12 Greek Words You Should Know

By Daniel Scocco

greek wordsAlong with Latin, Greek is probably the language that most influenced other languages around the world. Many English words derive directly from Greek ones, and knowing their origin and meaning is important.

Below you will find 12 Greek words that are commonly used in our society. The next time you hear someone saying “Kudos to you,” you will know where it comes from.

1. Acme

The highest point of a structure. The peak or zenith of something. One could say that Rome reached the acme of its power on 117 AD, under the rule of Trajan.

The acme of modular, factory-built, passively safe reactor design, however, is found in South Africa. People there have been experimenting with so-called pebble-bed reactors for decades. (The Economist)

2. Acropolis

Acro means edge or extremity, while polis means city. Acropolis, therefore, refers to cities that were built with security purposes in mind. The word Acropolis is commonly associated with Greece’s capital Athens, although it can refer to any citadel, including Rome and Jerusalem.

The Beijing Olympics torch relay reached the ancient Acropolis in Athens on Saturday amid heavy police security and brief demonstrations by small groups of protesters. (New York Times)

3. Agora

The Agora was an open market place, present in most cities of the ancient Greece. Today the term can be used to express any type of open assembly or congregation.

The most characteristic feature of each settlement, regardless of its size, was a plaza—an open space that acted as a cemetery and may have been a marketplace. It was also, the archaeologists suspect, a place of political assembly, just as the agora in an ancient Greek city was both marketplace and legislature. (The Economist)

4. Anathema

Anathema is a noun and it means a formal ban, curse or excommunication. It can also refer to someone or something extremely negative, disliked or damned. Curiously enough, the original Greek meaning for this word was “something offered to the gods.”

Some thinkers argue that while collaboration may work for an online encyclopedia, it’s anathema to original works of art or scholarship, both of which require a point of view and an authorial voice. (USA Today)

5. Anemia

Anemia refers to a condition characterized by a qualitative or quantitative deficiency of the red blood cells (or of the hemoglobin). Over the years, however, the term started to appear in other contexts, referring to any deficiency that lies at the core of a system or organization.

In comments to the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, the lone dissenter in last week’s decision to keep the federal funds target at 2%, said the U.S. faces “a sustained period of anemia” and that “in the second half of this year we will broach zero growth.” Last week Fisher wanted higher rates, his fifth-straight dissent in favor of tighter policy. (The Wall Street Journal)

6. Ethos

Translated literally from the Greek, ethos means “accustomed place.” It refers to a disposition or characteristics peculiar to a specific person, culture or movement. Synonyms include mentality, mindset and values.

Consumerism needs this infantilist ethos because it favors laxity and leisure over discipline and denial, values childish impetuosity and juvenile narcissism over adult order and enlightened self-interest, and prefers consumption-directed play to spontaneous recreation. (Los Angeles Times)

7. Dogma

Dogma refers to the established belief or set of principles held by a religion, ideology or by any organization. Dogmas are also authoritative and undisputed. Outside of the religious context, therefore, the term tends to carry a negative connotation. Notice that the plural is either dogmata or dogmas.

It’s not a new type of web, it’s just where the web has got to – it’s also a terrific excuse for much chatter on the blogging circuit, and a huge amount of dogmatism. (Financial Times)

8. Eureka

The exclamation Eureka is used to celebrate a discovery, and it can be translated to “I have found!”. It is attributed to the famous Greek mathematician Archimedes. While taking a bath, he suddenly realized that the water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. He got so excited with the discovery that he left his home and started to run and shout “Eureka!” through the streets of Syracuse.

Those eureka moments in the shower or on the bus when something suddenly starts to make sense only happen if you keep plugging away. (The Guardian)

9. Genesis

Genesis means birth or origin. There are many synonyms for this word, including beginning, onset, start, spring, dawn and commencement. Genesis is also the name of the first book of the Bible.

And when Mr McCain headed to the safe shoals of policy wonkery, Mr Obama flayed his idea of calling for a commission to investigate the genesis of the financial crisis as the resort of politicians who don’t know what else to do. (The Economist)

10. Phobia

Many people wrongly think that a phobia is a fear. In reality it is more than that. Phobia is an irrational and exaggerated fear of something. The fear can be associated with certain activities, situations, things or people.

