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Jan 10

Latin Roots 10: struo, struere, struxi, structum - to build, prepare

A large body of English words have been constructed from the Latin root struo - "build" and also "prepare". This root is believed to go back to a Proto-Indo-European root *stere meaning "spread" or "stretch". This PIE root is the ancestor of English straw, street, strew and strain amongst many other str- words. Many other languages have also taken words from this root and a comparison of the related...

Dec 28

Consonant Clusters 29 qu- /kw/ (Advanced)

Although now written with a consonant and a vowel as qu-, the /kw/ sound is made up of two consonants so falls under the consonant cluster category. The letter q is used the most rarely of all English letters with the exception of z. In the Old English period it was very rarely seen, as even the sound /kw/ was usually represented by the letters cw- as in cwen "queen". However, in the Middle English period, English began using q more...

Dec 21

Consonant Clusters 28: kn- (Advanced)

In the Middle English period, the consonant cluster kn- was pronounced /kn/ rather than with the silent k that it has today. This means that contemporary homophone pairs like knight/night, knead/need and knave/nave were easy to tell apart until relatively recently. Other Indo-European languages with the kn- cluster have maintained the /kn/ pronunciation, and it is still common in other Germanic languages and in the Slavic language group. For...

Nov 28

Gods and English Words: The Greek Gods 2 (Advanced)

The Golden Age of the Titans came to an end when they were supplanted by the Olympian Gods, another very active set of deities. The Olympians seemed to have little time for feasting on nectar and ambrosia on Mount Olympus, although they found plenty of time to squabble amongst themselves! The story of how they came to power is one of the most well-known and widespread of the Greek...

Nov 22

Consonant Clusters 27: shr- (Advanced)

Shr- words are often small, the shrivelled remnants of what had gone before. Other shr- words are high-pitched and shrieking, piercing to the eardrums. There is some crossover between these two themes: shrews are tiny mammals who shrink away from danger, but they also squeak shrilly, shredding the nerves of those in the vicinity. The...

Nov 4

Gods and English Words: The Greek Gods 1 (Advanced)

Thousands of years ago, the Greeks worshipped a diverse bunch of gods and goddesses and developed an intricate tapestry of myths and legends regarding their actions. These deities were busy and were thought to be involved in every aspect of Ancient Greek life. In fact, the gods were so prevalent and so respected in and around Ancient Greece that their names live on, long after faith in their divinity has disappeared. The enduring legacy of these gods and the mythology that surrounds them can...

Oct 18

Latin Roots 9: traho, trahere, traxi, tractum - to draw, drag (Advanced)

This post will treat the Latin root traho and its derivatives.Traho comes from the Indo-European root *tragh, meaning "drag" or "draw". It may also be more distantly related to the PIE root *dheragh, which gave Old English dragan - "drag, draw, pull", the ancestor of both "drag" and "draw". One of the attractions of traho is the number of useful terms Latin derived from this root which have since been borrowed by English. Things get dragged into...

Sep 13

Consonant Clusters 26: gr-

Grrr, you might think, leaves you in little doubt of its rank hostility. Yet despite its gruff grouchiness, the consonant cluster gr- is actually very common in English and so its sound symbolism cannot be so neatly categorised. Gr- words embrace the good - great, grand, graceful - as well as the bad - groan, grumpy,...

Aug 27

Front Vowels and Back Vowels: Advanced

 In English, as in many other languages, there is a distinction between vowels pronounced at the front of the mouth and those pronounced at the back. Front vowels are articulated with the tongue as far forward in the mouth as possible without causing a constriction that would be categorised as a consonant while back vowels are articulated with the tongue as far back in the mouth as possible without causing a constriction that would be categorised as a...

Aug 15

Consonant Clusters 25: "Pr-" Advanced

The consonant cluster pr- includes a number of words related to things that stick out: extended one dimensional objects that probe, prickle and prod. How far this goes is debatable: pretzels and prawns are pretty flat with sticky-out bits, while triangular...