Greek Words In English That Will Surprise You

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You’re already speaking a little Greek and you didn’t even know!

Traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language can be daunting. However, in most places, especially the highly touristic destinations in Greece, like Athens and the islands, you will have no problem communicating in English. But if you do happen to get stuck, in almost every case there is someone whose more than willing to help, or at least dabble in a little sign language. But whether you know it or not, you actually already speak a little Greek. Yes you!

☞ Related: The Most Useful Basic Greek Phrases To Know Before Visiting Greece

The English language has borrowed and molded thousands upon thousands of Greek words. While the definitions and pronunciations may have changed over time, if you trace it back their origin remains the same. So let’s get into some etymology, and what a way to begin because that’s a Greek word! Etymologia in Greek means the analysis of a word to find its true origin!

Some Major Brands With Greek Names

Now these ones you might already know, they’re big name brands with a Greek origin. Even if you didn’t know now you’ve got a fun fact to slip into conversation to impress your friends. You’ve heard of Pepsi-Cola, but did you know the word pepsi is Greek? The creator of the soft drink, Caleb Bradham, called it Pepsi as he believed the drink helped with digestion and pepsi means … well ‘digestion’! Another big name brand that has borrowed from the Greek language is Nike. Nike got its name from the Greek goddess of victory. You can see the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Nike at the Acropolis in Athens or the statue of Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre in Paris.

Related: The Best Way To See The Acropolis In Summer

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© Rania Kalogirou - Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre

Back To School

Biology, mathematics, physics and chemistry might sound like your old high school timetable, but this is just another list of Greek words. Mathematics comes from the Greek word ‘mathema’, which means ‘what someone learns’. Physics comes from the Greek word ‘physika’ which means ‘natural things’ referring to natural scientific processes that occur. In antiquity, Greece was not only home to leading philosophers, but also leading scientists such as Archimedes, a prominent mathematician and physicist. It’s not just the word biology in English that owes its origins to the Greek language. You can bet that pretty much anything that ends in ‘ology’ has a Greek origin. The suffix ‘ology’ means a branch of study. For example zoology meaning the study of animals comes from the Greek words ‘zoion’ meaning animal and ‘ology’. Psychology, neurology, dermatology and the list goes on.

Related: A Simple Guide To The Most Famous Greek Philosophers

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© Photo by Thomas Kolnowski on Unsplash

Even Our Emotions Are Greek

Even when it comes down to the human psyche, or psykhe in Greek which means soul, you’ll find many words of Greek origin that are used in the English language. If sometimes you find yourself to be cynical know that you are not the first, for cynicism was an ancient school of thought adopted by a group of Greek philosophers called cynics. If you’re feeling sympathetic towards someone, you’re feeling their pain as if it were your own. This meaning becomes perfectly clear when you understand its origin because it comes from the Greek words ‘syn’ meaning with and ‘pathos’ meaning suffering.

The Theatre

Since Greece is literally the birthplace of theatre there’s no surprises that many of the English words we know today in this field are of Greek origin. We all love the drama that the theatre provides, whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy, we can’t help but be wrapped up in heartfelt monologue from the protagonist or the sounds of the chorus. In that sentence alone I used six different theatrical words of Greek origin. Can you guess what ones they were?

  • Drama – from the Greek word: drama which means ‘action’
  • Theatre – from the Greek word theasthai referring to a place to behold
  • Tragedy – from the Greek word tragodia meaning ‘a serious drama with an unfortunate or sad ending’
  • Monologue – from the Greek words monos meaning ‘alone’ and the word logos meaning ‘speech or word’
  • Protagonist – from the Greek words protos meaning ‘first’ and agonistis meaning ‘the actor or person competing’ 
  • Chorus – from the Greek word khoros which refers to those  that take part in dialogue and also sing in the play
athens - center - herodetus atticus theatre

A perfect place to watch an old ancient Greek play, whether you prefer comedies or tragedies!

  • Did you learn something new? What English word that has a Greek origin surprised you most?

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