ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES and other words

While Charles Darwin gave us the theory of evolution in his ground-breaking work On the Origin of Species, the subject of this blog is etymology: the origin of words and how their meanings have changed over time.

This blog is not intended as an academic treatise on etymology. It does not give every single meaning of the words given below. It is intended as a light and playful skim of the surface rather a plunge into the depths of the meaning, history and origin of words.

On the origin of species and other words

on the origin of species

On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1809-1882

species

The noun species comes from Latin species, which meant ‘a particular sort, kind or type’. In Late Latin, it also came to mean ‘a special case’. The Latin noun is related to the verb specere ‘to look at, to see, behold’. From the 1550s, species came to mean ‘appearance, outward form’, and by the 1560s it had evolved to mean ‘distinct class (of something) based on common characteristics’. The biological meaning of ‘species’ dates from c. 1600. The term ‘endangered species’ appears to date from 1964.

Did you know? The word ‘spice’ derives from the same Late Latin word species.

…and now we go alphabetical

Now that we’ve looked into ‘on the origin of species’, we’ll look at some other words.

I’ve chosen the theme of prefixes and compounds. A prefix is a group of letters, with a specific meaning, added to the beginning of a word to create a new word with a different meaning. The prefix un-, for example, added to the beginning of happy, changes the meaning to, in this case, its opposite: unhappy. Compound nouns comprise some or all of the letters of two separate words in combination.

ante-

This prefix derives from the Latin ante, meaning ‘before (in place or time), in front of, against’.

Some examples:

antechamber – a chamber, room or apartment through which access is gained to a principal apartment

antenatal – before birth

ante meridiem – before midday. Most of us are familiar with the abbreviated form am, which is used in the example sentence below.

Sentences using the above:

The king’s youthful groom of the stool looked up when the queen entered the antechamber on her way to the king’s private apartments.

The young parents attended antenatal classes to be ready for the birth of their twins.

‘We leave at 11 am,’ Dot’s husband announced.

What’s the opposite of ante-?

The opposite of ante- is post-.

bene-

bene- comes from the Latin adverb meaning ‘well, in the right way, honourably, properly’.

Some examples:

beneficence – kind, charitable

benefit – something beneficial or advantageous

benign – kind, favourable

Sentences using the above:

The king’s beneficence was appreciated by all his medieval subjects.

A benefit of working from home is you don’t get caught in peak traffic.

He has a benign smile.

What’s the opposite of bene-?

The opposite of bene- is mal-.

cardio-

This prefix comes from the Greek word kardia meaning ‘heart’.cardio

Some examples:

cardiologist – heart specialist

cardiometer – a device to measure the strength of the heart

cardiopulmonary – relating to the heart and the lungs

Sentences using the above:

The cardiologist measured the strength of Sue’s heart using a cardiometer.

The conference addressed specialists in cardiopulmonary diseases.

dec- and deca-

These prefixes derive from the Greek word deka meaning ‘ten’.

Some examples:

Decalogue – the Ten Commandments. The word originally came from the Greek dekalogos; later, in Latin, this became decalogus.

decagon – a polygon with ten angles and ten sides

decaspermal – a botanical term meaning a plant that contains ten seeds

Sentences using the above:

God handed Moses the Decalogue on Mt Sinai.

A polygon with ten sides is called a decagon.

The berry of the plant Psidium decaspermum is decaspermal.

eco-

This is a shortening of ecology or ecological and refers to the environment and its relationship with human beings. It originates from the Greek oikos for ‘house, dwelling’.

Some examples:

ecofreak (that’s a good one!) – someone who is fanatical about conservation of the environment

ecology – the branch of biology dealing with the relationship of living organisms to their environment (Greek eco- + logos ‘word, reason, discourse’)

eco-friendly – causing limited or no damage to the environment

Sentence using the above:

Some people think Ben’s an ecofreak because he majored in ecology and he works for an eco-friendly organisation.

