Greek Influence on the English Language November 23, 2014 00:00

"It's all Greek to me!"

This cliche is used throughout the English-speaking world to communicate that a person doesn't understand what was just said, which is just a bit ironic, as the English language owes its alphabet and much of its vocabulary roots to the ancient Greek language. When we say ancient, we aren't just paying lip service either. The recorded history of the Greek language stretches all the way back to 1200 BC, making Greek the oldest of all the European languages. Back in those times, Greek, like Latin in its time and English today, was considered to be almost an international language, due to the traveling of educated men and philosophers who spoke those languages

As Easy as A-B-C

Most European alphabets are derived in some manner from the archaic Greek alphabet. Technically, the Greeks took it from the ancient Phoenicians, but the Phoenicians had left out some important parts - namely the vowels - so Greece adapted it, polished it up and created the 24-letter alphabet on which our own 26-letter alphabet is founded.

Greek Roots, English Branches

When we mentioned above that many of the words we use in the English language every day have their roots in the Greek language, we weren't exaggerating. Here are just a few of the most common words in our daily conversations, and their Greek ancestry:

Democracy: The foundation of our government, comes from the Greek words "Demos," meaning "of the people" and "Cracy,"the Greek term for a government entity.

Bible: Imagine what we would have had to call the basis for Christianity if it wasn't for the Greek word "Biblios," which literally meant "Book."

Telephone and Telegraph: Two stepping stones to modern communications are anchored in the Greek word "Tele," which means something far away.

Mega: One of the bastions of the advertising and marketing world is a direct link from the Greek word "Mega," meaning big or powerful.

Kilogram & Kilowatt: Wouldn't have much meaning if it weren't for the Greek word "Kilo," meaning - you guessed it - one thousand.

While Zeus and the Gods of ancient Greek mythology may no longer be reigning on Mount Olympus, they still hold sway in the English lexicon:

Typhoon: One of the scariest of nature's storms is actually named after Typhon, the Greek father of all monsters.

Chaos: There's a little bit of it in all of our worlds, but the etymology of the word originated with Khaos, the nothingness from which all creation sprang.

Music: Every time you hear your favorite song, you can thank the Muses, those Goddesses of Inspiration and the Arts.

So, the next time you hear someone scratch their head and utter those words "It's all Greek to me," you can just nod your head and say "I'm glad to hear that you understand!