Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cor, cordis—heart

Happy day after Valentine's Day! I thought that, after having spoken about the Latin root spirare: to breathe over the past three posts, I would continue on with two discussions about the Latin and Greek words for "heart" over the next two weeks. I will start with the Latin root, which has contributed a surprising number of English vocabulary words to the English language, as well as some significant SAT vocabulary. It has no significantly difficult spelling changes, and is surprisingly prolific:

Cor, cordis—heart {cour}

Let's begin this Latin roots discussion with the first morpheme: cor. An apple core is the "heart" of the apple, just as the core of any argument is its essential center, or heart. The core of the Earth, of course, is its (or her) center, the "heart" of the planet.

When Latin went through French and eventually found its meandering way into English, many French spellings were retained, or partly so; word origins are often fraught with interesting stories behind them, some of which are quite long (which is what the diachronic nature of the Oxford English Dictionary is all about). The French word for heart is coeur; one can easily see how Latin is the wellspring for that word with a few orthographical permutations along the way. Indeed, the Romance languages (that is, the languages derived from the primary language once spoken in Roma, or Rome, by the Romans) are simply evolved forms of Latin, those being Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French, Romanian and Portuguese (and a few other very minor languages; for an excellent article concerning this topic, please see this Romance languages article). English, on the other hand, is not directly descended from Latin, but has nevertheless been very heavily influenced by it on a morphemic or roots basis; please see for statistics concerning that prolific influence.

Hence, one of the morphemes of the Latin word cor, cordis is the modified by French cour, which gives us such words as courage (one must have a great deal of "heart" to be courageous), encourage (to give someone "heart" to carry out an act), and discourage, which means to give someone a "heart apart" about a particular situation, that is, to dissuade someone from doing something (from the Latin word dis—apart, not, away from, reversal).

The most commonly used morpheme in English that comes from the Latin root cor, cordis is cord-. If two people are in accord with one another, their ‘hearts’ agree; in music, harmonious notes are ‘agreeable’ to the ear, hence the genesis of accordion (de gustibus non est disputandum). If two people are in discord, their "hearts" are apart (again from dis-), hence they are in disagreement. However, if they later return to being concordant (two people who are in concord have hearts that are "together," via the Latin preposition cum: with, together) all is well again with their "hearts." One records information so that it is easy to recall ‘again’ by ‘heart;' a musical recording never forgets the words to the song that has been recorded upon it. And what are you doing if you cordially greet someone at a party? To be cordial is to be friendly, warm, or gracious; that is, your "heart" is in the right place towards that person. A lesser known meaning for cordiality is being fervent or feeling strongly about a cause; that is, your "heart" is really in it. A cordial is a stimulant or tonic, like a liqueur.

I hope that you have enjoyed the above posting, and that you will join me again next weekend when I discuss the Greek root for heart, which primarily gives us medical terminology.

For the meanings of many Greek and Latin roots, you may want to analyze this Greek and Latin root words site, a true font of not only word origins but also listings of numerous SAT prep words and GRE prep words. Many, many prefixes and suffixes come from Latin and Greek roots; for a full listing of those Greek and Latin affixes (affixes are words that are "stuck onto" main parts of words, or stems) that form our English language, you may want to check out the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today; a Greek and Latin roots poster is also available, which shows the sheer power of Greek and Latin roots over the English language and also contains a great deal of GRE and SAT vocabulary.  Or, if you're looking to learn vocabulary for the SAT or GRE verbal section, check out, where vocabulary is taught to you via an Adaptive Reinforcement Engine in a fun and engaging way which at the same time enhances your memory..