it of many other words as well.
posted by feelinggood to Writing & Language (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding of it is that φιλος is adjectival and σοφια is the noun (from the adjective σοφος). In Greek you can add φιλος to just about any noun (and corresponding adjective) to mean loving X (e.g. φιλολογια is the love of words and learning).
That's the usual construction in Greek; if you make a compound word, the modifying word comes before the word being modified (e.g. καλλιπολις, meaning beautiful city comes from καλλος (beautiful/fined/good) and πολις (city)). The same applies to verbs (e.g. καλλιλογεω to speak elegantly or well, from καλλος and λεγω (to speak).
I'm not an expert in Greek grammar so I don't think I've expressed that very well, but I hope it's helpful!
Oh and I believe that the reason that philosophy differs from your other examples such as bibliophilia is that philosophy is an Anglicised Greek word, whereas the others are 'modern' coinages taken from Greek roots but not following Greek grammatical rules. If I wanted to say 'loving books' in Greek I would write φιλοβιβλος (although I don't have a dictionary with me to check if that is actually a form found).
posted by an opinicus at 8:06 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Philosophy" is a genuine Ancient Greek word. "-philia" is a modern formation based on Ancient Greek but without any significant usage in that language. Many of these so-called Latin and Greek combining forms are actually quite modern.
posted by Thing at 1:03 AM on February 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Ancient Greek ϕιλοσοϕία 'love of knowledge, pursuit of knowledge, systematic treatment of a subject, the study of morality, existence, and the universe' (OED) is not ϕιλο- + -σοϕία, it is ϕιλόσοϕος ' lover of wisdom, philosopher' + -ία (abstract suffix).
posted by languagehat at 8:33 AM on February 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

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