Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Every so often I scan news and web sources for classical references, but rogueclassicism does such a good job of keeping the classical blogosphere abreast that I'd feel like I was stepping on David's toes to post much of what I found.

But one thing that really sticks in my craw recurs so often that it needs to be addressed: 'Greek and Latin' are indiscriminately cited as though they were one language, or had jointly agreed to donate individual words to our language. Countless times I've read that a given word 'comes from the Greek and Latin for' something, and as we've discussed here in the past, that's only true for words like television and homosexual (Gk root + Lat. root).

A piece at on choosing the right words for a eulogy repeats the error in a weird way:

Miller says the aim of any eulogy – the word comes from the Greek word for “praise” and the Latin for “epitaph” – is to honor the deceased.

Eulogy, then, comes from two sources: (1) the greek word for praise, and (2) the Latin word for 'epitaph.'

Knowledge of Greek and Latin is not required to see the error here, which is purely one of logic. The Greek word for praise intended here is clearly εὐλογία, and eulogizing is the putting-in of a 'good word,' as it were. But the Latin word for epitaph in the normal sense isn't eulogy, but 'titulus.'

ἐπιτάφιος was an adjective that could describe anything done at a tomb, from a speech given to games conducted. An ἐπιτάφιος λόγος was what we would call a eulogy, 'a speech at a grave.' But what we would call an epitaph would be ἡ ἐπιγραφή or τὸ ἐπίγραμμα to the Greeks, simply an inscription clarified by context.

It's tough to say how this specific error was reached, but it's easy to see that the shifting and interrelatedness of the terms over time has made it easy.

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