Christine Lovatt

Words, just like us, come from families. Some are related to each other and have ancient ancestors.

It’s not always an obvious relationship. For instance, the words free and friend both came from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to love’.

You wouldn’t think there was a connection between biscuit, precocious and concoct but they all come from the Latin coct ‘cooked’. Biscuit is made from bis coct ‘twice cooked’, precocious is from prae coct ‘cooked before’ or literally ‘ripened early’ (said of fruit and flowers) and concoct is from com and coct as in ‘cooked together’.

On the other hand, the words decade and decadent look similar, but it turns out they’re not related. Like many of the words in our language, decade, meaning ‘ten years’, can be traced back to Ancient Greece from the Greek ‘group of ten’.

Decadent, ‘morally corrupt’, is from the Latin verb decadere ‘to decay’ made up of de ‘from’ and cadere ‘to fall’. The root word cad has also been used for words such as cadaver, cadence, and cascade. Even the word chance comes from
the Latin cadentia ‘falling’.

The Old English word for ‘people’ was folk, but the Latin word populus also meaning ‘people’ has given us many descendants – public, populace, people, publish, publicity, population and popular all come from this root. It also developed
into the Spanish word pueblo meaning ‘village’ as well as ‘people’.

Another ancient Greek word, hydra, meaning ‘water’, is the stem of many of our words, such as dehydrate, hydrant, hydraulic, hydraulics, hydrogen and hydrophobia. The beautiful shrub hydrangea comes from hydr ‘water’ and angeion ‘vessel’ from the shrub’s cup-shaped seed pods. It’s also a plant that needs a lot of water.

In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a many-headed water snake killed by Hercules.

This next one goes right back to our tribal roots. Tribute is a compliment paid to someone, before that it was a tax paid to a master for protection, and it comes from the Latin tribus ‘tribe’ from the sense ‘divide between tribes’. From it we have contribute, distribute, attribute, tributary and retribution.

Happy Puzzling!