Useful Etymological Roots

The following is a list of useful etymological roots and their meanings. Below it, you’ll find a few words with interesting or unusual origins.

Root Meaning Example
acro high Acropolis
anthro human anthropology, misanthropy, anthropomorphize
auto self autobiography, autograph
bell/belli war bellicose, belligerent
bene good, well benefactor, beneficial
bio life biosphere, biology
chrono time chronology, chronic
cide kill homicide
cred believe credence, incredible, credulous
dem people epidemic, democracy, demagogue
dys bad, ill, abnormal dystopia
epi above epistemology, epigenetics
fid faith fidelity, fiduciary, infidel
geo earth geometry, geology
gram drawing diagram, epigram, telegram
gran grain granular
graph to write geography, demographics, biography
hepa liver hepatitis, hepatoxic
idio distinct, peculiar idiosyncratic
itis inflammation bronchitis, dermatitis, hepatitis
mal bad, ill, wrong malignant, malcontent, malicious
meta change, beyond metabolism, metamorphosis, metaphor
mono one monopoly, monoxide, monoculture
morph form, shape anthropomorphic, morphology, amorphous
nym name pseudonym, eponymous
ocu eye binoculars
ology study of biology, geology
oma tumor carcinoma
omni all omnivore, omnipotent
osis state, condition, process hypnosis, diagnosis, symbiosis
para beyond paramilitary
pepsia digestion Pepto-Bismol, dyspepsia
peri about, around perimeter
poly many polynomial, polygon
proto first prototype, protocol
pseudo false pseudonym
rhino nose rhinocerous, rhinitis
soma body psychosomatic
somnus, sopor sleep insomnia, soporific
syn, sym together, with synthesis, symbiosis, synonym, syntax
tele far telephone, telekinesis
utopia good utopia, dystopia
ver, veri truth verify, veracity
vid see evident, video
vince, vic conquer convince, invincible
vita, vivere life vital, vivid
xeno foreign xenophobia

Interesting word origins


The term, bootleg, originally referred to the practice of selling illicit liquor from a flask concealed in a boot leg. It came into much wider usage during Prohibition.


The word electron comes from the Greek word elektron, meaning “amber.” It was first used by English physicist William Gilbert to refer to amber’s attractive properties. Electricity has the same word origin.


The Luddites were a group of textile workers in the 19th century, led by Ned Ludd. They destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest, fearing that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste as machines replaced their role in the industry. Although it’s a misconception that they were protesting the machinery itself, the term “Luddite” came to refer to the opposition to technology in general.


Serendipity was invented by writer and politician Horace Walpole in 1754. The word Serendip is an old name for Sri Lanka. Walpole wrote a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the protagonists “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”