Monday, 3 May 2021

Hybrids, or the Greeks had half a word for it


The most common hybrid word is "television." It's formed from two languages: "tele-" from the Greek word for "far" and the Latin -derived "vision." The whole means something like "seeing from afar," which is not to be confused with "far-seeing."

Most hybrids in English are formed from a mixture of Latin and Greek components but it can be from any two languages. I specially like the vintage term "beatnik," where the suffix is Russian.

Both "homosexual" and "heterosexual are hybrids, with "homo-" and "hetero-" being Greek prefixes and "sexual" deriving from Latin.

The suffixes "-phobia," "-ology" and "-ectomy" are all Greek, meaning respectively "fear," "study" and "cutting out." So "claustrophobia," "sociology" and "tonsillectomy" are all hybrids. It would be fun to write a story using all these words.

The prefix "a-" as in "asexual," "amoral" etc. is Greek but is regularly combined with a Latin second part. It's known as a "privative," something that takes something away or "deprives" it of something.

"Automobile," "neonatal," "sociopath" ... all Graeco-Latin hybrids.


They aren't the same as "portmanteau" words, which are combinations of words or affixes from the same language. Lewis Carroll  was good at making these up - "chortle," a mixture of "chuckle" and "snort." "slithy" a combination of "lithe" and "slimy."

"Spork," "smog," "brunch" are all useful portmanteau words.

What are you favourite hybrids or portmanteaux?

Word of the week: microaggression

Pleasingly, this is also a hybrid: the Greek prefix meaning "small" and the Latin word for "attack."

So a microaggression is a "small attack." The term was coined over fifty years ago by a Harvard psychiatry professor, Chester M. Pierce. The reason it is so current now is that it is a very useful term for the small daily insults, misinformation and withholding of validation expressed in words and actions towards marginalised groups.  Not "minorities," since women are on the receiving end of many microaggressions and are in a slight numerical majority.

Microaggressions are everyday exchanges which, cumulatively, wear down the person on the receiving end: a person of colour constantly being asked "where are you really from?," a woman addressed by her first name or a diminutive while male colleagues are called Mr Whatever, a blind person finding that someone speaking to them raises their voice, a person in a wheelchair not being addressed at all but all questions directed to a companion, a black barrister mistaken for a defendant in court, transgender people not being referred to by their preferred pronouns and so on.