Indo-European Roots of Ancient Greek Words

Greek is an Indo-European language. Most of the languages of Europe have a similar ancestry. Though little is known of the Indo-European culture, similarities between these languages has revealed many aspects of the language that was spoken. Furthermore meanings that can be established in this language can reveal aspects of the words that followed. In some cases words at the time of Homer have lost meaning over time. These meanings can sometimes be recovered by studying the Indo-European roots.


  • actaios — ἀκταῖος — ‘on the coast’ from Mycenaean Linear B ‘a-ka-ta-jo’ from Indo-European ‘aku̯ā-, more accurately əku̯ā, ēku̯- ‘aqua, water, river’ and ‘tag-, or teg- : tog- : teg-‘, ‘to grip, seize, touch’
  • agoge — ἀγωγή in Attic Greek, or ἀγωγά, agōgá in Doric Greek — ‘training’ from 1. ger-, gere- ‘to cram, collect, put together’ in the sense of herding together for training.
  • aiganee — αἰγανέη — ‘hunting-spear, javelin’ from ‘2. aig-‘, ‘oak’ and ‘3. an(ə)-‘, ‘to breathe’, Hom. Il. 2.774, Hom. Il. 16.589
  • agnize — ἁγνίζω — ‘to cleanse away, purify’ from ‘angu̯(h)i-‘, ‘snake, worm’ Euripides, Alcestis, line 76
  • amyloi — ἄμυλοι — unmilled, Aristophanes, Acharnians, line 1092 ‘1. nĕ, nē, nei (negative particle: no, etc.)’ and ‘mel-, also smel-, melə- : mlē-, mel-d- : ml-ed-, mel-dh-, ml-ēi- : mlī̆-, melə-k- : mlā-k-, mlēu- : mlū̆-‘, ‘to mill, grind; fine, ground’
  • amphekes — ἀμφήκης — twoedged cutter (Soph. El. 485) from ‘ambhi, m̥bhi’, ‘around, at both sides’ and ‘k̑es-‘, ‘to cut’
  • aooton — ἄωτον — fine wool, flock (‘5. au̯-, au̯ē-‘, ‘to plait, weave’ and ‘tag-, or teg- : tog- : teg-‘, ‘to grip, seize, touch’) Hom. Od. 1.443
  • cheiras — χειράς — ‘chap, crack in the hands or feet’ from ‘2. g̑hē-‘, ‘to gape, yawn’
  • demnion — δέμνιον — bedstead, bed ( Soph. Trach. 901) from dem- ‘to build; house’ and maybe ‘1. en’, ‘in’
  • dragon — δράκων — snake, serpent (Aesch. Pers. 82) from ‘derk̑-‘, ‘to look’ (The word is related to concept of the evil eye).
  • eanos — ‘ἑανός’ — robe from Indo-European ‘2. eu-‘ ‘to dress, put on’ and ‘2. nei-, neiə-, nī-‘, ‘to be moved, excited; to shine’, Homer, Iliad 14.177
  • eleutheros — ἐλεύθερος — free (Soph. El. 339) from ‘6. el-‘, ‘to go, move, drive’ and ‘2. dher-‘, ‘to hold, support’
  • eortazo — ἑορτάζω — to keep festival, Aristophanes, Acharnians, line 1079 From Indo-European ‘ā̆ier-, ā̆ien-‘, ‘day(light), morning’ and ‘tāg-‘, ‘to tidy up’ suggesting this may be a reference to a divine ordering.
  • eune — εὐνή — bed, Homer, Odyssey, 8.249 from Indo-European ‘2. eu-‘, ‘to dress, put on’ and ‘3. nei-, ni-, ‘in’
  • euphues — ‘εὐφῠής’ — I. well-grown, shapely, II. of good natural disposition, III. Naturally clever, IV. good natural parts, Aristot. Poet. 1455a from Indo-European, ‘2. eu-‘, ‘to dress, put on’ and ‘bheu-, bheu̯ə-, bhu̯ā-, bhu̯ē- : bhō̆u- : bhū-‘, ‘to be, exist; grow, prosper’.
  • euplokamos — εὐπλόκαμος — with goodly locks, fairhaired from Indo-European ‘eu-‘, ‘to dress, put on’ and ‘plek̑-‘, ‘to ply, pleach, plait, weave’, Hom. Od. 1.86
  • eccyclema – ἐκκυκλημα – a theatrical machine consisting of a platform with wheels attached which allows a set or person to be wheeled in or out. This word is from the Indo-European ‘ēik-‘, ‘to possess, be capable
    ‘; ‘ku̯el-‘, ‘to turn; wheel; neck?’ and ‘mag̑h-‘,’to fight, struggle’.
  • gonteia — γοητεία — ‘charm’ from Indo-European ‘kan-‘ ‘to sing, sound’
  • hesson — ἥσσων — inferior (Soph. Ant. 680) from ‘3. sēk-‘, ‘to abate; lazy, quiet’ (related to heka, a little, slightly)
  • hypocrites — ὑποκρτής — actors, from Indo-European ‘au̯(e)-, au̯ē(i)-, u̯ē-‘, ‘to vent, blow’ and : ‘1. ku̯er-‘, ‘to do, form, make’ (one who makes a loud voice?)
