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)

I invite you to download my self-published eBook “Ten Ways to Super-Charge your Writing Skills! with bonus chapter on Self-Publishing”

The Writer-Editor Relationship

The writer-editor relationship

The writer-editor relationship (acknowledgement below)

The Writer-Editor Relationship: a Case Study

I am currently working with a first-time writer, Robyn (not her real name), as mentor and developmental editor on her fiction manuscript in the ‘chick lit’ genre. I thought it would be helpful for other writers to read about the writer-editor relationship in this context.

Mini appraisal

We began with a mini appraisal on the first few chapters of Robyn’s book. She had finished writing the manuscript – about 75,000 words – but she was not confident enough about her writing to consider submission to a publisher yet. She realised that she needed professional guidance and sought it out.

As I read some sample chapters from her manuscript in order to do the mini appraisal, I saw potential in her writing – despite her lack of confidence, which is a common issue with new writers. I work with many new writers, and I respect them for seeking professional guidance. It’s a big step to leave the comfort of anonymity behind and put their hard-earned manuscript into anyone’s hands, let alone those of a professional editor when they really don’t know whether they will be applauded or crucified! Yes, I have heard some horror stories from various clients!

What next?

Having completed the mini appraisal, Robyn and I then discussed various options for moving forward. In brief, one of these included Robyn making changes to the whole manuscript by applying the suggestions from the mini appraisal, and then having me edit the complete manuscript. Another option was having me work through her manuscript in ‘chapter chunks’ so that by the end of the process, she would have a strong second or third draft that would probably only need a copy edit. I provided some additional options, and combinations thereof, but what Robyn decided was to send me her work in ‘chapter chunks’, initially three chapters at a time and more as she grew in confidence, and I would give her feedback to apply not only to the reviewed chapters, but also to the rest of the manuscript as well. This is because individual writers tend to make similar errors throughout their manuscript. For example, some writers overuse the passive voice; others consistently make errors in punctuation – and when this interferes with the flow of the story, it becomes a distraction to the reader; others have trouble correctly formatting their manuscript.

In Robyn’s manuscript, some of the areas that required work were:

  • Overuse of clichés
  • Not rounding out her principal characters, which made the read confusing
  • Using too much argot (the vernacular) in dialogue without any explanation. While the vernacular is great for characterisation, if readers didn’t understand some of the expressions the characters used, she was going to alienate potential readers. This narrows down the audience of the book, which needs to be as broad as possible so that potentially any reader of the genre is ‘on board’ with it
  • Making assumptions that her readers would be familiar with the location of her book, when she needed to add a little extra detail for the benefit of ‘out-of-town’ readers.
writer-editor relationship

An editor is…

Whenever I send a writer an appraisal or a sample edit on their work, I explain that it is important to the writer-editor relationship that they not feel discouraged by what may seem to be many comments and changes on the returned manuscript. Referring to the ‘track changes’ feature of MS Word, I let them know that many of the marks relate to formatting, or to some very minor editing changes. The edited manuscript always looks worse than it is.

The editor’s role

Changes and comments should always be helpful and encouraging, never critical or cruel. The job of a professional editor is to critique a writer’s work, that is, to provide the writer with constructive criticism, not to criticise it.

In that spirit, with Robyn’s manuscript, I brought to her attention some suggestions that would make the story tighter, make it flow better, and improve her characterisation, all of which would create a strong foundation for the rest of the book. These included the areas mentioned above, as well as:

  • Moving information around to make her story flow more smoothly. She had many changes of location and time within chapters, which were distracting and interrupted the flow of the chapter
  • Bringing in detailed character descriptions when she introduced each character.
The writer-editor relationship

Introduce your characters

Because Robyn had completed writing the first draft of her manuscript, she already had the raw material to work with, and the ideas. She also had the natural ability as a writer to improve upon her first draft.

Key to the writer-editor relationship is that the writer feel encouraged by the editor’s comments and suggestions and maintains the enthusiasm and drive to keep on writing, and so I ended the mini appraisal by suggesting to Robyn:

  • Always remember to keep your readers engaged
  • Begin and end each chapter on a ‘high’ note, which encourages the reader to keep on reading
  • Remember that every word, every sentence, every paragraph needs to count. The aim always is to move your story forward.

Robyn made the suggested changes to her first three chapters, and returned them to me for a second review. I was so encouraged by the improvement in her writing that I felt like doing a little dance!

Subsequently, Robyn has completed a couple more iterations of these three chapters and she has recently sent me the next three chapters. We have only been working together for a couple of months, but during this time I have seen her confidence grow from that of a newbie ‘apologetic’ writer, to someone who now believes in her ability as a writer. She is shortly to attend a national writers’ conference where attendees take along their writing and their prepared query letter. The latter will be submitted to every literary agent who attends the conference.

Robyn has definitively come out of the ‘writer’s closet’ and is striding towards writer’s success.

writer-editor relationship

You can do it! Come out of the writer’s closet

If you have written your manuscript and you would like a full manuscript appraisal or a mini appraisal, or a sample edit, or you would simply like to make a no-obligation enquiry, please send me your contact details and let’s talk about your work.

Quotation from beginning of post acknowledged to “Embrace Your Editor (but Not in a Weird Way)” by Erin Browne. (Note update March 2018: the link to this article no longer works and I can’t find the article elsewhere. However, I’ve kept the original url for acknowledgement purposes – http://www.authormagazine.org/articles/brown_erin_2011_10_14.htm) 

Logo for Institute of Professional Editors

I invite you to download my self-published eBook “Ten Ways to Super-Charge Your Writing Skills! with bonus chapter on Self-Publishing”