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Interesting Etymologies 50 : Hybrids

"Hello again Word Lovers!"

Today we are taking a brief aside into hybrid word, sometimes known as mongrel words. This is the area of etymology that explores words that comprise of elements from two different roots. Mongrel has some negative connotations, hybrid seen as a more politically correct word.

Hybrid comes to us through hubris which is a Greek word from hybris meaning "presumption toward the gods". This has a PIE root for the first par of ud - up or out but the second half is a matter of much debate.

Mongrel is used to refer to a dog of "mixed race", often considered not to be a pedigree. Hybrid sees wide use in English to discuss technology, plants, animals, ideas of combined origin. Mongrel is much more likely to be retained exclusively to describe a dog, normally a street dog. (The development of the language regarding street dogs is discussed in our forthcoming Language Lounge episode on Collective Nouns). The Old English word was a gemong, meaning among and coming from Proto-Germanic meaning "to mingle".

So classically trained scholars object to certain words being created using mixed roots. Examples:

Television: Something that enables us to see something far away. A perfect word was ready to be used, but was unfortunately adopted for something else - telescope. So a Greek prefix was combined with a Latin suffix giving a word that is in use in almost every language in the world. (Another such example of a near global word is Penguin, find out more on the unlikely source of the word penguin here. Take a guess, you'll never believe this one!)

The Fowler Brothers, authors of The King's English, object to certain hybrid words:

Amoral: (without morality - as we learnt in our exploration of Greek prefixes here) The problem is the Greek prefix is combined with a Latin suffix (oh the horror!) They suggest that "it is desirable that in making new words the two languages should not be mixed"

Is this a valid or useful position to hold?

Some people object to polyamory and homosexuality, but not on the basis of their inability to comply with current year social values but actually due to the hybrid formation of the words. Polyamory should be multiamory or polyphilia. Tom Stoppard makes a joke about homosexuality being half Greek and half Latin in one of his plays.

This is a brief sojourn as it is clearly a backwater of etymological dinner party debate. If television and amoral are so problematic, then why no clamour of outrage at some of the other examples:









Explore the full Interesting Etymologies series archive here

As well as being the host of our Interesting Etymologies series, Charly Taylor is a stand up comedian and author. His latest offering is available now:

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