Latin is Greek to me.

Author:Dolle, Roy
Position:Latin language - Technical Writer

Although training in the classical languages (viz. Latin and Greek) is no longer central to professional degree programs, Latin and Greek words, phrases and abbreviations still are common in formal technical and scientific writing, so a technical writer must be familiar with their meaning and usage.

During the English Renaissance in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, words poured into our language from Greek and Latin. With this rebirth of interest in classical learning, Latin became the language of scholars and the educated elite; hence, many scientific and medical terms were borrowed from Latin. One well known instance of this practice is the system of binomial nomenclature identifying each animal and plant by genus and species (e.g., Canis lupus), which was established by the Swedish botanist Carl von Linne (Carolus Linnaeus) in the eighteenth century. Also during this period the use of Latin nomenclature in anatomy, astronomy, chemistry and other sciences became standard. In addition, many scientific terms were derived by combining Latin and Greek stems (roots) and affixes (prefixes and suffixes) to form such words at atmosphere, aural, dental, illumination, malignant, ocular and oral.

This method of coining words has continued into modern times. The growth of science and technology over the last two centuries spurred the development of an international vocabulary to deal with new discoveries. Many of these words are compounds of classical stems and affixes, such as bacteriology, barometer, hypergolic, methamphetamine, microspectrophotometer and photosynthesis. In order to decode and translate such terms and derive the essential meaning, scientists need to be familiar with common Latin and Greek roots and affixes, some of which are listed in Tables 1 and 2.

To such stems, affixes are added to build words, as shown by the examples in Table 1. Numerous affixes, especially prefixes, are taken from Latin and Greek, as Table 2 shows. These lists could be extended ad nauseam, and still another table of suffixes (i.e., word endings) could be listed, but tempus fugit -- time flies.

One problem concerning the use of Latin and Greek terms is the formation of plurals. The trend today is to prefer the English (anglicized) ending. Thus, appendices is being replaced by appendixes, crania by craniums, and formulae by formulas. Consequently, some words have two plural forms, an English and a Latin or Greek version, such as cacti/cactuses...

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