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Improve Your Vocabulary: Greek Roots, Part 4

Missed Part 3? Catch up here:

Our first root today is log or logy , meaning"speech", "study of", or "collection of". For example, dialogue, as all writers know, is when characters speak to one another in a written work. People also use it rather pretentiously to refer to speaking aloud, as in "Let's have a dialogue", or, more execrably, "Let's dialogue". (Your grammar goddess frowns upon using nouns as verbs. Her most hated noun-as-verb is "transition", because it is nauseatingly overused in news broadcasts).

Moving on to the other definitions of log , we have astrology, study of the stars, zoology (pronounced ZOE-ol-o-gee, not ZOO-ology, after all; there are only two Os in it), study of the animal kingdom, and of the third definition, "a collection of", I am sure we can think of words like anthology. The cool thing about roots is that they are still in use to form new words: for example, the term discology to refer to the collected recordings of a musician or band is a recent but accurate coinage.

Our next root is mega or megalo , meaning "great" (in the sense of "big and powerful", rather than "neato"), hence words like megalopolis, "great city"; megavitamin, one vitamin pill constituted of a large number of vitamin and mineral ingredients; and megalomaniac, one who is obsessed with greatness (think Lex Luthor or pretty much any James Bond villain). There's even an interesting word that is composed of two roots, acro ("high") and megal ("great"): acromegaly, a scientific term for giantism that literally means "great height". Unfortunately, giantism is a very painful disease that kills people fairly young, so even though its sufferers look impressive, you wouldn't want to be them.

Let's go the opposite way with micro , the Greek root meaning "small". In modern times we have specialized micro to refer specifically to things that are not just small, not just miniscule or tiny or diminuitive or even teeny-weeny, but so little they cannot be seen with the naked eye, hence the term microscopic. Microbe and microorganism are fairly interchangeable terms, both meaning "tiny life", but I tend to think of microbes more as germs and microorganisms as amoebae and other tiny critters that have a bit more personality. Microcosm is another cool word, combining with the Greek word cosmos to mean "tiny world".

Our last root today is morph , meaning "form", and this has spawned some interesting terms like amorphous ("without form"), metamorphosis ("outer [change of] form"), and polymorph ("many forms"). The aforementioned blobby amoebae would be a good example of amorphous things, as they shift and flow without a defined form; a mist or fog would qualify as amorphous, as well. Metamorphosis is well-exemplified by the change a caterpillar undergoes to become a butterfly, and the Christian idea of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as being different aspects of one being is also polymorphism. The gods of many other ancient religions such as Hinduism and ancient Egyptian religions have polymorphic natures, as well.

Okay, we are now halfway through, kids. Until next time, keep expanding that vocabulary!

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MegL wrote on September 14, 2015, 3:24 PM

Morph is also the name of a clay or plasticine figure created by the artist Tony Hart decades ago (Tony Hart is dead now) and who became an early animated figure that could change shape.

CoralLevang wrote on September 14, 2015, 4:56 PM

megalomaniac and megalopolis are two of my favorite words of all time!

Paulie wrote on September 15, 2015, 2:04 AM

Thanks for sharing some more really useful Greek roots.