Latin Class

Latin Class (Photo credit: Worcester Academy)

Well, at the behest of one of our fellow Word Nerds, I am taking a look at the word ornithology today. (Thanks for the suggestion! Sorry for the late timing. I am from Alaska, you know. We are in a different time zone here, you know. No excuses, I know. 😀 )

English: Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)...

Ornithology comes from the Greek, ornis, “bird.” The Greeks prettied it up from the Indo-European root, or, meaning, “big bird.”  Erne (a sea eagle—related to the bald eagle, not the seagull) also comes from the Indo-European or.

(-logy means “science of,” and comes from the Greek word “logos,” meaning Word. Check out John 1 in the New Testament!)

The link to sea eagles, of course, made me wonder about our national bird. But it’s not related, really. Instead, it comes from the Latin Aquila and come to us through the usual French-Middle English route. I’d hoped for something deeper, more interesting, but in reality it is deep and interesting to think that we took the word for our national symbol nearly straight from the Romans. We’ve taken many things from the Romans, including our form of government, much of our architecture and even our mythology. How about sporting events in large venues?

But we Word Nerds are concerned about words, right? Did you realize that from 60% to 70% of our language is derived from Latin? Up to 30% of our English words (especially scientific lingo) comes directly. The other 30-40% is “lexical” in nature, meaning we derived words from Latin roots, rather than using them directly.

Nearly 30% of our language also comes from French…Strong stuff when you consider that French is a Romance language, meaning it comes from Latin.

If language is a reflection of our culture, and vice-versa, it is no wonder our culture reflects the culture of the Latins. It’s also interesting that English is so very good at deriving new words from other languages…kind of like a melting pot, maybe?

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Where do your ancestors come from, and what English words come from it? I’ll get back to you on my Danish and Swedish words.

Bonus points if you come up with an English word that comes from the Latin Aquila.

Please take time to follow the links below, because the figures do vary quite widely, and it is a fascinating study. The Wikipedia link in particular contains a chart of the origins of English.