Along with Latin, Greek is probably the language that most influenced other languages around the world. Many English words derive directly from Greek roots, and knowing their origin and meaning is important.
Below you will find 12 Greek words that are commonly used in our society. The next time you hear someone saying “Kudos to you,” you will know where it comes from.
The highest point of a structure; the peak or zenith of something. One could say that Rome reached the acme of its power on 117 AD, under the rule of Trajan.
“The acme of modular, factory-built, passively safe reactor design, however, is found in South Africa. People there have been experimenting with so-called pebble-bed reactors for decades.” (The Economist)
Acro means edge or extremity, while polis means city. Acropolis, therefore, refers to cities that were built with security purposes in mind. The word Acropolis is commonly associated with Greece’s capital Athens, although it can refer to any citadel, including Rome and Jerusalem.
“The Beijing Olympics torch relay reached the ancient Acropolis in Athens on Saturday amid heavy police security and brief demonstrations by small groups of protesters.” (The New York Times)
The Agora was an open market place, present in most cities of the ancient Greece. Today the term can be used to express any type of open assembly or congregation.
“The most characteristic feature of each settlement, regardless of its size, was a plaza—an open space that acted as a cemetery and may have been a marketplace. It was also, the archaeologists suspect, a place of political assembly, just as the agora in an ancient Greek city was both marketplace and legislature.” (The Economist)
Anathema is a noun and it means a formal ban, curse or excommunication. It can also refer to someone or something extremely negative, disliked or damned. Curiously enough, the original Greek meaning for this word was “something offered to the gods.”
“Some thinkers argue that while collaboration may work for an online encyclopedia, it’s anathema to original works of art or scholarship, both of which require a point of view and an authorial voice.” (USA Today)
Anemia refers to a condition characterized by a qualitative or quantitative deficiency of the red blood cells (or of the hemoglobin). Over the years, however, the term started to appear in other contexts, referring to any deficiency that lies at the core of a system or organization.
“In comments to the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, the lone dissenter in last week’s decision to keep the federal funds target at 2%, said the U.S. faces “a sustained period of anemia” and that “in the second half of this year we will broach zero growth.” Last week Fisher wanted higher rates, his fifth-straight dissent in favor of tighter policy.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Translated literally from the Greek, ethos means “accustomed place.” It refers to a disposition or characteristics peculiar to a specific person, culture or movement. Synonyms include mentality, mindset and values.
“Consumerism needs this infantilist ethos because it favors laxity and leisure over discipline and denial, values childish impetuosity and juvenile narcissism over adult order and enlightened self-interest, and prefers consumption-directed play to spontaneous recreation.” (The Los Angeles Times)
Dogma refers to the established belief or set of principles held by a religion, ideology or by any organization. Dogmas are also authoritative and undisputed. Outside of the religious context, therefore, the term tends to carry a negative connotation. Notice that the plural is either dogmata or dogmas.
“It’s not a new type of web, it’s just where the web has got to—it’s also a terrific excuse for much chatter on the blogging circuit, and a huge amount of dogmatism.” (The Financial Times)
The exclamation Eureka is used to celebrate a discovery, and it can be translated to “I have found!” It is attributed to the famous Greek mathematician Archimedes. While taking a bath, he suddenly realized that the water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. He got so excited with the discovery that he left his home and started to run and shout “Eureka!” through the streets of Syracuse.
“Those eureka moments in the shower or on the bus when something suddenly starts to make sense only happen if you keep plugging away.” (The Guardian)
Genesis means birth or origin. There are many synonyms for this word, including beginning, onset, start, spring, dawn and commencement. Genesis is also the name of the first book of the Bible.
“And when Mr McCain headed to the safe shoals of policy wonkery, Mr Obama flayed his idea of calling for a commission to investigate the genesis of the financial crisis as the resort of politicians who don’t know what else to do.” (The Economist)
Many people wrongly think that a phobia is a fear. In reality it is more than that. Phobia is an irrational and exaggerated fear of something. The fear can be associated with certain activities, situations, things or people.
“Poorer communities have a phobia of undercooked food. Very advanced societies enjoy their fish and meat either raw or very close to it. To the French their idea of cooking a steak is so perfunctory one might as well hack the thing off the cow and tuck in.” (The Financial Times)
You have a plethora when you go beyond what is needed or appropriate. It represents an excess or undesired abundance.
“In California, for example, some neighborhoods have been blighted by the plethora of empty homes. Joe Minnis, a real estate agent for Prudential California, knows foreclosed homes in San Bernardino that have been systematically stripped, trashed and tagged by gang members.” (Business Week)
Kudos means fame or glory, usually resulting from an important act or achievement. It is interesting to notice that in Greek and in the Standard British English, Kudos is a singular noun. Inside the United States, however, it is often used in a plural form (e.g., You deserve many kudos for this accomplishment!)
“They deserve the kudos because they could be deemed responsible for the marked improvement in the commercials during Super Bowl XL last night.” (The New York Times)
The original version of this article ran on DailyWritingTips.com.