Psychology makes clear that loving and being loved are important elements in emotional health, but also points out the necessity for expressing, rather than repressing, our hostilities. It is a mark of your emotional maturity if you can find the most accurate words to describe the faults that you find in other people.


Slave driver

She makes everyone toe the line. She exacts blind, unquestioning obedience and demands the strictest conformity to rules, however arbitrary or tyrannical.  She is the very epitome of the army drill sergeant.

She is a martinet.


You pander to rich or influential people. All your servile attention and unceasing adulation spring from your own selfish desires to get ahead, not out of any sincere admiration.

You are a sycophant.


Often a person of independent income, he engages superficially in the pursuit of one of the fine arts – painting, composing, etc. He does this largely for his own amusement and not to achieve any professional competence.  His artistic efforts are simply a means of passing time pleasantly.

He is a dilettante.


He tries to gain advantage or position by pretending to have qualifications that he has not got, or to know people he does not really know.

He is an impostor.


Anything you belong to is better – your religion is far superior, your political party is the only honest one, your neighbourhood puts all others in the city in the shade. Above all, your country is the finest in the world.

You are a chauvinist.


He has a one-track mind – he has such an excessive zeal for one thing (children, food, money, or whatever) that his obsession is almost absurd.

He is a monomaniac.


She is violently against established beliefs, revered traditions, cherished customs – such, she says, stands in the way of reform and progress and are always based on superstition and irrationality.

She is an iconoclast.


There is no God – that is their position and they will not budge from it.

They are atheists.

Sexual pest

He is lascivious, libidinous, lustful, lewd, wanton, immoral – he promiscuously attempts to satisfy (and is often successful in so doing) his sexual desires with any woman within arm’s reach.

He is a lecher.


You are always ill, though no doctor can find a cause for your ailments. As you travel from doctor to doctor, futilely seeking confirmation of your fatal disease, you become convinced that you’re too weak to go on much longer.  Organically, of course, there’s nothing the matter with you.

You are a hypochondriac.

Can you match the person with the characteristic?

martinet = discipline

sycophant = flattery

dilettante = superficiality

impostor = bogus credentials

chauvinist = patriotism

monomaniac = single-mindedness

iconoclast = anti-tradition

atheist = godlessness

lecher = sex

hypochondriac = illness

Do you understand the words?

Does a martinet condone carelessness?  No

Is a sycophant a sincere person?  No

Is a dilettante a hard worker?  No

Is an imposter genuine and trustworthy?  No

Is a chauvinist modest and self-effacing?  No

Does a monomaniac have a one-track mind?  Yes

Does an iconoclast scoff at tradition?  Yes

Does an atheist believe in God?  No

Is a lecher virtuous?  No

Does a hypochondriac have a lively imagination?  Yes


The French drillmaster

Jean Martinet was the Inspector-General of Infantry during the reign of Louis XIV – and a stricter, more fanatic drillmaster France had never seen. It is from his name that we derive our English word martinet.  It is always used in a derogatory sense and generally shows resentment and anger on the part of the user.

A Greek ‘fig-shower’

Sycophant comes from two Greek words, sykon, fig, and phanein, to show.  Originally it meant the person who informed the officers in charge when (1) the figs in the sacred groves at Smyrna were being taken, or (2) when the fig-dealers were dodging the tarrif.  Thus, a sycophant is a sort of ‘grass’.  By extension, sycophants use flattery or servile attentions to insinuate themselves into someone’s good graces.  A sychophant practices sycophancy, and has a sycophantic attitude.  All three forms of the word are highly uncomplimentary.

Material may be so delicate or fine in texture that anything behind it will show through. The Greek prefix dia– means through; and phanein, as you now know, means to show – hence such material is called diaphanous.

Just for one’s own amusement

Dilettante is from the Italian verb dilettare, to delight.  The dilettante paints, composes, or engages in scientific experiements purely for amusement – not to make money, become famous, or satisfy a deep creative urge.  A dilettantish attitude is superficial, unprofessional; dilettantism is the related noun.