Franco-

Franco- derives from the Medieval Latin word meaning ‘French’ or ‘the Franks’. From the early eighteenth century it has been used to form English compound words.

prefix Franco

ooh la, la

Some examples:

Francophile – a person who loves France and the French to the point of obsession

Francophobe – a person who has a morbid fear of the French

Franco-Canadians – French-speaking Canadians

Sentences using the above:

All Fred’s friends call him a Francophile because he visits France every year and he’s in love with France and the French.

Robert is a Francophobe who can’t stand France or the French.

People who speak French in Canada are called Franco-Canadians or Canadiens.

gastro-

Deriving from the Greek word gastēr, this meant ‘stomach’.

Some examples:

gastroenterologist – a specialist in the branch of medicine dealing with the stomach and intestines

gastroenteritis – inflammation of the stomach and intestines. You may have heard this abbreviated colloquially to ‘gastro’

gastropod – a class of molluscs that move by sliding along on a ventral (relating to the belly) muscular ‘foot’

Sentences using the above:

Frank was having recurring problems with his digestion so his doctor referred him to a gastroenterologist.

I had to take two days off work because I had an attack of gastroenteritis.

Slugs and snails are gastropods.

hydro-

From the Greek hydōr meaning ‘water’.

Some examples:

hydroelectric – electricity produced from the energy of running water

hydrogen – colourless, gaseous element. From the French hydrogène (Greek hydōr + Greek genēs meaning ‘born’), coined in 1787 by French chemist L.B. Guyton de Morveau in reference to the generation of water from the combustion of hydrogen

hydroplane – motor-powered boat that glides on the surface of water, coined 1895 by U.S. engineer Harvey D. Williams. (Greek hydōr + Latin plānum ‘level surface’). As a verb, it was first recorded in 1962 meaning to ‘skid on a thin layer of water’ (especially of car tyres)

Sentences using the above:

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, commissioned in 2008.

Hydrogen is a colourless gas and it is the lightest and most common element in the universe.

hydroplane is a speedboat that rises out of the water when it reaches a certain speed.

idio-

From the Greek idio- meaning ‘private, separate, distinct’, this indicates peculiarity, isolation, or something pertaining to an individual person or thing.

Some examples:

idiom – words whose meaning cannot be understood from the meanings of accompanying words, e.g. ‘It was raining cats and dogs’. Unless you’re a native English speaker, or a proficient non-native English speaker, you cannot predict the meaning of ‘cats and dogs’ in this sentence

idiosyncrasy – a quirk or unusual trait, mannerism or behaviour (from Greek idiosunkrasia: idio– + sunkrasis mixture, temperament)

idolatry – ‘the worship of idols’ or ‘excessive devotion to someone/something’

Sentences using the above:

The English-language students looked at one another in astonishment when their teacher used the idiom ‘bite the bullet’.

Her idiosyncrasy was that she wore reading glasses when she didn’t need them.

His idolatry of the president is insufferable.

kerato-

From the Greek kerat-, keras meaning ‘horn’

Some examples:

keratin – a  protein in the outer layer of the skin and in hair, nails, feathers, hooves, etc.

keratosis – a harmless skin condition characterised by a horny or scaly growth

Sentences using the above:

A horn is a permanent pointed projection on the head of various animals consisting of a covering of keratin and other proteins surrounding a core of live bone (Wikipedia).

When I had my skin cancer check recently, the specialist said not to worry as I only had a solar keratosis.

Did you know? The word cornea (the transparent membrane covering the front of the eyeball) is a Latin word related to the Greek keras.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the origin of words like ‘species’, ‘ecofreak’ and ‘Francophile’, drop me an email.

Acknowledgements

Collins Online Dictionary, accessed 03/01/19, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english

Macquarie Dictionary, accessed 03/01/19, https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/

Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 02/01/19, https://www.etymonline.com/

Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, CD-ROM Version 4.0

Wikipedia, accessed 03/01/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horn_(anatomy)

Coming soon … Writer coaching eBook: Ten Ways to Super-Charge your Writing Skills! With bonus chapter on Self-Publishing

Writing Better Business Emails

While the following tips apply specifically to WRITING BETTER BUSINESS EMAILS, our first tip applies to anything that appears in print, not only to business emails.

