Wednesday, January 18, 2012

WNW: Word Roots in English

I was going to call this "Latin Roots," but a lot of roots in English, well, aren't Latin.

This post was inspired by my 7th grader's English teacher, Mr. W, who teaches the advanced kids (*proud mom, ahem*) and has discussed roots quite a bit. I didn't do that until my honors 11th grade English class (thank you, Mrs. Oldroyd).

In my day, we were taught roots to help us figure out the meanings and spellings of vocabulary words, which, of course, if very useful. Mr. W, I'm sure, does some of that, but he also relates the roots to names in literature.

One of his favorite example is MAL, which means bad (or maybe evil). You can find this root all over the place, from malady to maladroit, malapropism, malodorous, and malicious.

My personal favorite MAL character is in Disney's Sleeping Beauty: Maleficent, the evil witch.

A more modern example is a bad family that constantly causes problems for Harry Potter, both for the title character and the entire HP world: The Malfoys.

Speaking of that family, Harry's classmate from the Malfoy family, who often becomes an antagonist or at least a bully, has a name that sounds like a fire-breathing monster: Draco.

Coincidence? I doubt it. JK Rowling was particularly aware of Latin and other roots when she wrote her books. Tons of names and spells play off them.

Another example is Philadelphia, known as the "City of Brotherly Love" thanks to its roots: PHILEO (LOVE) and DELPHOS (BROTHER).

I love the way it's put in an old Gene Wilder movie: "It's the city where all the brothers love each other."

FIN: Finally (oh how I crack myself up), FIN is a French ending meaning "the end," so if you ever watch an old French movie, that's what you'll see before the credits roll.

A student in my daughter's class asked about Finland, and if the ending was relevant there. My daughter, of course, sat up straight to hear the answer, because of our connection to Finland.

(The other student said that her grandmother was Finnish, which of course turned my daughter's head. "So is mine!" Also: turns out we know the other girl's family.)

Mr. W said that no, Finland was an anomaly.

I adore Mr. W and his teaching methods (seriously; I'm getting a child who thinks critically and analyzes things; it's awesome). But in this one case, he was wrong.

Years ago, I figured that the root FIN had to be connected to the name of the country, because the Finnish term for the country doesn't look a lick like what the rest of the world calls it.

Other country names do resemble their native versions. There's Sverige for Sweden and France for, well, France (even if we say it differently), Espana for Spain, and so forth.

The originals all have at least a vague resemblance, at least in pronunciation, to what we call them.

And then there's Finland: SUOMI

(Yeah, I know: Huh? Where'd we get "Finland" from?)

Thanks to the SOPA blackout online, I couldn't find the guy's name, but the story goes that an explorer went there and figured that it was so out in the middle of nowhere (maybe he was there in the dead of winter) that it had to be the

LAND (wait for it . . .)

at the END (FIN) of the world.


This kind of thing brings me no end of joy. I'm such a nerd.


Myrna Foster said...

That's pretty cool.

I wish that we English speaking people would just call other countries by the names they use. I mean, how arrogant is it for us to go around renaming their countries and cities in English? And it's confusing, if you travel.

Rebecca Belliston said...

I love that you love words so much. You should be an author. Oh wait--you are. ;) I'm thinking I need to go back and rename some characters in my current WIP.

Cheryl said...

A cool nerd!!

Susan Anderson said...

You are even more of a word nerd than I am. Which is saying a lot...


Jordan McCollum said...

@Myrna—Meh, it happens in every language. Germany is one of my favorite examples. They're Deustchland to themselves. Many Germanic languages use a similar name—as do Asian languages. English is also a Germanic language by heritage, but we call it Germany after Germania. In Spanish and several other Romance languages, it's Alemania from Alemanni. (But in Italian, the country is Germania but a person is tedesco.)

In Finnish, it's Saksa after the Saxons. And in Slavic languages, it's Nemets(k)(y), possibly from the Slavic word for "foreigner." In the Baltics, the names *might* derive from Volk (folk/ppl). And there are exchanges in those categories, too—and a few other names that are even more obscure.

Lara Neves said...

Thank you! I have been wondering about that.

Now your daughter will need to set her teacher straight, I imagine...

Nobody around here says Finland. They all say Suomi. Usually.

the Damsel in Dis Dress said...

I gotta say. Maleficent. She's the bomb of Disney villains.

If I had to choose one to would have to be her.


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