Another Vocabulary Dictionary

(a different kind of vocabulary lexicon that emphasizes English words primarily from Latin and Greek origins)

Why have another, but different, English-vocabulary web site?

An inadequate vocabulary may be considered the one weakness that will affect a person's success in any area where reading is essential to understanding or where conversation on a "higher level" is required.

There are several methods by which a person may increase his/her vocabulary including memorizing lists of words and definitions, determining the meanings of words from context or usage, looking up words encountered during reading, studying the languages of Latin and Greek, or learning Latin and Greek stems [roots, prefixes, and suffixes], and sometimes even by working word puzzles. Any or all of these methods will result in varying degrees of success, but many of the approaches listed tend to turn many away from learning vocabulary because of the inconveniences which are involved.

According to Donald Ayers in his book, English Words from Latin and Greek Elements, "Not the least of the reasons for learning Greek and Latin elements is their mnemonic value; a knowledge of these will serve as an excellent device for fixing words in the memory once their meaning has been determined, and this should be true even when semantic change has taken place." This is one of the reasons why this Word Info site is presenting "A Dictionary of English Words Derived from Latin and Greek Sources, Presented Individually and in Family Units".

Most of the words which are classified as "educated words" came to us from Latin and Greek sources and they were coined mostly by scientists and scholars.

Since it seems more efficient to increase student vocabularies through some systematic approach, and since Latin and Greek have contributed more to English than any other foreign language, it is believed that Latin and Greek should be studied more thoroughly.

Although most of the written and spoken English consists of Anglo Saxon words, Latin and Greek make up approximately 25% to 30% of the polysyllabic words used in the mass media of newspapers, magazines, and popular books. The percentage is even greater when the written material involves technical and scientific content.

As scientific development continues, a larger percentage of our language is coming either from Latin or Greek. Also, more of the difficult words encountered by students, and non-students, are those which have been derived from Latin and Greek. Since most of the words which are classified as "educated words" came to us during the Renaissance, or later, directly from Latin and Greek; and since they were usually coined by scientists and scholars, there are some who think they tend to be more systematic in their compilations.

Albert Baugh in his A History of the English Language says that it is not difficult to realize that the English we speak today has developed over many centuries. "The Christianization of Britain in A.D. 596 brought England into contact with Latin civilization and made significant additions to our vocabulary. After the Scandinavian invasions and settlements, there was a considerable mixture of the two races and their languages."

The English language reflects in its entire development the political, social, and cultural history of the English people.

"For two centuries, the Norman Conquest made English mainly the language of the lower classes, while French was used on almost all occasions by the nobles and their close associates. English had undergone some drastic changes from what it had been in 1066 when it once regained supremacy as the language of the elements of the population."

"Other important influences contributed to make English what it is today; such as, the hundred Years War, the rise of an important middle class during and after the plague, the Renaissance, the development of England as an important maritime power, the expansion of the British Empire, and the growth of commerce and industry, and of science and literature."

The Latin vocabulary which forms so important a part in English words have generally entered the language through the medium of writing. Unlike the Scandinavian influence and to a large extent the French influence after the Norman Conquest, the various Latin influences, except the earliest, have been the work of churchmen and scholars. Even the words borrowed from the Romance languages in the Renaissance period came in through books, and the revivals and new formations from native material were due to the efforts of individual writers and their associates.

English is more international in scope than many other languages because of the contributions of Latin, Greek, and other tongues

The rich influx of Latin, Greek, and other languages is what makes English more international in scope and even if it were possible, nothing would be more monotonous and poorer than a language restricted to its own historical native stock of Anglo-Saxon words; such as, "and, be, have, it, of, the, to, will, you, I, a, on, that, is", etc.

We ought to be thankful that our linguistic content has made English the richest global language and be glad that we have an opportunity to learn more about the vast contributions made by Latin and Greek.

One of the best ways to expand our word knowledge is through extensive reading and another aid to the expansion of of our personal vocabulary, or word bank, is by intensive word growth by systematically learning some of the basic Latin and Greek prefixes and roots; or at least, to know where to find them.

As stated earlier, approximately 25-30% of our "normal" reading includes words which come from Latin or Greek and this percentage increases substantially when each of us gets into specialized areas; such as, science or technical fields of study and careers: biology, physics, medicine, psychology, psychiatry, electrical engineering, space flight, paleontology, archeology, botany, astronomy, meteorology, atomic science, mathematics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, etc.

This situation is not surprising, when we stop to think of the pervasiveness of science and its tremendous impact upon life, particularly in the course of the last hundred years.

Human activity today is largely connected with science and technology, and even those fields which seem least allied with science are discovered, on closer examination, to have some scientific or technical angle.

—Mario Pei

Although Latin is disappearing as an academic in high schools, colleges, and universities; Latin is not "dead and therefore of little practical use" as so many seem to think. The truth is, Latin and Greek elements are very much alive and still quite active in thousands of English words used in everyday speech, and especially, in written material concerned with academic interests.

The word-unit approach is not meant to replace either Latin or Greek language courses; however, this method could fill an educational void at a time when many are demanding better results in vocabulary and reading skills. There is a definite need to make sure students have an adequate background about the words which come from Latin and Greek elements.

So, why have another vocabulary dictionary? Because the organized system of words presented in this Word Info site provides an improvement over other compilations in learning the important Latin and Greek elements in English, elements which in turn are important to understanding the English language.

-John Robertson