  • imerampukos — ἱμεράμπυκος — ‘with lovely banded full hair’, from Indo-European ‘am(m)a, amī̆, mama, amah (nursery word)’ – ‘mother’ and ‘(s)kerb(h)-, (s)kreb(h)-, nasalized (s)kremb- ‘, ‘to curve, turn’ and ‘1. pū̆k-, peuk-‘, ‘thick-haired’, from Bacchylides, Dithyrambs Ode 17, line 9
  • itria — ἴτρια — cake, Aristophanes, Acharnians line 1092 — from Indo-European ‘terk-, trek-, tork-, trok-‘, ‘to torque, turn’ related to ‘tart’?
  • katastephes — καταστεφής — deck with garlands, crowned, wreath — from Sophocles, Trachiniae, line 180, From Indo-European 1. kat- ‘to link, plait, weave; chain, net’ and steb(h)- ‘stump, post, pillar; to support, etc.’ Obviously this word is related to ‘stephane’ but the derivation suggests a relation to the pollos of a caryatid. The stephane may well be a circular pad that would allow the women to carry a jug of water more easily.
  • katakeleo — κατακηλέω — to charm away (Soph. Trach. 1002) from ‘1. kat-‘, ‘to link, plait, weave; chain, net’ and ‘keleu- ‘, ‘to wander; way, path’. This suggests that to charm is to perform an act similar to what the fates do – weave a life thread.
  • katara — κατάρα — a curse perhaps from Indo-European ‘1. kat-‘, ‘to link, plait, weave; chain, net’ and ‘3. er- : or- : r-‘, ‘to move, set in motion’
  • keleterios — κηλητήριος — charming, appeasing, Soph. Trach. 575, From Indo-European ‘kēl-‘ ‘to deceive, dumbfound, enthrall’ and ‘ēter-‘, ‘intestines’ (might mean love potion).
  • klaio — κλαίω — ‘weep’ from ‘1. gu̯ei-‘, ‘to cry, weep, complain’
  • koilos — κοῖλος — ‘hollow’ from ‘1. dhel-‘, ‘curve; hollow’ ref. Soph. Trach. 901
  • krateo — κρᾶτἐω’ — ‘prevail’ seems to be from ‘kert-, kerət-, krāt-‘, ‘to roll, turn, wind. (root of the word ‘democracy’)
  • Κυδωνέα — quince tree, Indo-European ‘ku-, kus-‘, ‘to kiss’ and ‘dō- : də-, also dō-u- : dəu- : du-‘, ‘to give, donate’ and ‘1. nā-‘, ‘to help, be useful’. Plutarch reports that a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber, “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant” (Roman Questions 3.65).
  • malli — ‘μαλλί’ — wool, (Linear B — ma-ri μαλλί, wool) (IE — ‘7. mel-‘, ‘wool, woolen garment’
  • mechana – ‘μᾱχᾰνά’ — a theatrical machine like a crane by which the gods etc. could appear in the air from Indo-European ‘mag̑h-‘,’to fight, struggle’
  • orchestrides — ὀρχηστρίδες, dancing girl from Indo-european ‘3. er- : or- : r-‘, ‘to move, set in motion’ and ‘g̑hesto-‘, ‘arm, hand’ and 1. u̯ebh- ‘to plait, weave, waver, move back and forth’ Aristophanes, Acharnians line 1093. The suffix ‘-ide’ may define women by their weaving skill. The suffixes ‘-ide’ and ‘-ess’ both seem to relate to women. The suffix ‘-ess’ seems to relate to the root ‘i̯ō[u]s- : i̯ūs-‘, ‘belt; to gird’ which seems to relate to what women wore and not what they did.
  • optao — ὀπτάω — roast, fry actually cook with fire. from ‘1. op-‘, ‘to work, perform, operate, bring about’ and ‘tā-, tə-, tāi-, təi-, tī̆-; [tāu-], təu-, tū̆-‘, ‘to thaw, melt, decay, dissipate’
  • orthostadion — ὀρθοστάδιον — a loose, ungirded tunic from Indo-European ‘u̯erdh-, u̯redh-‘, ‘to grow; high’ and ‘1. (s)pen(-d)-‘, ‘to pull, spin’
  • pagchristos — πάγχριστος — all-anointed (Soph. Trach. 661) ‘1. pel-, pelə-, plē-‘, ‘to fill, pour; full; town?’ and ‘ghrēi-‘, ‘to smear over’
  • peplos — πέπλος — woven cover, ‘3b. pel-, pelə-, plē-‘, ‘to wrap, cover; cloth; fell, pelt’ and ‘plek̑-‘, ‘to ply, pleach, plait, weave’, Homer, Odyssey, 15.124
  • periparides — περιβαρίδες — women’s shoes from Indo-European ‘2a. per-‘, ‘to pass over/beyond’ and ‘baitā, or paitā?’, ‘goatskin; cloak, mantle’ and ‘1. u̯ebh-‘, ‘to plait, weave, waver, move back and forth’. The suggestion is the the shoes are formed of goatskin that is bound around the foot. Aristophanes, Lysistrata line 45.
