Friday, May 15, 2009

Phyein: to produce, cause to grow, bring forth; Physis: nature

Greetings, fans of etymology and classical word origins! I have been discussing root words for the past three or so months that are particularly pertinent not only to those studying SAT and GRE vocabulary words, but also those who are interested in learning medical vocabulary. Thank you for reading my last post containing medical vocabulary from the Greek root word -itis--inflammation, disease. I have decided that this post will focus on the SAT, GRE, and infrastructural words whose word origins are common to the word physician and the science physics, that is, the following Greek root words:

Phyein: to produce, cause to grow, bring forth
Physis: nature (physi-, physio-)

Let's first take a look at some of the more common English vocabulary words that derive from this important Greek root word. Etymologically, a physician is a ‘doctor of the natural world;’ the meaning has now shifted to ‘doctor of medicine,’ although a physician surely does care for one’s ‘physical,’ or ‘natural’ body. Note that the other root word in the word physician is the suffix -ician, which came through Old French, and denotes a practitioner in a certain field, and has given the English language such words as beautician, mortician, magician, optician, electrician, rhetorician, tactician, and arithmetician. Of course, as mentioned, one's physical body is the body that nature has given one, that is, one's natural self made out of the elements that arise from nature; we are all organic organisms, based upon the element carbon, a molecule that arises from the natural world.
Some fun SAT vocabulary words come from this Greek root word as well. One, seemingly improbable, is the word origin for "imp." An "imp" is a little prankster, rascal, or mischievous child (or little demon or devil), which derives via the Greek emphyein, ‘to implant, graft;’ one ‘grafts’ young shoots, which later became extended to ‘small children,’ especially ‘mischievous’ ones; impishness is always to be relished in the telling of tales, such as Edgar Allan Poe's The Imp of the Perverse. More straightforward English SAT vocabulary include physique (the body that nature has given one, and that one cultivates via eating habits and how one cares for one's body), and numerous types of physics, or that science that deals with the laws of the natural world, such as particle physics and nuclear physics. Physical science covers natural science and the science of non-living systems, in comparison to sciences such as biology, which studies living systems.
Some interesting GRE-level vocabulary also has been produced from this root, such as the English word metaphysics, pertaining to the study of that which has its being ‘beyond the natural’ world. Metaphysics properly lies within the realm of philosophy, and deals with such subjects as eschatology (the study of what happens after death), ontology (the study of being), teleology (the study of ends), cosmology, and consciousness (although this discipline has been attracting physicists in increasing numbers), to name a very few. Metaphysicians are those philosophers who deal with the intangible, the noumenal, the transcendent, the ineffable nondual, the inherent mind of the Universe. Note that the prefix meta-: after, change, beyond, beside, thoroughly, is the word origin of such diverse vocabulary as metacognition, metaphor, metabolize, and metastasize. One's physiognomy (via the Greek root word gnomon (Gr.)—judge, interpreter) is one's countenance, or one's face as it indicates one's character, that is, the "natural judge" of who one truly is. On the other hand, one's physiological state is one's natural or bodily state at any given moment, that is, the state pertaining to the normal functioning of an organism vis a vis its body. Hence, physiology is the medical and scientific study of all the natural functions of the physical body, as well as the chemical processes that occur with it. Therefore a physiologist is a specialist in the organic functions of living organisms.

Next week I will focus on English vocabulary words from the root word physis that form professional vocabulary, especially in the fields of medicine and philosophy.

Interested in the power of classical word origins? In Greek and Latin roots as the linguistic core of English vocabulary words? In more SAT, GRE, and medical vocabulary that comes from such subsidiary root words discussed above, such as meta and gnomon? All of the word roots mentioned in all my etymology blog posts are fully augmented in the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today; a Greek and Latin roots poster is also available, which beautifully illustrates not only the sheer power of Greek and Latin roots as they form the very semantic and morphemic structure of the English language, but also contains a prolific number of GRE and SAT vocabulary words, including a vast host of medical vocabulary. Check out for more information.  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.