28 ‘good’ words derived from Greek and Latin

Sprinkle a smidgen of sophistication into your prose with these words shaped by classical roots.

28 Latin and Greek words for 'good'

Let’s talk about something good.

There are a variety of words for good things, based on ancient words for “good”: Latin bonus and Greek eu. Let’s take a look at them:

Good words from Latin

In Rome, bonus was the Latin word for “good, noble, kind, honest, brave.” Since Latin gave birth to the Romance languages of Europe, words such as bon, bien, bueno and buon are found today in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian.

English speakers commonly use the French expressions “bon voyage” (“Have a good trip”) and “bon appetit” (“Enjoy your meal”). The opposite prefix of “bon” or “bene” is “mal,” or bad. Once you learn the meaning of “benevolent,” you know the meaning of “malevolent.”

  1. Benevolent—wanting to do good; altruistic, charitable; from the Latin for “well-wishing.”
  2. Benefit—something you gain; something that helps or aids you, such as help from the government. Also an event, often a performance, that benefits a cause or a charity.
  3. Beneficiary—someone who receives a benefit.
  4. Beneficial—the adjective form of benefit; helpful, good for you.
  5. Benefactor—someone who helps another, or gives out benefits; from the Latin for “good-doing.”
  6. Benediction—a prayer or blessing, usually at the end of a church service; also, a rite of consecration; from the Latin “well-speak.”
  7. Benign—harmless, non-threatening, mild, kind. A tumor can be benign or malignant (cancerous).
  8. Bonus—a premium; an extra benefit, such as an addition to a salary or extra points in a game.
  9. Benefice—a land grant, such as to a medieval priest; an estate or fief.
  10. Bonanza—a source of wealth or success, originally a Spanish word meaning the discovery of a valuable mine, but which comes from the Latin for “good weather.”
  11. Bonhomie—friendly, genial; affable, from the French, but originally from the Latin for “good man.”

Good words from Greek

Most English words with the prefix “eu” come from the Greek word meaning “good” or “well.” Some were used by the ancient Greeks, while other scientific and medical terms were coined by English-speaking scientists who had studied Greek. For those words, “eu” can mean “true” as well as “good.” The opposite prefix is “dys” or “dis.”

  1. Euphony—a pleasant-sounding word is considered euphonious; from the Greek for “good-sound.”
  2. Eulogy—a funeral speech in honor of the deceased. It comes from the Greek “well-speak” as benediction comes from the Latin “well-speak.” However, they mean different things. If a funeral service had the benediction first, everybody would start to leave before the eulogy.
  3. Eulogize—when you say good things about something, you eulogize it. Often used cynically—if someone has to try so hard to make it sound good, there must be something wrong with it.
  4. Euphoria—an excited, intense feeling of joy or happiness. From the Greek “good-feeling.” The word “dysphoria”means “bad feeling,” perhaps anxiety or depression.
  5. Eureka—the famous announcement of the Greek mathematician Archimedes, meaning “I have found it!” In cartoons, prospectors say “Eureka!” when they discover a bonanza.
  6. Euphemism—a word chosen to be less vulgar or blunt (or just less precise or vivid), such as “passed” instead of “died,” or “enhanced interrogation” instead of “torture.” From the Greek word meaning “abstaining from inauspicious words.”
  7. Euthanasia—the act of killing to prevent suffering, practiced on animals and sometimes, more controversially, on people. From the Greek “good-death,” which is itself a euphemism.
  8. Eugenics—historically, the theory that people with bad qualities should not have children (or sometimes should not have lives) while people with good qualities should. Naturally, only the “right” people get to decide which qualities are good. From the Greek “good-breeding.”
  9. Eukaryote—an organism whose cells have a nucleus enclosed by a membrane. Bacteria and archaea don’t—they lack a “true nut,” which is what the word means in Greek.
  10. Eucharist—in Christianity, Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper, commemorating Jesus’s last supper of bread and wine; from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.”
  11. Eucalyptus—a fragrant, flowering tree common to Australia; from the Greek for “well-covered,” because the bud covers the developing flower.
  12. Euphonium—a brass musical instrument with a mellow tone. It looks like a small tuba—it’s the tenor in the tuba family. The song “76 Trombones” mentions the nearly-extinct “double-belled euphonium.” From the Greek for “good-sound.”
  13. Euhemerism—the theory that the stories of the gods grew from stories of human heroes; named after its Greek originator Euhemerius, whose name meant “well-domesticated.”
  14. Eudaemon—a good or benevolent spirit. This is not a euphemism—the Greek word daemonoriginally meant “protective spirit” instead of “evil fiend.”
  15. Eucaine—a “good” derivative of cocaine, used as a veterinary pain-killer.
  16. Euphuism—John Lyly’s 1578 romance Euphues: The Anatomy of Witwas so ostentatious, precious, elaborate and excessively ornate that any English literature that imitated it was called euphuistic. Spanish, Italian and French literature had their own offenders. From the Greek for “graceful, witty.” Naturally, people like Lyly decided what was graceful and witty.
  17. Eurythmy—in medicine, a normal pulse. In architecture, harmony of features and proportion. In dance, graceful movement in rhythm with spoken words.

A version of this post first appeared on Daily Writing Tips.


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