Do not confuse the dilettante with the tyro, who is the inexperienced beginner in some art, but who may be full of ambition, drive, and energy.  On the other hand, anyone who has developed consummate skill in an artistic field, generally allied to music, is called a virtuoso – like Evelyn Glennie on percussion.  Pluralize virtuoso in the normal way – virtuosos; or if you wish to sound more sophisticated, give it the continental form – virtuosi.  Similarly, the plural of dilettante is either dilettantes or dilettanti.

False pretences

Impostor is from the Latin in-, and pono, to place.  An impostor is someone who positions himself – but falsely.  A similar word is charlatan, which can also denote someone pretending to have medical qualifications; it comes from the Italian ciarlare, to chatter.

The old man

Nicolas Chauvin, soldier of the French Empire, so vociferously aired his veneration of Napoleon Bonaparte that he became the laughingstock of all Europe. Thereafter, a fantatical patriot was known as a chauvinistChauvinism also applies to blatant veneration of, or boastfulness about, any other affiliation besides one’s country.

To be patriotic is to be normally proud of one’s country – to be chauvinistic is to exaggerate such pride to an obnoxious degree. Patriotic is built on the Latin word pater, patris, father – one’s country is, in a sense, one’s fatherland.

Other interesting words are built on this same root:

patrimony – an inheritance from one’s father. The –mony comes from the same root that gives us money, namely Juno Moneta, the Roman goddess who guarded the temples of finance.  The adjective is patrimonial.

patronymic – a name formed on the father’s name, like Johnson (son of John).  The word combines pater, patris with Greek onyma, name. Onyma plus the Greek prefix syn-, with or together, forms synonym, a word of the same meaning, for example hate/detest. Onyma plus the prefix anti-, against, forms antonym, a word of opposite meaning. Onyma plus Greek homos, the same, forms homonym, where the words are spelt the same but have different meanings, such as bear/bear.  Distinguish this from a homophone, a combination of homos, the same, and phone, sound, when two words sound the same but have different meanings and spellings, like way/weigh.  The adjective form of synonym is synonymous.  Can you write the adjectives derived from antonym, homonym, and homophone.

paternity – fatherhood; the adjective is paternal, fatherly.  Paternalism is the philosophy of governing a country, or of managing a business, so that the citizens or employees are treated in a manner suggesting a father-children relationship.  It is now used as a term of disapproval.  The adjective is paternalistic.

patriarch – an old man in a ruling, fatherlike position. Here pater, patris is combined with the Greek root archein, to rule.  The adjective is patriarchal, the system is a patriarchy.

patricide – the killing of one’s father. Pater, patris combines with –cide, a suffix derived from the Latin verb caedo, to kill.  The adjective is patricidal.

The old lady

Mater, matris is Latin for mother, and it too has many derivatives:

matriarch – the mother-ruler; the ‘mother person’ that controls a large household, tribe, or country. Again the root is archein to rule.  During the reign of Queen Victoria, England was a matriarchy.  Can you work out the adjective form?

maternity – motherhood.

maternal – motherly.

matron – an older married woman, one sufficiently mature to be a mother. The adjective is matronly, and it has slightly uncomplimentary overtones.

alma mater – ‘cherishing mother’; actually, the school or college which one attended, and which in a sense is one’s intellectual mother.

matrimony – marriage. Though this word is similar to patrimony in spelling, it does not refer to money – the noun suffix –mony indicates state or result, as in sanctimony, parsimony, etc.  The adjective is matrimonial.

matricide or – the killing of one’s own mother. The adjective?

Murder most foul…

There is a word for almost every kind of killing you can think of:

suicide – killing oneself (intentionally); Latin sui, of oneself, plus –cide.

fratricide – the killing of one’s brother; Latin frater, fratris, brother, plus –cide.

sororicide – the killing of one’s sister; Latin soror, sister, plus –cide.

homicide – the killing of a human being; Latin homo, person, plus –cide.  In law, homicide is the general term for any slaying.  If intent and premeditation can be proved, the act is murder and punishable as such.  If no such intent is present, the act is called manslaughter and receives a lighter punishment.

genocide – the killing of a whole race or nation. This is a comparatively new word, coined in 1944 to refer to the mass murder of the Jews, Poles, etc. ordered by Hitler.  Derivation: Greek genos, race, kind, plus –cide.

