Stump the Greeks

We moved on to studying ancient Greece, and one of my first activities for Neil was learning Greek roots. On the first day, Neil asked me if “acro-” was the prefix for high, what was the prefix for low? I had no idea, and the list I had (in a simple kids’ activity book on ancient Greece) was limited, and the Greek and Latin roots flash cards I’d bought last summer had gone missing. But conveniently we have some Greek-speaking neighbors across the street.

As it turned out, finding the ancient Greek prefix for “low” was harder than you might think. The modern Greek word for low is “hamilo” which didn’t correspond to anything. Eventually, we discovered that it was “tapeinos” as in tapeinocephaly, having a low skull or a low brow. In modern Greek, this word only means “humble.”

But we’d gotten started on Greek roots, so I set Neil up with a challenge: come up with 10 words that combine Greek roots, like acropolis, arachnophobia, hellenomaniac, and make sure they are words in the English language. Then we’d go across the street and see if we could stump the Greeks, with the theoretically Greek words. Here’s Neil’s list. I put the definitions lower down, so you can quiz yourself simply by not scrolling down below word 10:

1. technography

2. necrophobia

3. neuralgia

4. hemotogenesis

5. hematoma

6. dendrometer

7. heliophobic

8. zoogenous

9. osteoporosis

10. hemophiliac

Here are the answers:

1. Study and description of the arts and sciences

2. fear of the dead

3. pain along the nerves

4. the formation of blood

5. a subcutaneous swelling filled with blood

6. a device for measuring tree growth

7. afraid of the sun

8. originating in or produced by animals

9. having holes in your bones

10. someone who wants blood; used to descibe someone who has blood that won’t clot, so he loses a lot of blood

So did we stump the Greeks? We almost completely stumped Marcella, the modern Greek who still speaks Greek with friends and relatives. Our Greek root words aren’t in general use in Greece (to be fair, they’re not really that generally used in English either.) She charmingly defined necrophobia as being afraid of the dead guy.

Her husband Gus, an American who speaks Greek, did considerably better, but he still only got 6 out of 10. He missed technography (who to be fair, isn’t exactly what the roots would imply it is), dendrometer, zoogenous, and osteoporosis (he thought we were saying osteopyrosis, which sounds like fire in the bones.)

Marcella gave me a basket of figs, which seems like the perfect prize for stumping the Greeks. And Neil learned more about Greek roots than I imagine he might have in a more formal setting.

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