Greek and Latin Prefixes: C and D

Time for the next installment in my series on classically derived prefixes. This week I’ll be looking at Greek and Latin prefixes beginning with “C” and “D.”

For more context, here is the entire previous series on English root words derived from Greek and Latin. Those are the stems or base words to which these prefixes can (theoretically) be added. And here is the previous entry on Greek and Latin prefixes beginning with “A” and “B.”

Prefix Meaning Example
circu(m) around circuit, circumference
co, con (and assimilated forms) with, together; very cohesion, connect, compose, collection, correct
contra, contro, counter against, opposite contradict, controversy, counterpoint
de down, off of demotion, descent
di, dis, dif apart, in different directions, not divert, dismiss, differ
dia through, across, thorough diameter
dys bad, improper dysfunction

Book Review: Passing

Nella Larsen’s Passing was a selection for my online book club. The two women who run it have a knack for finding classics that, despite my academic background, I seemed to have skipped over. Passing is one of those classics.

Author: Nessa Larsen

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.8 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Recommended audience: Thriller fans; readers interested in Harlem Renaissance literature

Cover of Nella Larsen's novel "Passing"
Image courtesy Penguin Publishers

Plot summary: Irene Redfield and her high school classmate Clare Kendry are both mixed race; Irene is “out” (if I can borrow the term) as a woman of color, living a life in Harlem with a black husband and black children, while Clare is currently “passing” (as in, passing for white) within white society—a big deal in 1927. A chance encounter brings Clare back into Irene’s life after years apart, throwing both of their lives into disarray. One thing leads to another, until events reach their tragic, if inevitable, conclusion.

In-depth thoughts: Much of the tension is built on concepts of race and passing that I don’t think would be quite as relevant today. Not to say that racism is no longer a problem; just that society’s definition of “white” has broadened. Someone fitting Clare Kendry’s description—pale, blonde, and brown-eyed—would be overwhelmingly accepted and read as white today, outside of maybe a few fringe neo-Nazi groups. But in the book, the old “one drop” rule is still in effect, and Clare’s worry that her “true identity” as a woman of color might be revealed to her white husband is constantly hanging over her head. Such a discrepancy in norms says a lot about an America still in living memory.

Of course, other elements of tension in the story are more timeless: secret pasts, secrets and trust within relationships, motherhood, the lot of women in society, the limits of what we can know about others. Passing is a thriller but it’s also a character study. While some of the specific worries about race may belong to another time, the suspense and the breakneck speed feel very modern.

Friday 5: Rest

When did you last need a few days of complete rest and nothing else?

I feel like that every day, to be honest. I had a really gnarly chest cold for most of February that kept me relatively housebound. I’m better now, but the first two weeks were unpleasant, to say the least.


How do you keep yourself occupied when you have to be in bed all day and night?

Music; reading; reviewing vocabulary on Anki, Memrise, DuoLingo, and Clozemaster; sleeping.


Who do you most want to hear from when you have to withdraw to your bed for a few days of rest?

It depends. Whenever I have to go into self-imposed quarantine, it means I have a lot of time to just think; often, I’ll remember a story or a question I had for someone in particular. But usually I can just send them a message on Gchat or Facebook, so I don’t have to make immediate plans to see them when I’m feeling better.


What adverse effects have you experienced while staying in bed for a few days?

I don’t like the deconditioning and loss of stamina/energy I notice when I feel better enough to go running again.


When you first notice a few symptoms, are you more likely to shut everything down right away, or try to power through until you don’t have a choice anymore?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I try to take it as easy as possible right from the beginning, including lots of garlic, zinc, and lemon tea.

Anki Pronunciation Deck: “H”

One of my tutees, a native French speaker, has a little trouble with “h” at the beginning of words. To help her (and anyone else with similar issues), I put together an Anki deck of “H” words with their respective pronunciations. This deck is not intended as a vocabulary deck; it is for people who know the vocabulary (or most of it) already but have a hard time pronouncing it.

There are 91 words in total, taken from the top 10,000 or so words in English, according to this list from MIT. To avoid repetition, I didn’t include compound words (so “him” but not “himself”). I also, as a rule, didn’t include an exhaustive list of verb conjugations (so “hate” but not “hated” or “hates”) unless there was a meaningful shift in spelling or pronunciation in the main word (so both “hear” and “heard”).

Some of the words are homophones: words with different spellings and meanings, but identical pronunciation. Those words are marked with an asterisk (*) for your convenience. This is to keep people from straining to hear differences in pronunciation where there are none.

Finally, all of the pronunciations are either from American speakers or sound American to my own ears. This is mostly for pronunciation issues when it comes to vowel sounds, rather than the “H” sound at the beginning. The single exception is the word “herb.” In American English, the preferred pronunciation is with a dropped “h” (/ɜːrb/); British English retains it (/hɜːrb/).

To add the deck to your own Anki account:

1. Download the deck to your computer.
2. Open your desktop version of Anki.
3. Select “File -> Import”
4. Browse to the directory where you saved the deck in Step 1.
5. Select the deck.
6. Sync your desktop client to the web. Now the downloaded deck is on your Anki cloud and can be accessed on your desktop client, on the web, or on your phone.

