Our lovely English language has thousands upon thousands of words that have been derived from Latin and Greek. The literal translations of these words are sometimes beautiful, sometimes silly, but always interesting. Let's check some out.


L. ob, "opposite, in the way of" + ponere, "to place"

If you're the sort of person who regards a person's opposition to your ideas as an opportunity to enter into a constructive dialogue, you'd probably translate "opponent" as "one placed opposite."

If, however, you tend to be a little more aggressive, you might interpret the word as "one in the way."


L. con, “completely,” + statum = "standing"

Because people aren't gonna buy tickets to a film called The Completely Standing Gardener.


G. ana, “beside,” + logos, "idea"

Setting two ideas beside one another. Not quite sufficient for the definition of analogy, but it's a start.


L. Port, "carry" + folium, "leaf"

Your portfolio is a collection of leaves that you carry around. Which makes sense when you think that pages in books are sometimes called leaves. The front of such a leaf is called the "verso," and the back is called the "recto."

Recto itself is derived from the Latin word "rectus," which means "right." Verso does not mean "left," however — it derives from "versus," which means "turned." So, when you turn the recto page, you find the verso page on the other side.


G. Metr, "mother" + polis, "city"

Metropolis literally means "mother city," but it's used today to denote a very large city, like Los Angeles or New York.


L. con, "all, together" + spir, "breath"

Conspirators breathe together. Huddled together in the dim light of a flickering lamp, they share their breaths in common cause.


L. sanus, "healthy"

The word "sane" literally means "healthy." The mind has nothing to do with it — by the original definition, you would be regarded as insane if you had the flu. Sane entered English in the early 17th century and gradually took on the meaning it has today.

Some words derived from Sanus retain the original sense — the word "sanitary" means hygienic and clean, and a sanitarium is literally "a place dedicated to health."

Tyrannosaurus Rex

G. tyrannos, "tyrant" + sauros, "lizard" + L. rex, "king"

Okay, we're cheating a bit here — this entry's two words. Tyrannosaurus Rex literally means "tyrant lizard king."

But in its original sense, "tyrant" didn't mean an evil ruler, it just meant a ruler — so you could argue that Tyrannosaurus Rex really means "king lizard king." A bit redundant, don't you think?


L. in, "not" + vincere, "to conquer or overcome" + ible, "able to be"

Invincible literally means "not able to be conquered." You cannot conquer something that is invincible. It just isn't happening, folks. Not now, not ever.

For more words derived from Latin and Greek, check out Prestwick House's Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Roots and Growing Your Vocabulary book series.