  • phleba — φλέβα — vein from ‘gu̯heiə-‘, ‘vein, sinew, tendon’
  • plakountes — πλακοῦντες — ‘flattened like a cake maker’, Aristophanes, Acharnians, line1092 ‘1. plā-k- : plə-k-, ple-k- : plō̆-k-, plei-k-, and pelə-g- : plā-g- : plə-g-‘, ‘flat, wide, broad; spread out’ and ‘1. u̯endh- ‘to turn, wind’
  • potnia — ‘πότνια’ — ‘mistress’ from Mycenaean ‘PO-TI-NI-JA’ from Indo-European ‘poti-s’, ‘host, husband, lord, master, owner’ and ‘gu̯ē̆nā ‘queen, wife, woman’
  • praunein — πραύνειν — ‘medicinal relief’, from ‘prāi-, prəi-, prī-, pri-‘, ‘to like, feel friendly/well-disposed’ and ‘3. nei-‘, ‘in’ ref. Sophocles, Philoctetes line 650
  • purgos — πύργος — ‘tower’, from ‘gu̯heiə- : gu̯hī- ‘vein, sinew, tendon’ Euripides, Medea, line 5 Euripides, Hecuba, line 16(seems most related to ‘purfle’)
  • pyx — πύξ — ‘with the fist’ from Indo-European ‘pēu- : pəu- : pū̆-‘, ‘to hit; sharp’, the Greek word for boxing.
  • skeptron – ‘σκῆπτρον’ — scepter, staff of authority from Indo-European, ‘(s)keup-, skeub(h)-‘, ‘sheaf, bunch, flock, etc.’ and ‘3. ter-, terə-, and teri-, trēi-, trī-, also teru- : treu-‘, ‘to bore, drill, rub, thresh’, Homer, Odyssey, 11.321
  • skorodon — ‘σκόροδον’ — garlic, Allium sativum, Aristophanes, Acharnians line 165, 521, 550, I-E ‘(s)keup-, skeub(h)-‘, ‘sheaf, bunch, flock, etc.’ and ‘1. od-‘, ‘to smell’
  • stornunth — στορνύνθ — ‘spread smooth’ from ‘5. ster-‘, ‘to scatter, spread out’ and ‘nū̆-‘, ‘now’ ref. Soph. Trach. 901
  • sygkirnasin — συγκιρνᾶσιν — probably means mix itself usefully (what a krater does to wine and water). From ‘su̯eng-, su̯enk- : su̯eg-, su̯ek-‘, ‘to bend, swing, swag’ and ‘3. er- : or- : r-‘, ‘to move, set in motion’ and ‘1. nā-‘, ‘to help, be useful’ and ‘se-‘, ‘self, one’s own’. From line 841, Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae
  • symposium — συμποσίον — a convivial meeting for drinking, music, and intellectual discussion (Hdt. 2.78) from ‘2. sem-‘, ‘one, together’ and ‘2. pō(i)- : pī-, and (from pō-), po-‘, ‘to drink’
  • tagcheleia — τἀγχέλεια’ — tortoise meat — from ‘tāg-‘, ‘to tidy up’ and ‘ghel-ōu-, ghelū-‘, ‘turtle, tortoise’, Aristophanes, Acharnians, line 1040
  • talaros — τάλαρος — basket (dhā̆l- ‘to bloom, be green’, thallos – n.masc – twig and aro-m – reed?) Homer, Odyssey 4.131
  • tanauphes — τᾰνᾰὒφής — woven long and finely, Soph. Trach. 602 from ‘tens-‘, ‘to span, stretch, extend’ and ‘1. u̯ebh-‘, ‘to plait, weave, move back and forth’
  • theteuo — θητεύω — ‘be a day laborer, work for hire’, from ‘2. dhē-‘, ‘to put, place, set’ and ‘2. teu-‘, ‘to notice, observe, listen to’, Euripides, Alcestis line 6
  • therapeia — θερᾰπεία — ‘service, attendance’ from ‘dherbh-‘, ‘to work’
  • thelkterion — θέλκτήριον– charm, spell, of the girdle of Aphrodite. Perhaps referenced at Soph. Trach. 585, perhaps ‘dhelgh-‘, ‘to hit’ and ‘tek̑þ-‘, ‘to plait’
  • thooraka — θώρακα — ‘put on protective armour’, Aristophanes, Acharnians, line 1133, Indo-European ‘2. g̑heu-, g̑heu-d- ‘to die, disappear, get away’ and ‘rabh-, or rebh- : rebh-‘ ‘to rage, be furious’
  • thusanos — θύσανος — tassel from Indo-European ‘dheu̯es-, dhu̯ē̆s-, dheus-, dhū̆s-‘, ‘to blow, dissipate, fly about like dust, etc.’ and ‘4. an-, anu, anō, nō’, ‘on, along, over there’. Homer, Iliad 14.183.

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