Poorer communities have a phobia of undercooked food. Very advanced societies enjoy their fish and meat either raw or very close to it. To the French their idea of cooking a steak is so perfunctory one might as well hack the thing off the cow and tuck in. (Financial Times)

11. Plethora

You have a plethora when you go beyond what is needed or appropriate. It represents an excess or undesired abundance.

In California, for example, some neighborhoods have been blighted by the plethora of empty homes. Joe Minnis, a real estate agent for Prudential California, knows foreclosed homes in San Bernardino that have been systematically stripped, trashed and tagged by gang members. (Business Week)

12. Kudos

Kudos means fame or glory, usually resulting from an important act or achievement. It is interesting to notice that in Greek and in the Standard British English, Kudos is a singular noun. Inside the United States, however, it is often used in a plural form (e.g., You deserve many kudos for this accomplishment!)

They deserve the kudos because they could be deemed responsible for the marked improvement in the commercials during Super Bowl XL last night. (New York Times)

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98 Responses to “12 Greek Words You Should Know”

  • Irene

    Because the term “homophobia” encompasses a range of feelings from disdain to hostility, and “phobia” refers only to an irrational and exaggerated fear of something, since “homophobia” does not exclusively encompass the feeling of “fear” of homosexuals, the Greek “phobia” might be preferably replaced with “anathema,” an extreme aversion or “dislike,” so that homophobia is more accurately referred to as “homoanathema.”

  • Randy Banderob

    “kudos” is singular just like your synonymous example “glory”. Thus it should be “much kudos” not “many kudos”.

  • Bruce McClelland

    I don’t know if this is really on topic, but is anyone else concerned about the word “homophobia”? Homos in Greek means ‘similar, like’ (as in homogenize), while homo in Latin means “man”. If we permit compounds that are both Latin and Greek (e.g. “hypermedia”), then at best “homophobia” should mean “fear of men”. If we insist that compounds with ancient root morphemes stick to the same language, then “homophobia” would mean “fear of similar things” or perhaps “fear of similarity.” I will check DSM-V to see if there is such a pathology….

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Copywriters Needed/ No Experience Required- $200/hr on September 30, 2008

    Obviously, you have no idea tha the word Greek is ALWAYS capitalized (noun or adjective), just as are German, Georgian,
    Gambian, Ghanan, Gnostic, Graceland, Greenlander, and Galactic Standard (from science fiction).

    Why cannot you do this capitalization on automatic pilot just like most people in North America, the British Isles, and Australia do? Repeat: Do it on automatic pilot, rather than looking stupid.

    “I use to study greek in college and always found their religion and culture quite fascinating. I use to know all of the greek mythology books and their “gods” like Zeus, Hercules, etc. That was some food for thought about the greek words.. thanks.”

  • Peter

    No, VTA the English relies heavily on the Greek language and Russian was formed from the Greek language.

    Hm. English has a lot of Greek loan-words, but there’s no “genetic” connection. Russian is not closely related to Greek, either, and certainly not “formed from” it (the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian is perhaps more closely related to the modern Greek alphabet than the Latin alphabet is, but that’s not a linguistic connection).

  • Franck @Disques Durs Externes Pas Chers

    Hmm, “Genesis”, I did not know this is the right signification.Thanks for sharing.

  • Sophia

    No, VTA the English relies heavily on the Greek language and Russian was formed from the Greek language. There are so many words in English that are the same in Greek. The letters, however are very different.

  • Tariq Butt

    Dears, Most of the Greek words give a feeling of affinity with the regional and local languages of Pakistan. These are related to Indo-European Languages. Agora is used as a prefix for place-names scattered over a large area including India also. Moving from Islamabad to Peshawar, huge market for the cows and buffaloes is called Akora-Khattack, consonant shift from g to k, and, famous Agra Mehl, historical place near Delhi, again Delphic. In case of Akora-Khattack, it gives an idea of house of Khattack tribe. It sounds close to meaning of an Urdu word, Ghar, meaning house. So, it represents, a place where some assembly is called.

    Similarly, other Greek words mentioned in this assembly of twelve, can be explained in this context.

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