Writing better business emails

Writing better business emails

Tip 1 – The written word is powerful

What is set in print, stays in print. Written words can never be unsaid – and they can be printed out and shared! The written word is easily subject to misunderstanding, so it is wise to be careful with what you say and how you say it. Even office emails need a modicum of formality. It is a good rule of thumb when writing business emails to bear in mind that they are the property of the company you work for, and that the IT department on behalf of the company can retrieve them at any time.

Tip 2 – Is it necessary?

Is your email NECESSARY? Can you pick up the phone and receive an immediate answer, or walk across the office to ask the question in person? Do you in fact know that the answer is already buried among your notes, or your emails, but you cannot be bothered searching? In this busy world, we have all been guilty at some time of not checking our own files first. If any of these is true, don’t waste your or anyone else’s time on emailing.

Tip 3 – Purpose of email

Most business emails are about (1) providing information, (2) asking for information, or (3) a call to action. Make sure that you are clear on the purpose of your email so that your audience is also clear.

Tip 4 – To send or not to send (yet)

So that you do not mistakenly hit ‘Send’ before you have had time to read and check the email, it is a good idea to add the email address of the recipient or recipients only after you have finished writing and checking it. It is very easy to press ‘Send’ prematurely without intending to, which can be both embarrassing and time wasting.

Tip 5 – Writing the email

Subject line

State the subject of your email clearly in the subject line. Apart from making the topic or purpose of your email immediately clear, a further advantage is that many months down the track, you or your recipient can search for the email based on its subject line.

If your entire message can be included in the subject line, use the anagram ‘EOM’ – End of Message – at the end of it. Example: “XYZ Project Meeting. 8am, Room 3, Level 2 ‘K’ Building EOM”. If you are not sure whether the recipient knows the meaning of EOM, it is preferable to spell it out in full.

When replying to email threads or chains, edit the subject line to match the amended topic.

Say hello

It is courteous to begin your email with a greeting. Anything from ‘Hi Y’ to ‘Dear Y’, to ‘Hello Y’ is acceptable. It is best to address your recipient politely first before launching into what you have to say.

Less is better

Keep the email short and to the point. Specify concisely and clearly the reason for your email.

Use your first sentence effectively to state the main message, and attempt to communicate your entire message in three lines or less. Everyone is busy, and your audience needs to grasp your message quickly.

Call to action

Be very clear about what you need from your audience. If you are communicating several points, use numbered lists. Perhaps bold or CAPITALISE the key word. This is to make it clearer for the recipient, not to ‘shout’ at them!

Response time

State clearly at the end of the email the day and time by which you need a response. Make the deadline realistic for both of you. If you know the recipient has the answer readily available, request a response within the same business day. If they need to do research in order to respond fully, be realistic, allow an appropriate response time, and state this clearly.

Do not make your poor planning someone else’s problem. If you have left a request to the last minute, do not expect your recipient to drop everything in order to respond immediately. Your priorities are not necessarily the same as those of the recipient.

Say goodbye

The end salutation varies according to the formality or informality of the email, but it is always courteous to give your name – even if your emails include a sign-off signature – and a salutation. Some suggestions are ‘Look forward to your response’, ‘ Kind regards’, ‘Warm regards’, ‘Cheers’.

Spell check before sending

There is no excuse for misspelt words in the digital age. Make your impression a good one by running the spell checker before pressing ‘Send’.

Email Gail at Editors4You

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Cool Writing Tips editors4you.com

Common Errors Between Word Pairs

Most of these COOL WRITING TIPS discuss some of the common pairs of words that people confuse, mainly because they’re not sure of the correct usage. As writers whose work will potentially reach a wide audience, I believe we need to use language responsibly. In order to do so, we must understand the points of difference.

peace and victory fingers dog

Here are some tips and examples to help improve your writing. All usage I refer to is British English, not American English. I don’t attempt to give every possible example using the word pairs, only the most often used. I also refer to use in contemporary English, not to any obsolete use of words.

