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Latin and Greek roots and affixes | Reading

Roots and affixes are the keys to unlocking so much of English's vocabulary. For a variety of Fun History Reasons™, many of the roots we use to make words in English are derived from Latin and Greek. Understanding those word-parts can make vocabulary a lot less frustrating and scary. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [David] Hello readers, today I want to talk about vocabulary and how many English words have Greek or Latin roots embedded in them and how you can use that to your advantage. The story of why English has Greek and Latin in it at all is super fascinating to me and if I allowed myself, I'd go off on a big old tangent about it but let's save that for another time. Suffice it to say that English has Latin and Greek chunks in it for fun history reasons and let's just leave it at that for now. I'm not gonna say that you need to be able to speak modern Greek or read ancient Latin in order to understand English but many complicated words are made up of little language building blocks that we can break apart, using the power of understanding! (explosion) That was cool right? I'm cool? I'm cool. I'm gonna introduce some vocabulary about vocabulary now, so brace yourselves. There's this idea of a root word. Take the word dent, which is Latin for tooth. From that root word, we can get the adjective dental, which means about teeth, or the noun dentist, which means a person who specializes in teeth, or the noun dentures, which are false teeth. That's what a root is. Now you can also combine roots to make words. The word phot is Greek for light, the root graph comes from the Greek for writing. You put those together, you get photograph or writing with light. It's kind of poetic, isn't it? To this understanding, let us add the idea of an affix. Affixes aren't words or roots but they are word particles that convey meaning. Maybe you've heard of prefixes and suffixes, if you have, these are both types of affixes. Prefixes attach at the front end of a word, whereas suffixes attach at the back end. An example of a suffix would be logy, meaning the study of or the science of. So we can make a bunch of words with logy, like biology, that's supposed to be a little amoeba; cetology, the study or science of whales; anthropology, the study of human beings; cosmology, the study of the universe. So if you see a logy, it's going to be some kind of science or specialized area of study. A good example of a prefix would be the Greek para, which means alongside. So a paralegal is someone who works alongside lawyers, a paramedic works alongside doctors and if your house is haunted, you don't need a normal pest control expert to get rid of the ghost, you need a paranormal pest control expert, one that is alongside but not within normalcy and thus, you call the Ghostbusters. So what does all of this mean for you as a reader? Well when I encounter a word I don't understand, it's like I had been walking down a hallway and was suddenly confronted with a locked door. It's frustrating but the magic, the power of studying roots, prefixes and suffixes is that when you master a small handful of them, you suddenly become the proud owner of a ring of keys. Doors fling themselves open for you, you can go anywhere, you can understand any concept, any piece of vocabulary. An army of locked doors fall off their hinges all at once when you approach. Don't believe me? I'll show you. While excavating the foundation for a geothermal plant, my companion Neha found a fossil. Upon closer inspection, she realized it was a pterodactyl. Wow, lot of big words in that little paragraph. Now, watch this. Excavating, so hollowing out. Foundation, bottom-making. Geothermal, Earth heat. Companion, so this is someone you would eat bread with, so bread together, who do we eat bread together with? Our friends. Inspection, looking in or closer and pterodactyl, pter means wing, dactyl means finger, it is a prehistoric winged reptile. So while she was digging in the ground to prepare the bottom of a plant that gets electricity from the heat of the Earth, my friend Neha found a fossil. When she looked at it closely, she realized it was a flying reptile with fingery wings. Do you see what I mean about keys? Studying roots and affixes gives me the power to look at those words and crack them apart. You're not so big now, vocabulary word. You have no power over me! Studying roots, prefixes and suffixes will give you that same power. I promise you it is awesome, like, literally it fills me with a sense of awe. The power is yours for the taking. You can learn anything, David out. Okay are we doing those fun history reasons though? Okay, the short version is that first the Romans then some Vikings, then some French Vikings invaded the island of Great Britain a bunch of times over the last 1500 years, shaping the language and making what I like to call French-shaped dents in the Germanic structure of English. English is a Germanic language, French is a Romance language, meaning not that it is full of love but that it is an offshoot of Latin or you know, Roman. French took root in 11th Century English and merged with it, grafting an enormous amount of Greek and Latin vocabulary on to a German root stock. We often reach for Latin and Greek compounds when we compose new words, which is why we say television in English, which comes from the Greek tele, meaning far away, and the Latin vire, meaning to see. If we reached for Germanic roots to make new words, we'd call a television a farseer because indeed, that's what the word is in German, fernsehen. So why do we have Greek and Latin in our vocabulary? Because England was colonized by French speakers almost a thousand years ago. Imagine what English will sound like in another thousand years. Anyway, thanks for coming on this tangent with me. David out for real this time, bye.