And there you have it! Let me know what you think.

Are there other Anki decks you’d like to see? Don’t have time to make them yourself? Comment or contact me on Twitter (@KobaEnglish) and I’ll see what I can do.

Greek and Latin Prefixes: A and B

Now that I finally finished up my series on English roots from Greek and Latin, it’s time for prefixes! In case you forgot, prefixes are little word bits that can be attached to the beginning of a word to alter its meaning. I’ve discussed prefixes earlier on the blog, mostly about how English prefixes relate to Swedish prefixes. This time I’m going to come at the topic from a slightly different angle: English prefixes derived from classical sources.

If you’re curious about how to use these prefixes, you can peruse the entire previous series on English root words derived from Greek and Latin and play a little mix and match. 🙂

As with my list of bases, the list here largely comes from Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary by Timothy Rasinski et al. I will make some small changes throughout, mostly in the choice of sample words. If you’re an English teacher (whether English literature or EFL) or a high-level student, I recommend picking up this book. EFL students may want to jump directly to any number of workbooks focused on Greek- and Latin-based English vocabulary. Or you can follow my series and take notes.

First up: Greek and Latin prefixes beginning with “a” and “b”:

Prefix Meaning Example
a, ab, abs away, from avert, abduct, abstain
a, an not, without atheist, anemia
ad* to, toward, add to addition, aggregate, attract
ambi around, on both sides ambidextrous
ana back, again, apart analyze
ante before antecedent
ant(i) against, opposite antithesis, antonym
auto self automatic
bi two bicycle

Friday 5: Yule Never Be Alone


About how many family Christmas photo-cards did you receive this year*?

I get why people do the annual “family photo holiday card,” and I’m happy to have photographs of my friends on hand, but it’s a tradition that will never appeal to me as a sender.

This year I got at least three photo-cards. I may have gotten one or two more than that, but that’s it.
About how many family Christmas newsletters did you receive this year?

This is a holiday tradition I like a little better. Not surprising, I guess, considering my penchant for words and language! I don’t ever write one, though. Different people hear from me at differing intervals, so I tend to address holiday cards personally, based on how often I talk to the recipient and how much they know about what’s going on in my life.

I didn’t receive many “state of the friend” letters in cards this year. I know I got at least two, but there might be one or two I’m forgetting.
What do you do with the Christmas photo-cards and newsletters you get each year?

The newsletters get filed under “correspondence,” along with notes from friends or family that get slipped in with care packages and the odd snail mail letter.

The photo-cards get tacked up on the wall next to my desk. This is actually the first year I’ve received photo-cards (in the past it’s been just regular cards). I’m not sure if I’ll keep them up, or if I’ll file them away somewhere. The nicest cards (according to my arbitrary rules of taste) stay up on the wall. The others I hoard because one day I will make a garland or bunting with the ones that aren’t quite as pretty.

I have a couple of artist friends and I love when they send doodles or drawings in the cards. I will always sacrifice a greeting card for the sake of displaying their original art!
What’s a good solution for singles who want to participate in this tradition without coming across as a loser?

Just do it, because there’s nothing loser-y about sending out photo-cards or newsletters as a single person?
About how many old-school, hand-addressed Christmas cards did you receive this year?

Oh man, maybe about two dozen? I participate in an online holiday card exchange so I got a lot from strangers and near-strangers, in addition to the ones from my friends.

* Yeah, yeah. It was last year, but you know what I mean

Heart Idioms for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you’re celebrating it! Or are you suffering from heartache and a broken heart? Maybe you’re stone-hearted, or your heart just isn’t in it.  Maybe you’re lucky enough to be spending it with someone who makes your heart skip a beat, or has a heart of gold. No matter your situation, know that I’m wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day from the bottom of my heart!

In no particular order, here are some of my other favorite heart-related expressions.

1. Sing/cry/dance/[verb] one’s heart out.

Simple enough: [verb] as much as you like! See also: “[verb] as much as your little heart desires” and “[verb] to your heart’s content.” For example: Suzie sang her heart out at karaoke last night. I’ve never seen her have so much fun!

2. “Eat your heart out.”

“Eat” is one of the few verbs that doesn’t quite fit in the “[verb] your heart out” pattern. It’s a way to boast or brag: “I got the lead role in the play, Jimmy. Eat your heart out!” John taunted his rival.

Generally speaking, we only use it to directly address and command someone.

3. Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.

Someone who is expressive and honest with their feelings (sometimes without intending to be), though they can also be a little too sensitive. I always know when Robin’s upset. She wears her heart on her sleeve.

4. Have a heart-to-heart.

To have a serious and important conversation with someone. Joe and Sam were angry at each other, but after a long heart-to-heart they became friendly again.

5. “My heart bleeds for you.”

Like “Eat your heart out,” this idiom is also a fixed expression in English. It’s usually a sarcastic way to tell someone that you don’t care, or that you think their problem is silly and trivial. Oh, you have to drive your Mercedes because your Jaguar is in the shop? My heart bleeds for you!

