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Words And Reason: More Mythological Word Origins

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

Mythology has given us a wealth of words and phrases. We get most of the days of the week, and the names of most of the planets from mythology.

The planets (including recently demoted Pluto, which is no longer considered large enough to really qualify as a planet)—in order, from the Sun moving outward:

Mercury The Roman god who was the equivalent of the Greek Hermes. He was the god of science and commerce and acted as messenger for other gods. He is most often pictured with wings on his feet and wearing a hat with wings.

Venus Roman goddess of beauty and love. She helped Paris carry off Helen of Troy.

Mars Roman god of war. From his name we get not only the name of the planet Mars, but also the word for fighting—martial.

(Earth, alas, has no mythological pretenses. It comes to us from the Middle English erthe, from Old English eorthe, which meant “soil, dry land, the ground,” but was also used to mean “the (material) world” (as opposed to the heavens or the underworld). It had evolved into “earth” before the 12th century.)

Jupiter The king of the Roman gods and goddesses. He was the son of Saturn and father of Vulcan, the Muses, Apollo, many of the heroes of Roman mythology. He is identified with the Greek god Zeus. The largest planet in the solar system is named for him.

Saturn Roman god who was father of all the other Roman gods and goddesses.

Uranus a Greek god who was the personification of heaven. The story goes that Earth (Gaea to the Greeks) arose from Chaos and produced Uranus (the heavens), the mountains, and the sea. When Gaea and Uranus mated, they produced the Titans and the Cyclopes.

Neptune Roman god of the sea, corresponding to the Greek Poseidon.

Pluto Roman god of the underworld, parallel to the Greek god Hades.

While the Greeks and Romans gave us the names of the planets, it was the Norse gods who ended up giving us most of the days of the week (with one Roman god stuck in there):

Tiu is the Old English version of the Old Norse got Tyr. Tyr is a god of considerable antiquity among the ancient Germanic peoples, and appears to have been the god of the formalities of war, such as treaties, but also a protector of oaths, contracts, and promises.

It is thanks to this deity that we have Tiu’s-day. Continue reading Words And Reason: More Mythological Word Origins

Words And Reason: Mythological Word Origins

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

Mythology has given us a wealth of words and phrases. The stories can help us remember the words’ meanings—and vice versa. Here are a few mythical characters who have contributed to our language.

Arachne A young Greek woman who challenged the goddess Athena to a weaving contest. Athena wove a tapestry depicting the gods as powerful, while Arachne created a tapestry that mocked the gods and showed their dark side. Enraged, Athena tore Arachne’s work to pieces. Arachne hanged herself on her loom, but Athena did not let her die, turning her instead into a spider, which would go on weaving, Today, the scientific name for spiders is Arachnida, from Arachne.

Ceres The Roman goddess of the growth of food plants. It is from her name that we get the word cereal.

Mnemosyne Greek goddess of memory and mother of the nine Muses. It is from her name that we get the word mnemonic, which has to do with memory—particularly with things that help us remember.

Pan The Greek god of nature. Part man, part goat, the emotion he was thought to produce in those who saw him gave us the word panic, which means literally “of Pan.”

Proteus Neptune’s herdsman, an old man famous for his power to change shapes at will. Gives us our word protean, which describes anything that can change shapes, adapt quickly, or display variety.

Tantalus In Greek myths, Tantalus was a king who revealed secrets belonging to the gods. His punishment in Hades was being tied to a fruit tree and surrounded by water. However, when he reached up to eat, the branches moved out of reach, and if he bent down to drink, the water vanished, so he was tormented by hunger and thirst, but with the things he wanted just out of reach. From his name, we get the word tantalize.

Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer, food historian, and traveler. She loves history, geography, culture, literature, and language—and the place where all of these intersect. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative, Waltzing Australia, and keeps two blogs, http://www.theworldsfare.org and http://www.waltzingaustralia.com .