An expression which has its roots in Greek ancientness is ‘crocodile tears’. The idiom is thought to come from the famous ancient impression that crocodiles cry while eating their casualties.

How many words borrowed from Greek have you recycled today? British Council educators in Greece, Martha Peraki and Catherine Vougiouklaki, analyze why English icurs so much to the Greek language.

Antique, geography, dialogue, idol, grammar, economy, architect, telephone, microscope… all these accepted English words have something in common: they come from Greek. To this record, we could add thousands more words, some ordinary and others less so. Undoubtedly, the Greek language has had a significant impact on the English language. Let’s take a closer glance.

Greek language and its history

Greek is one of the oldest Indo-European languages and is normally separated into Ancient Greek (frequently thought of as a dead language) and Modern Greek.

Modern Greek is originated from Koine, a typical dialect of Ancient Greek that was implied through the Greek-speaking world at that period. In the 19th century, Modern Greek became the recognized language of the Kingdom of Greece.

As Peter T. Daniels quotes, the Ancient Greeks were the first-ever to use a ‘real’ alphabet, that is, one picturing either vowels or consonants. Certainly, the word ‘alphabet’ is modeled of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’.

Roots of the English Language

The Oxford Companion to the English Language says that the ‘effect of traditional Greek on English has been mainly indirect, through Latin and French, and mostly lexical and theoretical…’.

According to one evaluation, more than 150,000 words of English are copied from Greek words. These comprise technical and scientific words but also more usual words like those up above.

Words that starts with ‘ph-‘ are normally of Greek inception, for instance: photo, physical, phrase, philanthropy, philosophy.

Many English words are made of parts of words (morphemes) that stem from from the Greek language, containing the subsequent cases:

demos (people) as in democracy – government by the people

micro (small), as in microscopic – so small it’s hard to see

phobia (fear of), as in arachnophobia – the fear of spiders

An excellent example of the impact of the Greek language are the two speeches written in English but literally consisting of only Greek words (with the exclusion of articles and prepositions). 

English phrases borrowed from Ancient Greek civilization

Greek mythology has been very dominant in Western culture, especially its art and literature. Placidly, some frequent statements in English come from these ancient myths and beliefs.

To have an ‘Achilles heel’ means to have a fragile or exposed point. Achilles was a Greek hero and central personality in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. He was only defenseless at his heel. An illustration: I try to eat healthy food, but sweets are my Achilles heel.

An expression which has its background in Greek ancientness is ‘crocodile tears’. The phrase might come from the famous ancient impression that crocodiles weep while consuming their victims. In reality, crocodiles do grease their eyes via their tear ducts, often when their eyes start to dry out after being out of the water for an extended time. However, the conduct is also thought to happen when crocodiles feed. It’s used in English to describe expressions of sadness that are deceitful.