Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Greek and Latin Roots for English Words
Bill Long 4/18/07
I decided to write this page [a "page," for me, is about 70 essays] after witnessing what spellers often do at spelling bees with many words derived from Greek and Latin roots: they misspell them. They misspell them because they either don't know the root or don't know how the root connects with the body of the word. These dozens of (projected) essays will show you how Greek and Latin roots "work" in English words and help you develop a confidence in mastering thousands of English words. There are many online lists of Greek or Latin roots, but the essays on this page seek to make these roots live for us through showing the variety of ways they have been (and might be) used to form words.
An Example from the Spelling Bee
A few weeks ago I was involved in a spelling bee in which another speller was given the word "palilalia." It isn't a word that we normally use, and the speller got it wrong. The host of the bee then opened it up to everyone in the house, except other spellers on stage, to try to spell palilalia. Everyone misspelled it. Imaginative spellings there were, of course--pallylalia; palalia; pallalalia, etc. Everyone made mistakes because they didn't know the Greek roots behind the word and thus were reduced to wild guessing. But once the definition of the word was given, a quick knowledge of Greek roots would have given you the answer. Palilalia is a speech disorder characterized by "involuntary repetition of words, phrases, or sentences." That is, the person with palilalia "says" something "again." That is all we need to know.
Let's begin with the easy part: speaking or saying. The Greek verb for speaking is "lalein," and we have words in English ending with "lalic" or "lalia" which pick up on this. For example, the practice of glossolalia, which any Pentecostal person regardless of education can spell, is "speaking in tongues." Echolalia is a speech disorder where you repeat (echo) the words you just heard. Idiolalia is a form of dyslalia (we will get to both "idio" and "dys" in due time) where a person affected consistently makes substitutions in speech sounds to such an extent that s/he seems to speak a unique language. Embolalia doesn't appear in any dictionary I have used, but I traced it at least back as far as 1974. It refers to the practice of adding syllables without meaning to words. The addition or use of words like "um," "like," "you know" or other stammerings or useless phrases is an example of it. The word is derived from the Greek "emballein," meaning "to throw in, intercalate" and "lalia."
Then we have the first two syllables. When you hear "pali" or "pally" or whatever it might be, you don't know what lies behind it until you hear the definition--having to do with repetition. The Greek word for "again" or "backward" is palin. We have the wonderful word palimpsest in English, which seemingly is used in all spelling bees, which means, literally, a piece of parchment that is "scraped" "again" or written over. Codicologists and students of ancient manuscripts often come across palimpsests; indeed, they are usually more interested in the copy scraped off than the text they can easily decipher. The Greek verb psen, participle psestos, means "scrape." Thus a palimpsest is a "scraped again" or "rubbed smooth" parchment or paper. We also have the familiar word palindrome in English, which is a word which "runs" (dromos is the Greek word for "run") "again." The Greek word palindromos means "running back again"--i.e., a word that "reads, letter for letter, the same backwards as forwards."
When the Greek preposition palin comes up against certain consonants, it can either drop the final "n," keep the "n" or convert it to another consonant, such as an "m." It is all a matter of sound--palimpsest sounds so much nicer and is easier to say than palinpsest, and palindrome is quite easy to say without any change in palin. With respect to lalia, we could have had palinlalia, but that is too difficult to say; therefore the "n" dropped out and we simply have palilalia. It seems so easy once you know it, but now that you know it, you have insight that will help you elsewhere.
Wandering to Other Nearby Roots
But it is easy to get tripped up on pali/palin, as the following examples will show. Well, first let's look at one or two more words with the palin prefix. Something palinal is characterized by backward motion, esp. of the lower jaw in chewing. This contrasts with proal (I will get to pro, also, in due time), which is "forward motion" of the jaw and propalinal, which is "having a forward and backward motion," like the jaw in mastication. I bet you will never think of eating the same after you know this triad of terms! Palilogy is, as you might expect, is a rhetorical device defined as the "reptition of a word or phrase, especially for emphasis." "The emotional effect of the President's palilogy was easily evident."
But then you have a words like paliform and palichthyologist, which have nothing to do with the root palin. The word paliform is derived from the Latin palus, which is a stake or javelin. Something paliform thus, "resembles or has the form of a stake." It is usually used by botanists describing natural phenomena, especially corals. Then, word palichthyologist is to be connected with the root paleo or palaeo, which means "ancient" or "old." Thus, a palichthyologist is one who studies extinct and fossil fishes. I don't think you will win many popularity points with others for using a term like this, but you need not use it in every situation in order to know it.
If your reaction at this point to my first essay is, "Bill, you have to know a lot!" to know words, I would agree. This isn't Plato's dialogue Meno, where Socrates tries to illustrate the issue of innate knowledge through "discovering" in the slave lad the ability to do mathematics. Building words through word origins is moderately difficult work. Maybe that, in the final analysis, is why no one can spell palilalia.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long