Some of the pairs below are misused so commonly that your immediate reaction might be to debate the point!

  • Among or Between?

Use between when there are two people or things.

Party example using between: “Rebecca and Marty shared the wine between them.”

Use among when there are three or more people or things.

Cool example using among: “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” H L Mencken

While we’re on the subject of among, how about amongst? Take your pick! Both of these prepositions are grammatically correct, although among is the one that is more commonly used.

  • Back yard or Backyard?

Yard is a noun. When used as two separate words – back yard – back is an adjective describing or qualifying yard. It makes it clear that it is the yard behind the house rather than the yard in front of the house.

Silly example: “Sumatran tigers live in the back yard.”

Cool simple tip: If you can use the article ‘the’ or ‘a/an’ on its own before a word, then that word is a noun. Example, “The yard”, “A yard”.

Backyard is an adjective.

Boring example: “Our backyard barbeque was a gift from Grandma.” Here, backyard describes the barbeque, specifically, the location of the barbeque.

  • Effect or Affect?

Effect is both a verb – meaning ‘to bring about’, ‘to accomplish’, and a noun – meaning ‘result’.

Cool quote using effect: “Surrealism had a great effect [noun] on me because then I realised that the imagery in my mind wasn’t insanity. Surrealism to me is reality” – John Lennon.

Cool simple tip: Bear in mind that English often is not logical and sometimes you have to memorise usage. If you are going to use ‘the’ before one of these words – the noun – then the right word to use is ‘effect’!

Affect is a verb – meaning ‘to influence’.

Cool quote using affect: “Nothing can affect my voice, it’s so bad” – Bob Dylan.

  • Compliment or Complement?

Compliment

A compliment is a kind or flattering statement, and can be used as a noun or as a verb. When Tony says to Claire, “You look stunning in that dress,” he is paying her a compliment.

Complement

When two things complement each other, each makes the other complete, or provides balance to the whole. Complement can be used as either a noun or a verb. “Rhonda and Josh are a couple who get on very well in all ways; they complement each other perfectly.”

  • Lay or Lie?

Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that it needs a subject and one or more objects. Its present tense is lay and its past tense and past participle is laid. (“Fulberto lays the table”; “Fulberto laid the table yesterday”; “Fulberto has laid the table so we can now dish up”.)

Let’s break it down: “Fulberto lays the table.” ‘Fulberto’ = subject; ‘the table’ = the object.

Lie is an intransitive verb, meaning it needs no object. Its present tense is lie, its past tense is lay, and its past participle is lain. (“I lie down to sleep”; “I lay down to sleep last night”; I have lain down to rest because I’m very tired”.)

Silly example: “‘Assume a horizontal position,’ said the sergeant. ‘What do you mean?’ replied the cadet. ‘Lie down, you fool!’ shouted the sergeant.”

  • Avoid using unnecessary words as fillers or padding in your writing

Make every word count

Make every word count when you are writing and avoid unnecessary wordiness with the overuse of such words as ‘very’ and ‘certainly’. Be ruthless and when you read over a sentence that you have written, if a word does nothing to move the story along or advance the theme, remove it! Better still, think whether you can change the sentence around and make it a great one rather than a colourless one. Your writing will be the richer for it.

Take note of what Mark Twain said: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

The following is a mundane example but it illustrates the point. “Standing beside John as they queued for lunch, Emily noticed that he was very tall and she thought he was very handsome.”

There is no point of comparison for the reader to know just how tall John is, or how others might perceive his looks.

Consider this more compelling description. “Emily was five foot eight but standing beside John as they queued for lunch, she noticed that she barely reached his shoulder. He wasn’t good looking in the drop-dead-gorgeous conventional sort of way – his mouth was a little too large and his eyes a little too widely spaced – but Emily was instantly attracted by his easy manner, his wide humorous grin, and the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled.”

 

If you need help finding the right word, and you know your writing could be more powerful, email the writing and editing professionals to tell us your story and ask how we can help you.