Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Etymology of Four Words

Homicide, the act of killing a human. is an ancient word of Latin origin--Homo for 'man' or 'human', caedere for 'to kill'. We mispronounce it to fail to give the initial vowel a long 'o' sound which the Latin noun for 'man' had.

Homosexual, attraction to the same sex, is a neologism from around the end of the 19th C.--Homo is the Greek word for 'same' and sexual comes from 14th C. Latin for 'gender'. The proper pronunciation for the Greek word for 'same' is hahma, with two short 'o's, as in homophone or homologue. In other words, we pronounce the 'homo' in homosexual as if it were Latin and the 'homo' in homosexual as if it were Greek. Weird, but that's not what I'm interested in here.

Homophobia is a neologism from the late 1950s which is supposed to mean an irrational hatred of homosexuals--Homo is the Greek word for 'same' and phobia is the Greek word for 'fear' (with no sense of hatred, which was covered by the words miso or misos, as in misanthropy or misogyny). So the neologism means 'fear of sameness' not hatred of homosexuals. It's not even close. Always deny being a homophobe unless you are indeed afraid of sameness.

Then we get to the very recent neologism islamophobia which is supposed to mean an irrational hatred of Muslims. I won't go into the mixed Greek and Arabic origins but the word literally means fear of Muslims. It's a good word and describes common feelings based on a sound perception of reality. Unless you're fearless or a fool, you should never deny that you have some elements of islamophobia. All rational Non-Muslims do.


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