Big Words in English: Sesquipedalian

In honor of paraskevidekatriaphobia, I like to talk about long words every Friday the 13th. This Friday’s word is sesquipedalian.

It’s perhaps an especially appropriate word to discuss in a recurring segment on long words, as that’s exactly what sesquipedalian refers to. “Paraskevidekatriaphobia,” for example, is a sesquipedalian word: a unusually long word. You can even make sesquipedalian a little longer by turning it into a plural noun: sesquipedalianisms.

The emphasis is on the fourth syllable: ses/qui/pe/DAL/i/an. And there’s something fun about saying it, isn’t there? Maybe it’s that “qui” sound in the middle (“qui” like “queen” or “quite,” not like aqui). Or maybe it’s the hypnotic, lilting rhythm of the stress pattern.

You might have noticed ped/pedal in there, and recognized it from the classical stem word for “foot.” You’d be right; the sesqui– prefix is a combination of “semi” (familiar, hopefully, as meaning “half”) and “que” (“in addition”). Together, sesqui means “a half more again.” Together, something sesquipedalian is “one and a half feet long.” Its use in Latin dates back to Horace, who complained of sesquipedalia verba: words that were one and a half feet long. (Too long, in other words.) And while it can literally refer to anything that’s a foot and a half long, it’s mostly used to describe long words (perhaps thanks to that initial usage by Horace.) It can also refer to an overly and needlessly verbose writing style, rather than a particular word.

Language that describes language: it’s turtles all the way down!

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

Greek and Latin Roots: T and U Base Words

Next up in this series on classical root words in English: root words beginning with the letter “T” and “U”! You can refer to previous lists below if you’d like a refresher. We’re almost finished! The next installment will be the last one (“V”, “X,” and “Z”).

These are all base words; classical affixes will come in a later series.

Base Meaning Example
tang, ting, tig, tact touch tangent, contingent, contiguous, intact
taph grave, tomb epitaph
taur bull Minotaur
techn art, skill, fine craft technique
tempor time temporary
ten, tin, tent, tain hold tenacious, continent, contents, retain
tend, tens, tenu stretch, thin extend, tensile, tenuous
ter(r) land, ground, earth inter (verb), territory
test witness testify
tetra four tetrahedron
thanas, thanat death euthanasia
theater, theatr theater, watch theatrical
the(o) god atheist, theology
therm heat thermal
thes, thet put, place thesis, synthetic
tom cut anatomy
ton tone monotonous
trac(t), treat pull, draw, drag trace, tractor, retreat
trop turn tropics
trud, trus push, thrust intrude, protrusion
turb shake, agitate turbulence
urs bear (animal) ursine

Greek and Latin Roots: S Base Words

After a book break, I’m back with more linguistic roots from Greek and Latin. These are all of the base words that begin with S. (Suffixes and prefixes will come later.) For a review, you can browse old entries.

Base Meaning Example
sanct(u) holy, sacred sanctuary
scend, scens step, climb descend, ascension
scop look, watch microscope
scrib, script write scribe, scripture
sec(t) cut, slice secant, section
secut, sequ follow prosecute, sequel
sed, sid, sess sit, settle sediment, reside, session
semi one half semicircle
sent, sens think, feel sentence, sensation
seps, sept infection sepsis, antiseptic
serv, servat save, keep, serve servile, reservation
sex six sextet
sist stand persist
sit food, feed parasite
sol(i) alone, only, one solitaire
solv, solut free, loosen dissolve, solution
somn(i) sleep insomnia
son, sound sound resonate, resound
soph wisdom, wise philosophy
sorb soak absorb
spec, spic, spect watch, look at specimen, conspicuous, spectacle
(s)pir breathe perspire, expire
sta, stanc, stat stand stable, stance, static
stle, stol send epistle, apostle
strain, strict, string tie, bind, squeeze restrain, restrict, stringent
stru, struct build construe, destruction
sui (swi) pig, hog swine

Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Big Words in English

Big words are fun, aren’t they? Of course they make you sound smart, and they might be handy in a game of Scrabble or Words With Friends, but (at least in English) they often have a specificity that is in and of itself fascinating.

The hyper-linguistic polysyllabic speech association!

If you’re an English student, I admit that precisely because of this specificity many of this words don’t exactly have “high coverage.” In other words, they’re not very useful. But they’re fun, and they can still be useful as a learning tool. Most of the words in English that you would consider “big” aren’t just random collections of letters; rather, they’re collections of different smaller words or word pieces (bases and affixes). The strategy you use to learn about or understand a word like paraskevidekatriaphobia can be applied to shorter, less complex words you might actually encounter in your life or in your studies.

So, in honor of paraskevidekatriaphobia, I’m going to spend every Friday the 13th looking at bigwords! Starting, of course, with paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Now, let’s assume that you didn’t already know that it means “fear of Friday the 13th.” Could you figure it out?

The first and biggest clue is in the last little word piece (or morpheme, if you want to be technical): phobia. Fear. If you know that, then you know that a phobia is a fear of something. You might have seen arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) before, as those seem to be fairly common fears. There’s a whole list of different phobias, in fact, if you feel like whiling away an afternoon.

