Thursday, August 21, 2008

circum (around)

Today's prefix is circum from the Latin word meaning around round or about. The first word that comes to mind is circumference but here are some more words beginning with circum.

circumference (noun) - enclosing boundary, especially of a circle. Circumference is also the distance around a circle (calculated as Radius times two times Pi). Read more at Wikipedia.

circumlocution (noun) - a roundabout expression or evasive talk, characterised by talking around the subject but failing to get to the point.

circumscribe (verb) - to enclose an area by drawing a line around it. Another meaning is to lay down the limits of something or to be restricted by, for example, "Our sightseeing was circumscribed by lack of time".

circumspect (adjective) - cautious, taking everything into account. In other words, considering all sides of a situation.

circumstantial (adjective) - giving full details, for example, circumstantial evidence. However, circumstantial can also indicate a conclusion by inference from known facts hard to explain otherwise. Perhaps this is because evidence from all around the situation was examined?

circumvent (verb) - to evade a difficulty, or to find a way around. For example, "we circumvented the problem of the broken-down car, by walking".

A circus is a travelling show of performing acrobats, clowns and animals, ussually performed in a ring shaped arena. The Romans called this a circus, which is Latin for ring. Read more about circuses at Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

inter (between, among)

Today's prefix comes from the Latin word inter meaning between or among. The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary has three pages of words beginning with inter. Here are some of them:

inter alia (adverb) - among other things

intercede (verb) - intervene on behalf of another person.

interchange (verb) - to exchange things with each other, or to put each of two things in the other's place. The associated adjective is interchangeable, which means two items can be interchanged without affecting the way the things work. For example, "These pieces are interchangeable".

interject (verb) - to utter words abrubtly in speech; to intterupt or to heckle. An interjection (noun) is a sudden exclamation in speech as "You don't say!" or "My Goodness!".

interpersonal (adjective) - between two persons. For example, "She has very good interpersonal skills".

interstice (noun) - an intervening space, or a chink or crevice.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

intra (within)

The prefix intra means within, and is the opposite of extra which I discussed in a previous blog entry.

Intra should not be confused with inter which means between or among two or more entities. I will discuss this is a future blog article.

Here are some words using intra:

intranet (noun) a local or restricted communications networks, especially a web-based service inside an organisation.

intramural - (adjective) - situated or done within the walls of an institution.

intravenous (adjective) - within or into a vein. Some drugs are taken intravenously, meaning they are injected.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

extra (outside, beyond)

The Latin word extra means outside, and this prefix forms the beginning of many English words implying a meaning of outside or beyond.

Here are some examples of "extra" words.

extra-curricular (adjective) - not forming part of the normal curriculum. For example, "My daughter participates in several extra-curricular activities at school, including hockey and community service."

extradite (verb) - to hand over a person (accused or convicted of a crime) to a foreign country or state in which the crime was committed. For example, "The accused man was extradited to the United States".

extramural (adjective) - additional to normal teaching or studies, expecially for non-resident students.

extraneous (adjective) - of external origin. A pearl is formed around an extraneous particle, often a grain of sand.

extrapolate (verb) - to infer values of a variable in an unobserved or unknown interval from values within an already observed value. Extrapolation is a process of projecting, extending or expanding known information to make an educated guess or prediction. For example, you could extrapolate population data on Australia to predict the population in 2010.

extraterrestrial (adjective) - outside the earth or its atmosphere. Extraterrestrial beings are often the subject of science fiction novels or films. Steven Spielberg's E.T. film is perhaps the best known.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

cata (down)

I'm starting this week's series of articles with the prefix cata from the Greek word kata meaning down.

Here are some words that use this prefix:

catabolism (noun) - breakdown of complex molecules in living organisms to release energy; a destructive type of metabolism.

cataclysm (noun) - a violent, especially social or political upheaval or disaster. Cataclysm also means a great change, or a great flood or deluge.

catacomb (noun) - underground cemetery, especially Roman, with tunnels and recesses for tombs.

catalepsy (noun) - a trance or seizure with unconsciousness and rigidity of the body. The related adjective is cataleptic. The Greek word lepsis means seizure, so catalepsy is made from the words meaning to go down with a seizure.

catalogue (noun) - complete alphabetical or otherwise ordered list of items, usually with a description of each. This word uses the Greek word lego meaning choose, therefore a catalogue is the result of getting choices down.

Some words appear to use the cata prefix, but these are just coincidental.

catalyst (noun) is a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed usually at a faster rate or under different circumstances. However, the word is based on the Greek word katalysis meaning dissolution.

catamaran (noun) - a boat with parallel twin hulls. The word is from the Tamil word kattumaran which in turn is made from the words kattu (to tie) and maram (tree or wood).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

ambi, amphi (both, around)

The Latin word ambi means 'on both sides' or 'both ways'. The Greek word amphi means the same thing, so I have grouped these prefixes in today's article.

Some words beginning with ambi:

ambidextrous (adj) - able to use either hand equally well. I am reminded of the humorous quip, "I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous!".

ambiguous (adj) - having an obscure or double meaning; difficult to classify. The related noun is ambiguity. Many jokes and comedies rely on ambiguity and misunderstandings as well as the double or triple meanings of words and situations.

ambivalence (n) - coexistence in one person of opposing feelings towards a thing or person. The related adjective is ambivalent.

amphibian (n) - an animal that can live on land as well as water, for example, a frog. Amphibians are a class of vertebrate (e.g. frogs) with an aquatic larval stage followed by a terrestrial adult stage. From amphibian we get the adjective amphibious, for example, an amphibious vehicle.

amphitheatre (n) - a circular unroofed building with tiers of seats surrounding a central space. The most spectacular amphitheatre in the world is Epidaurus (Epidavrus) in Greece. The theater is marveled for its exceptional acoustics. Tour guides have their groups scattered in the stands and show them how they can easily hear the sound of a match struck at center-stage.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

pre (before)

pre comes from the Latin word prae meaning before. This prefix is used to mean 'before' in time, place, order, degree or importance.

Here is a selection of words using this prefix.

preamble (noun) - a preliminary statement.

preamplifier / preamp (noun) - an electronic device that amplifiers a weak signal (usually a microphone or record-player) to a level suitable for a power amplifier.

pre-arrange (verb) - arrange beforehand.

precaution (n) action taken beforehand to avoid risk or ensure a good result.

precede (verb) - come or go before in time, order or importance.

precedent (noun) - a legal term referring to a previous case taken as a guide for subsequent cases or justification. In more common use, a precedent is an action or behaviour that indicates a possible future action. For example, "Are you setting a precedent by arriving late this morning?".

prefix (noun) - a verbal element placed at the beginning of a word to qualify its meaning. For example, the opposite of a conformist is a non-conformist. In the previous sentence, non is the prefix.

Misuse of the prefix in modern language.

I have noticed several misuses of pre when signwriters and copyeditors coin new words.

Medical insurance companies ask if you have have any pre-existing conditions. Surely they are asking what conditions you currently have that could affect the insurance policy?

Pre-exist is not in my dictionary. What is meant by pre-existing? Is it something that existed before but doesn't exist now?

When you are confronted by the pre-existing word, please ask the speaker if they meant existing.

Another popular word is pre-order. Retail advertising implores me to "pre-order my copy NOW!". Why can't I just order the product? Pre-ordering implies I place the order previous to the release of a product. Surely the phrase "order your copy NOW" carries the same meaning without the unnecessary burden of a prefix?