Latin Class

Latin Class (Photo credit: Worcester Academy)

I got stuck in the Letter Q.

You see, I found a new word…quotidian. I looked it up and got stuck in the pages of the letter Q in my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Only a Word Nerd can get “stuck” in a dictionary, but there it is!

Quotidian  means “daily” or “everyday, ordinary.” It comes from the Middle English cotidian, which got it from Old French, which got it from Latin Quotidianus/quotidie. The Latins put together the words quot “how many” and dies, “day” to form it.

From there, I looked up to the word quote, as directed, to find the Indo-European root. The Latin quotus also comes from the Indo-European interrogatives kwoti, “how many,” and kwo, “who.” Two different question words. This is why we ask for a quote when hiring a workman. And if we quote someone, we must be hearkening back to the kwo form of the word…who said that?

Then, I looked down and saw the word query. It comes from the Latin quaerere, “to ask, inquire,” as does the word question.

The word quiz was also on the page, and it is “probably an arbitrary use” of Latin’s quis, meaning “what.” Now, I’d like to ask the first person to arbitrarily use quis this way, why they did so, wouldn’t you? Maybe it was some teacher trying to sound cool to the teenagers?

I also found my new favorite word: quodlibet, meaning “an academic debate or exercise in argument” or a “humorously incongruous musical parody.” Two such different definitions! My inner Word Nerd is doing a happy dance. The Latin quod, means “who,” and libet means “as you will” (from libere, “to please”). Kind of a “who’s gonna take me on?” kind of challenge.

See? I’m stuck in the q’s.

I wonder why we turned all these q’s into w’s?

And why did poor how get left out of the w craze the question words all went through?

And where did the question mark come from, anyway?


I’m going to list the Latin question words, and you see what words you can come up with from English. Here goes:




Where located…ubi

From where…unde

To where…quo



How great (how many)…quantus

Of what kind…qualis


Nota Bene: I’m not sure, exactly, why my Latin dictionary AND two different internet Latin sites have different words for the Latin question words than the derivation portion of the English dictionary has.

In fact, the entry for the word quip says it comes from Latin quid, meaning “what,” whereas it said quis means “what” in the derivation of the word quiz. In the same Webster’s New World College Dictionary. (Though they do qualify it to mean “what sort of person or thing” in the derivation of quiz.)

This is an original work, based on internation...

Image via Wikipedia

I do know that Latins did as we English speakers do; they created different words or word forms from other words.

It is probably time to remind everyone that I’m not a linguist, just a word-origin junkie who likes thinking out loud about how word origins affect our current understanding of words.

Enjoy the question word challenge! Just to get you started, try the word quantity.

As for me, it’s time for my quotidian walk with the dog.