In all these cases, the noun refers both to the crime itself and to the person who perpetrates it. The adjective always ends –cidal, e.g. suicidal.

Can you match the words?

sycophancy = toadying

patricide = killing one’s father

matriarch = mother-ruler

chauvinist = fervent patriot

alma mater = one’s school or college

diaphanous = filmy, gauzy

synonyms = similar in meaning

antonyms = opposite in meaning

homicide = murder

homophones = the same in sound but not in spelling or meaning

Do you understand the words?

Is a paternalistic manager kind to his staff?  Yes

Does dilettantism show firmness and tenacity?  No

Is a tyro particularly skilful?  No

Is a violin virtuoso an accomplished musician?  Yes

Is a synonym a form of flattery?  No

Does a substantial patrimony obviate financial insecurity?  Yes

If you know a person’s patronymic can you deduce his father’s name?  Yes

Do homonyms sound the same?  Yes

Does a matriarch have a good deal of power?  Yes

Does fratricide mean murder of one’s sister?  No


All in the family

Frater, brother; soror, sister; uxor, wife; and maritus, husband – these roots are the source of a number of additional English words:

to fraternize – to have a brotherly relationship (with).  It denotes having a social relationship with one’s subordinate (of either sex) in an organization, as in, ‘The head of the college was reluctant to fraternize with faculty members.’  The verb gained a new meaning during and after World War II, when soldiers of occupying armies had sexual relations with the women of conquered countries, as in, ‘Military personnel were strictly forbidden to fraternize with the enemy.’ Can you write the noun form of fraternize?

fraternal – brotherly. The word also designates non-identical twins.

fraternity – a brotherhood or guild, or any group of people of similar interests or profession (the medical fraternity).

sorority – a women’s organization, especially one in an American school or college.

uxorious – an adjective describing a man who excessively, even absurdly, dotes on his wife. This word is not synonymous with henpecked, as the henpecked husband fears and is dominated by his wife.

uxorial – pertaining to, characteristic of, or befitting, a wife, as uxorial duties, privileges, attitudes, etc.

marital – pertaining or referring to, or characteristic of, a husband; but the meaning has changed to include the marriage relationship of both husband and wife, as marital duties obligations, privileges, arguments, etc.  Hence extra-marital is literally outside the marriage, as in extramarital affairs (sex with someone other than one’s spouse).  And premarital (Latin prefix pre-, before) describes events that occur before a planned marriage, as a premarital agreement as to the division of property, etc.

Of cabbages and kings (without the cabbage)

Rex, regis is Latin for king. Tyrannosaurs rex was the king (i.e. the largest) of the dinosaurs (etymologically, ‘king of the tyrant lizards’).  And regal is royal, or fit for a king, hence magnificent, stately, imperious, splendid, etc., as in regal bearing or manner, a regal mansion etc.  The noun is regality.  Regalia, a plural noun, originally designated the emblems of a king, and now refers to any impressively formal clothes or to the decorations, insignia, or uniform of a rank or office.

‘Madness’ of all sorts

The monomaniac develops an abnormal obsession in respect of one particular thing (Greek monos, one), but is otherwise normal.  The obsession itself, or the obsessiveness, is monomania, the adjective is monomaniacal.

Psychology recognizes many other abnormal states with names built on Greek mania, madness:

dipsomania – a morbid compulsion to keep on absorbing alcoholic beverages; alcoholism (Greek dipsa, thirst.  Adjective: dipsomaniacal.)

kleptomania – a morbid compulsion to steal, not from any economic motive, but simply because the urge to take another’s possessions is irresistible. The kleptomaniac (Greek klepte, thief) may be wealthy, and yet be an obsessive shoplifter.  Adjective: kleptomaniacal.

pyromania – morbid compulsion to start fires. Pyromania should not be confused with incendiarism property.  Some pyromaniacs heroically put out the very blaze they themselves have started, whereas an incendiary is antisocial and usually starts fires for revenge.  In law, setting fire to property for an improper purpose, such as collecting on an insurance policy, is called arson and is a criminal act.  The pyromaniac sets fire to property for the thrill; the incendiary for revenge; the arsonist for money.

