Today is Greek Independence Day. After rebelling against the imperial rule of the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks declaired their independence on March 25, 1821. Whether or not we have Greek ancestors, all of us are indepted to the Greeks for their contributions to civilization; democracy, tragedy, comedy, history, and philosophy are just a sampling Greek inventions that changed the world.
The English language is another area that owes a debt of graititude to the Greeks. While they did not invent the alphabet, the Greeks certainly adapted and perfected it after acquiring it from the Phonecians around 800 B.C. According to David Sacks excellent book, Language Visible: Untraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z, the Greeks' key adaptation was the addition of vowels: "The Greeks bequeathed to the West an alphabet that had been adapted to an Indo-European language (Greek) and was therefore accessible to other European tongues. Specifically, the Greeks had introduced vowel letters -- the equivalents of our A, E, I, O, and U -- where earlier, Semitic versions of the alphabet had contained none. Vowel letters brought the alphabet forward to a point where it could be fitted to most other languages." And of course one of those European tongues was English.
In addition to the "alphabet," the Greeks contributed several other key words used to describe language:
Words about Words and Writing
(Definitions from Success With Words: A Guide to The American Language. Published by Reader's Digest, 1983).
Alphabet: From the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta.
Dialect: The regional or social variety of a language.
Etymology: Word history.
Grammar: The structure of language.
Homonym: Words that have the same form but different meaning. Literally "same name."
Idiom: An expression that is traditionally correct but that does not necessarily follow general rules, from idios = private.
Poem: A composition written in meter or rhythm.
Rhetoric: The art of public speaking or the study of effective writing.
Synonym: A word that means the same thing as another.
Syntax: The branch of grammar dealing with the grouping and ordering of words.
Today's Challenge: It's Greek to Me
Grab a dictionary and search out words beginning with the Greek prefixes listed below. Try to find at least three examples for each prefix.
poly (much, many)
Quote of the Day: Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek. --Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.