If you know that “phobia” comes to English, via Latin, from the Greek word for fear (phobos), you might think to look at the rest of the word through a Greek lens: paraskevidekatria-. As it turns out, this would be the right way to go. Paraskevi is Greek for Friday, and dekatreis refers to the number 13. While “paraskevi” might be somewhat obscure, at least for those who don’t speak Greek*, in “dekatreis” one can see connections to other common roots: decem and decim for “ten,” and tri for “three.”

So, do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia? Or how about somniphobia? Nyctophobia? When I was a child, I had a pretty bad case of agyrophobia: fear of streets. (Don’t worry. I got better!)

A final point on phobias: since the word has crystallized into the language both as “fear” and “aversion” (see, for example, homophobia and Islamophobia to refer to attitudes that aren’t the traditional irrational fear of a phobia, but rather a cultural and/or personal revulsion), English has taken a tendency to take words from other languages and stick them on the end. Not just with phobia, either; there is a tendency to mix different languages. But that’s what makes English so fascinating!

*While writing up this blog post, I wondered if the para- in “paraskevi” might have the same root as pent (five), as in the fifth day of the week (much like the Russian names for the weekdays), but this turned out not to be the case. The word is related to the Greek word “to prepare” and apparently is named after Friday preparations for the Sabbath.

Greek and Latin Roots: Q and R Base Words

It’s time for the next installment in this series on classically-derived roots in the English language! Q and R are both small categories, so I’ve put them together. Remember, these are word bases, not prefixes or suffixes.

If you would like to review previous entries, you can browse the links below:

Base Meaning Example
quadr, quart four quadrilateral, quarter
quint five quintillion
ras scrape rash, erase
reg, rig, rect straight, guide regular, incorrigible, correct
rupt break interrupt

Greek and Latin Roots: “P” Base Words

Next up on our tour of English’s classical base words is “P.” Remember, the following list does not include affixes (prefixes or suffixes); just the core, base words to which affixes are often attached!

If you would like to review previous entries, you can browse the links below:

Base Meaning Example
pac peace pacify
pan(t) all, every panacea, pantomine
p(e)ar appearance, seem apparition, disappear
par(t) produce, beget separate, post partum
past(or) shepherd pasture, pastoral
path(o) feeling, suffering sympathy, pathology
pati, pass feeling, suffering patient, compassion
patr(i), patern father, fatherland patriot, paternity
ped foot, feet pedal, impede
pel, puls, peal drive, push dispel, impulse, repeal
pend, pens weight, hang, pay pendant, suspense
penta five pentagon
petr stone petrify
phem word, saying euphemism
pher bear, go periphery
phil(o), phil(e) love, friend philosophy, Anglophile
phon voice, call, sound telephone
photo light photograph
phragm block, enclose diaphragm
phyt plant neophyte
plac calm, please placate
ple, plex, ply fold, multiply multiple, duplex, imply
plur, plus more plural, plus
pne(um) breathe apnea, pneumonia
pol(is)(it) city, citizen acropolis, political
pon, pos, post, pound put, place components, positive, compound
port carry import
poss, pot power impossible, potentate
preci price, value precious
punct(u), pung pierce puncture, pungent


Greek and Latin Roots: “O” Base Words

Apologies for my sudden disappearance! I clearly overestimated how much time I’d have to blog during this academic quarter. I’m back on an even keel now, so let’s continue with our list of “O” base words based on Greek and Latin sources.

Base Meaning Example
oct(a) eight octave
ocl(e), ocul eye monocle, binoculars
od song parody, ode
odont tooth orthodontist
omni all, every omnivore
onym word; name pseudonym
ortho straight orthodoxy
ov sheep ovine


Greek and Latin Roots: “N” Base Words

Halfway there! Today’s post features classical base words that begin with “N.” If you want to review previous entries, here they are:

Base Meaning Example
navig sail navigate
neo new neonatal
nihil nothing annihilate
noc, nox harm innocent, noxious
non, nov nine nonagon, November
noun name pronoun
nov new innovate


Greek and Latin Roots: “M” Base Words

I’m back from vacation, and now that I’m relaxed and refreshed it’s time to continue my series on classically derived base words. (Again, these are not prefixes or suffixes. Those are coming later.) Today is brought to you by the letter “M.” For a refresher course in past installments, you can refer to past entries.

Base Meaning Example
m(eridiem) noon, midday ante meridiem (A.M.)
magn big magnify
mal(e) bad, wrong malevolent
man, main stay, remain permanent, remain
man(u) hand manual
mast round bump, protrusion mastoid
matr(i), matern mother matrimony, maternal
me(a) wander, go meander
medi middle medium
meter, metr(o), metri(i) measure centimeter, metronome, metric
mill one thousand millimeter
miss, mit send missile, permit
mnem, mnes memory mnemonic, amnesia
mole mass molecule
mon(o) alone, only, one monologue
mord, mors bite mordant, morsel
morph shape, form amorphous
mor(t) dead moribund, mortal
mov, mot, mobil move move, promote, mobile
mur wall mural