Pyromonia is built on Greek pyros, fire; incendiarism on Latin incendo, incensus, to set fire;            arson on Latin ardo, arsus, to burn.

megalomania – morbid delusions of grandeur, power, importance, godliness, etc. (Greek megas, great, large).

Can you think of a word for an instrument that someone speaks through to make the sound (phone) of his voice greater?

And now phobias

There are people who have irrational and deep-seated dread of cats, dogs, fire, snakes, thunder or lightening, various colours, and so on almost without end.* Such morbid dread or fear is called a phobia, from the Greek phobos, fear.

Claustrophobia – morbid dread of being physically hemmed in, of enclosed spaces, of crowds, etc. (Latin claustra, enclosed place).  The person: claustrophobe.  Adjective: claustrophobic.

agoraphobia – morbid dread of open space, the reverse of claustrophobia (Greek agora, market place).  People suffering from agoraphobia prefer to stay shut up in their homes as much as possible, and may become panic-stricken in public places.  The person?  The adjective?

acrophobia – morbid dread of high places (Greek akros, highest).  The victims of this fear will not climb ladders, and they refuse to go on to the roof of a building or look out the window of one of the higher floors.  The person?  The adjective?

Can you match the words?

diposomania = alcoholism

acrophobia = fear of heights

uxorial = characteristic of a wife

kleptomania = compulsive stealing

incendiarism = maliciously starting fires

megalomania = delusions of grandeur

uxorious = excessively fond of one’s wife

regalia = insignia of rank or office

claustrophobia = fear of enclosed spaces

sorority = women’s society

Do you understand the words?

Is an uxorious husband psychologically dependent on his wife?  Yes

Are extramarital affairs adulterous?  Yes

Do VIPs often receive regal treatment?  Yes

Do monomaniacal people have varied interests?  No

Do people of pyromaniacal tendencies fear fire?  No

Is incendiarism an uncontrollable impulse?  No

Would an agroaphobe be comfortable in a small cell-like room?  Yes

Does an acrophobe enjoy mountain-climbing?  No

Do members of a fraternity have interests in common?  Yes

Is an arsonist a criminal?  Yes


No reverence

The iconoclast sneers at convention and tradition, and attempts to expose as shams our cherished beliefs.  Adolescence is that rebellious time of life for iconoclasm – indeed the adolescent who is not iconoclastic to some degree is unusual.  The words are from the Greek eikon, a religious image, plus klaein, to break.

Is there a God?

Atheist combines the Greek negative prefix a– with theos, God.  Do not confuse atheism with agnosticism, the philosophy that claims that God is unknowable.  The atheist denies the existence of God, the agnostic holds that no proof can be adduced one way or the other. Agnostic (which is also an adjective) is built on the Greek root gnostos, known, and the negative prefix a-.

How to know

A diagnosis, constructed on the allied Greek root gnosis, knowledge, plus dia-, through, is a knowing through examination or testing.  A prognosis is, etymologically, a knowing beforehand, hence a prediction, generally as to the course of a disease (Greek prefix pro-, before, plus gnosis).

The verb form of a diagnosis is diagnose; the verb form of prognosis is prognosticate.

The medical specialist in diagnosis is a diagnostician.

The noun form of the verb prognosticate is prognostication.

Getting back to God

The Greek word theos, God, is also found in:

Monotheism – belief in one God (Greek monos, one).  Using atheism, atheist, and atheistic as a model, find the word for the person who believes in one God; and the adjective.

Polytheism – belief in many gods, as in ancient Greece or Rome (Greek poly, many).

Teaser questions for the amateur etymologist

If a patronymic is a name derived from the name of one’s father, can you work out the word for a name derived from one’s mother’s name?

Answer: Matronymic.  Or, if you prefer to use the Greek root for mother (meter, metr-), metronymic.  The Greek word metra, uterus, derives from meter, naturally enough, so metritis is inflammation of the uterus; metralgia is uterine pain; endometriosis is any abnormal condition of the uterine lining –endo, inside; metra, uterus; –osis, abnormal condition.

Incendo, incensus, to set on fire, is the origin of the adjective incendiary, the noun incense, and the verb to incense.  (a) What is an incendiary statement or speech?  (b) Why do people use incense, and why is it called incense?  (c) If somebody incenses you, or if you feel incensed, how does the meaning of the verb derive from the root?

