Influences of Ancient Greek on Chemical Terminology

Influences of Ancient Greek on Chemical Terminology -...

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Unformatted text preview: Division of Chemical Education www.JCE.DivCHED.org Vol. 86 No. 10 October 200 9 Journal of Chemical Education 1195 Chemistry for Everyone The ancient Greek civilization flourished between roughly 700 BCE to about 100 CE (1) and is rightly called classical for its major contributions to human knowledge, especially in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, literature, mathematics, and sci- ence in general. For example, the words marathon, euthanasia, democracy, xenophobia, encyclopedia, hippopotamus, and many others of Greek derivation are part of our daily vocabulary. Medical terms abound with words of Greek descent: oncology, allergy, asthma, arthritis, cholesterol, diabetes, and orthopedics to name just a few. Actually the word chemistry itself comes from two possible sources: either from the word khem, referring to the land of Egypt and the mysterious arts practiced there, or from the Greek word cheo, meaning I cast or pour, referring to the metallurgi- cal operations of the ancient Greeks (2). In chemistry there are hundreds of terms used commonly that are derived from the ancient Greek language and, generally, academics make use of these terms without often realizing the ex- act meaning of the underlying words. This article looks at words used in teaching chemistry that are derived from the ancient Greek and describes the exact meaning of the Greek antecedents from which additional knowledge can often be gained. So many Greek-derived terms exist in chemistry and science broadly because the early discoverers in the Western world who named them during the 18th and 19th centuries generally had a thorough grounding in classical languages. In those times in the West one could only be called educated if one had a good grounding in Greek and Latin. Understanding the Meaning of Greek-Derived Words In order to understand the meaning of Greek-derived words it is first necessary to look at word prefixes and suffixes from the Greek language. Familiarity with these word components (morphemes) allows easy formation and understanding of these words. Table 1 shows an alphabetical list of Greek prefixes com- monly found in chemical terminology and Table 2 lists Greek suffixes routinely used (35). Applying the information from these tables leads to a ready and richer understanding of the meaning of Greek-derived words such as barometer, biology, allotropic, hydrometer, hydrogen, polymorphism, and pho- tometer. Greek-Derived Names for Chemical Elements Several papers addressing the naming of the elements have appeared in this Journal over the years (615). Two articles (13, Influences of Ancient Greek on Chemical Terminology Peter Loyson Department of Chemistry, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa; ployson@nmmu.ac.za Table 1. Greek-Derived Prefixes Commonly Used in Chemical Terminology Greek Prefix Meaning in English Allo- Other, different Amphi- On both sides, double Auto-...
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