Monday, May 07, 2007

It's All Greek To Me

English is a mutt of a language, with words borrowed from all over the globe. But the basis for most of our vocabulary is Greek and Latin.

That's why in reading ancient history, you often run across interesting stories that explain where common words come from. So here's a little quiz about five terms and their Greek origin.

I'll post the answers later this week. See how well you can do without any help from Google. (Note: there is controversy regarding some of the etymologies, and I will try to note that in my answers.)

1. We've all heard of the Mississippi River Delta. Why on earth is it called a "Delta"?

2. What profession were the original "hypocrites"?

3. What animal is at the heart of "tragedy"?

4. What fruit is at the root of a "sycophant."

5. What common household item is involved in "ostracism"?

LAGuy adds to his own post: Welcome, Volokh Conspiracists. The answers will be up on on Wednesday.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are some completely uninformed (and un-Googled) guesses:
1. Delta is the letter D which is in the shape of a triangle, which is also the shape of the area where a river splits in two and goes to the sea -- but if we're supposed to know how Delta got its name, no clue.
2. My first guess for the profession of "hypocrites" is some kind of lawyer. My second guess is a clergy person of some sort.
3. No idea on the animal root of tragedy.
4. I'm guessing the fruit is juicy and causes one to suck up.
5. The household item might be a broom?

By going anonymous, I'll hope to avoid embarrassment.

9:13 PM, May 06, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

#1 is essentially correct. Though obviously the Greeks were never in America, so where did they come up with the term?

I'm afraid the other answers are not correct, but I'm glad you gave it a shot.

I admit most of the answers can't be easily guessed.

11:49 PM, May 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll look forward to the real answers.

9:48 AM, May 07, 2007  
Blogger QueensGuy said...

1. I agree with anon., it's a triangular letter, like the alluvial deposits you get at a river mouth.

2. Actors.

3. It's either goats or lambs, I can't recall which.

4. No clue.

5. pots; they used potsherds to vote on ostracizing someone.

10:50 AM, May 07, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I'll be giving out the answers on Wednesday. And I ask again, what originally inspired the Greeks to call a river area a Delta?

12:18 PM, May 07, 2007  
Blogger New England Guy said...

Was it the Nile River Delta? From a depiction of the area on maps, some clever scribe thought it looked the Delta he'd been scribbling all day into his clay tablet. Although if they oriented north on top, it looks more like the letter after Kappa. (I saw it on the Greek font but I don't know the name for it)

1:17 PM, May 07, 2007  
Blogger QueensGuy said...

That would probably be lambda, NeG.

10:30 AM, May 08, 2007  
Anonymous shloma53 said...

#1. Don't know;
#2. Actors
#3. Goat
#4. Figs, I think
#5. Not sure.

12:15 PM, May 08, 2007  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Pretty much all the answers are here. I'll give them all, with explanations, on Wednesday.

12:25 PM, May 08, 2007  
Blogger pst314 said...

As best I remember, tragedy translates literally as "goat song", although classicists have various theories what this actually meant.

3:44 PM, May 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

#5 is pots.

Broken shards were used in greek voting for ostracis.





tom gunn

7:07 PM, May 08, 2007  
Anonymous Eryk Boston said...

1. From the shape of the Greek letter Delta
2. Doctors
3. Goats
4. Figs
5. Pottery...more to the point the shards of pottery on which the names of ostracized persons were written.

7:37 PM, May 08, 2007  

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