Answer: (a) An incendiary statement, remark, speech, etc. figuratively sets an audience alight.

(b) Incense is a substance that sends off a pleasant odour when burnt – often, but not necessarily, to mask unpleasant or telltale smells.

(c) To incense is to anger greatly, i.e., to ‘burn up’.

Ardo, arsus, to burn, is the source of ardent and ardour.  Explain these two words in terms of the root.

Answer: (a) Ardent – burning with zeal, ambition, love, etc., as an ardent suitor, worker, etc.

(b) Ardour – the noun form of ardent – burning passion, zeal, enthusiasm, etc.  Alternative noun: ardency.

What is used to make sound greater (use of the roots for great and sound)?

Answer: Megaphone.

A metropolis, by etymology, is the mother city (Greek meter, mother, plus polis, city, state).  Construct a word for a great city (think of megalomania, delusions of greatness).

Answer: Megalopolis.


Pantheism – belief that God is not in man’s image, but is a combination of all forces of the universe (Greek pan, all).

Theology – the study of God and religion (Greek logos, science or study).  The student is a theologian, the adjective is theological.  [Say ‘Pope John Paul I’ not, “google Art Movement & try and STICK to Egypt”. Do you know where you are.]

Under and over

Hypochondria is built on two Greek roots: hypo, under, below, and chondros, the cartilage of the breastbone.  The ancient Greeks believed that morbid anxiety about one’s health arose in the abdomen [ventriloquism. Acting, when sacred: ‘You want to get in my abdomen’], which is below the breastbone. [technology]

Hypochondriac is both a noun and an adjective, with an alternative adjectival form, hypochondriacal.

Hypo, under, is a useful root to know. The hypodermic needle penetrates under the skin (Greek derma, skin); a hypothyroid person has an underworking thyroid gland; hypotension is abnormally low blood pressure.

On the other hand, hyper is the Greek root meaning over.  The hypercritical person is excessively fault-finding; hyperthyroidism is an overworking of the thyroid gland; hypertension is high blood pressure; and you can easily work out the meanings of hyperactive, hypersensitive, etc.

Be careful with words beginning hypo– or hyper– – one may be the antonym of the other.

Can you match the words?

hypotension = abnormally low blood pressure

iconoclasm = contempt for tradition

pantheism = belief that God is in nature

hypochondria = morbid anxiety about health

agnosticism = view that God in unknowable

hypercritical = excessive fault-finding

diagnosis = ascertainment by examination or testing

theology = study of religion

prognosis = a foretelling of future developments

atheism = denial of existence of God

Do you understand the words?

An atheist studies the origins of religion?  No

Young people are usually iconoclasts.  Yes

A diagnostician is a kind of priest.  No

My hypercritical boss is easily pleased.  No

The ancient Greeks were polytheists.  Yes

Agnostics do not believe in God. No

Nowadays breast cancer has a good prognosis.  Yes

Hypochondria is a serious condition. No

Hypertension is a serious condition. Yes

Is a theologian necessarily a Christian?  No


You are learning to work out the meaning of a word from its origins. But do not be surprised if sometimes you cannot do it: English contains many, many words whose origins are unknown (and baffled is one of them!).

mahogany – the reddish-brown wood from a rainforest tree

nifty – neat and smart

bamboozle – to undertake a fancy sort of swindle

dapple – the colour of many rocking-horses

oodles – plenty of what?

theodolite – nothing to do with God, it is a surveyor’s instrument

cche – the line you throw from in darts

clobber – the clothes you wear, or hitting someone over the head

boffin – the backroom genius

boost – a helpful push; what your vocabulary is getting right now


©Dodgsons KingsWay Sanctuary Church, 1973.



Published by:

Andrea Nicola Dodgson

I'm a R.o. Buddhist. And a U.N. Theatre tutor where I own all the Ethnography businesses as birth certificates involving Disney, MGM, Universal, Times Warner, 20th Century Fox, Sony, D.C., Tristar, Pixar, Columbia, and Paramount. And, I get Equipment here for it. I want all my equipment.. #Solidarity

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