Sometimes people will use it to mean that they are genuinely upset or distraught over someone else’s situation, but there are a lot of other phrases in English to express condolences that aren’t used sarcastically, so it might be better to choose one of those instead.

6. A man/woman after one’s own heart.

To express that you approve of something that someone does, implying that you do (or would do) the same thing. You like spending Sundays in your pajamas and watching movies? A woman after my own heart!

7. Not have the heart to [verb]

When you really, really don’t want to do something, usually because it might upset someone else or because you’re upset about it. I don’t have the heart to tell Erica her cat ran away. Can you do it?

8. Find it in one’s heart to [verb]

To be emotionally/psychologically able to do something. Usually this is finished with the verb phrase “to forgive someone.” I’m sorry I lied to you. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?

9. “Cross my heart . . . “

This is mostly used by children in its full length form: “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye if I lie.” (And there are a bunch of variations on it, if you feel like Googling!) It’s a promise that the speaker isn’t lying. Once in a while you run into an adult who will just use “cross my heart” as a shorthand, similarly to “Swear to God!” I didn’t steal your wallet. Cross my heart!

Friday Five: Hold On to the Knight

A blogging tradition I’ve followed elsewhere for years now is The Friday Five. I thought it would be fun to bring it over to my professional space, too—to take a peak at the woman behind the curtain, so to speak. This week’s theme is chess, in honor of Deep Blue’s historic (or is that historical?) victory over Garry Kasparov on this date in 1996.

1. When and how did you learn to play chess?

I think at some point my dad tried to teach me and my brother. He had grown up playing a lot of chess with his brother and I think he wanted us to learn, too, but it never really took for either of us. I think I still have an Usborne Guide to Chess he gave me for Christmas one year somewhere. Since then, I’ve tried a couple times to “really learn how to play this time.” It seems to be a whim that hits me every couple of years, but never really sticks.

When it comes to black-and-white strategy board games, I had a slightly better time with Othello (or Reversi, if you prefer), but only slightly. My mom, maybe among the last people you would ever suspect of being strategic and crafty, habitually destroyed me at it. I’m sure if she had been born in another time and place, she would have been a champion Go player.


2. How is your chess game?

As you can probably imagine, not very good.


3. When did you last find yourself in a stalemate?

As a rule, I try to avoid conflict and confrontation with people. The closest thing to a stalemate would be, I guess, my critique group stalling out in scheduling an upcoming make-up meeting. Yes, not quite a stalemate, but like I said—the closest I get.


4. A gambit is a chess opening in which a player sacrifices a piece in hopes of gaining an advantageous position. What was one of your recent, real-world gambits?

I think one of the problems I have with chess is that I have a tendency to hoard pieces. Even though the mechanics of the game dictate that both players have to lose pieces in order for the board to open up and for play to really begin, I can never feel totally comfortable losing a piece. I think I maintain that attitude in real life as well.


5. Which piece on the chessboard is most like you, and why?

I suppose the bishop: I’m narrow in my interests, but within them I’m quite knowledgeable. Or maybe the knight: I eventually get to where I’m going, but my path is a little more roundabout than other people’s.

Greek and Latin Roots: V and Z

Here it is, the last post in my series on classically derived base words! You can browse the rest of the series at these links:

Next week, I’ll take a look at English prefixes that come to us from Latin and Greek. Stay tuned!

Base Meaning Example
val be strong, be healthy valid
ven(t) come convene, advent
ventr(i) belly ventriloquist
ver true veritable
verb word verbal
vers, vert turn, change adverse, advertise
vest clothing vestments
via way, road viaduct
vid, vis see video, visual
vigil awake vigilant
vit, viv live, life vital, revive
voc, voke, voice voice, call, sound vocal, revoke, invoice
vol wish, will volunteer
volv, volu, volut roll revolve, volume, revolution
vor eat, devour voracious
vulp fox vulpine
zo(o) animal zodiac, zoology

Book Review: The Moviegoer

Finally, the reviews I post on my personal blog and the ones I post here are in sync! (Or is that in synch?) This should keep book posts moving at a much more regular pace. Maybe I’ll move to updating three times a week. Who knows?

The Moviegoer is a selection from TIME Magazine’s “Top 100 Novels of All TIME” list, which is a reading project I’ve had since around 2009. I have five books left to finish the list.

Author: Walker Percy

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.7 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Recommended audience: Readers interested in New Orleans, the American South, and Americana/Americana literature; readers who feel directionless and lost

In-depth thoughts: The Moviegoer wasn’t a book for me, but I can understand why others would relate to it. It’s not the most gripping story, and I wouldn’t recommend it straight off the bat for EFL students who want to dip their toes into English literature. But those who have already ventured into the field might like it. It periodically draws on some very America-specific pop culture touch points; as you can guess from the title, the story’s narrator spends a fair amount of time watching and thinking about movies, all of which date back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Towards the end of the story, there are also references to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations and traditions, which might be unfamiliar to some readers. Still, none of these references are essential to the plot. Overall, a solid, introspective read.