Saturday, June 13, 2009

Word Origins of The Omnivore's Dilemma and Commentary: Post III

Greeting, fans of etymology and Greek and Latin root word origins as they relate not only to SAT and GRE vocabulary words, but also to the title of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Thank you for reading my article from last week which concerned the Latin root word suffix -vore as I continued discussing The Latin roots of The Omnivore's Dilemma and how that book has changed my way of thinking about and eating food, and even the definition of what food is. As I mentioned in my last post, I have considered providing SAT and GRE English vocabulary words based on the root words of titles of books that have been seminal in my life, thereby not only discussing the word origins of the title and words related thereunto, but also what those works have originated in terms of social change for myself, which I am hoping may act as consulting information for helping others change their lives in positive ways, and thereby helping the world become a greener and healthier place.
The last word in the title of Michael Pollan's seminal and influential
The Omnivore's Dilemmais is comprised of two Greek word roots:

dis: two, twice, double {di-}
lemma: something taken, promise

Hence, the word "dilemma" etymologically means "having taken two." If one is in a dilemma, one does not know which of two things to take, or, on the same token, one could have two incompatible things, and not know what to do about them. Imagine proposing marriage to two different people concurrently, and having them both accept...what a dilemma the proposer would be in! And yes, there is a word "trilemma" as well...a situation perhaps even more than 50% worse!
The Greek word lemma is related to the Greek root word lambanein, which means to take, seize, hold, or accept, the morphemes of which are the following: lab, lept, and leps, from which derives the following English vocabulary words:

syllable: A syllable is etymologically a group of letters ‘held’ or ‘taken together’ to form a ‘unit of spoken or written language.’ Monosyllable (having one syllable), polysyllabic (having many syllables, via the Greek root word prefix, polys--many, word origin of multiplicative English vocabulary words, such as polygon, polyhedron, polyglot, polymath, and polytheism), and syllabication (syllabification) are all related words.

epilepsy: epileptic seizures "take hold of" the afflicted for short periods of time

syllabus (plural: syllabi): A syllabus of a course lists all the work ‘taken together’ during a given term.

narcolepsy: a uncontrollable seizure of sleep, via the Greek root word narke (narc-): numbness, deadness, or torpor, word origin of narcissism (a self-love so virulent that is creates a 'torpor' of self-absorption, which is exactly what happened when Narcissus fell in love with his reflection in a pool of clear water and could not move from the spot) and narcotic, which is a drug that creates a deadness or sleepiness in someone who ingests it. Can you guess what narcomania might be?

catalepsy: etymologically a "thorough seizing" (n.b.: the Greek prefix cata- acts as an intensive, and is the word origin for such English words as catalog (a thorough collection), catapult (an instrument that "thoroughly" hurls heavy objects), and catastrophe (a thorough turning of events to the bad).

Note that the Greek prefix di- is prolific, giving us such SAT and GRE vocabulary as: diploma, dioxide, diptych, disemic, diphthong, and such dinosaurs as dilophosaurus, diplodocus, and diceratops (note that the word "dinosaur" itself means "terrible lizard" or "monstrous lizard") via the Greek roots deinos-terrible, monstrous and sauros: lizard).

Commentary on The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Have you ever noticed in the grocery store that the less modified foods, that is, the produce and meats, are usually in the extremities of the store, whereas the packaged and processed foods are all in the middle of the store, more easily accessible? Packaged foods are, by and large, much more profitable for grocery stores (by the bye, the word "grocery" comes from the Latin root word grossus: large, bulky thick, the idea being that a grocer buys things in ‘grosses,’ or in large quantities; a ‘gross’ (from the French grosse douzaine, ‘big dozen’) of pickles is 144 pickles. Groceries themselves can be ‘bulky’ items. Note that the letter c and the letter s, a consonant shift, tend to be interchangeable between Latin and English), not only because of their shelf life (white bread, for instance, can last for months, but is, at best, minimally nutritious, but it is nice and soft and fluffy for pampered palates, and it's also cheap, a profitable combination, but not a nutritious one), but also because of their ingredients, many of which are simply modified forms of high fructose corn syrup, a very sweet form of distilled and processed corn that moves profits on an extremely large scale (from corn that is produced in a very anti-environmental fashion, with lots of pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum-based fertilizers, all of which find their way into the water supply). If you pick up any box of just about anything, it is bound to have high fructose corn syrup in it; it is also bound to have numerous ingredients, a sure sign to stay away. Yes, it may taste good, and yes, it may even have the "blessing" of the American Heart Association on it, but that doesn't mean that it's good for you; as Pollan points out, it's not really food if there are more than five ingredients in it (a good rule of thumb to follow). And what about organic? Yes, you will pay more, but will you really? In terms of your health, and in terms of medical bills, in the long run you will pay much, much less; I have been eating organic solely now for three years, and raising my own food as well (all organically raised), and have not been sick with anything, not even a cold, for two straight years now. I feel great, have very little body fat, and have loads of energy. So yes, you could buy those non-organic, packaged "food" items (who are they kidding? Just because it's edible doesn't mean it's food) and save a little money, and they'll even taste good (your brain loves things like HFCS because sweet things in nature are very high in calories, an anti-famine response), but you will pay a price in the long run; lack of nutrition, obesity, numerous trips to the doctor, high insurance bills, etc. Eat local; eat organic; eat real food, and you'll start feeling better, and you'll be doing your part to ensure a greener planet not only for yourself, but for your descendants.
All of the subsidiary word roots discussed above: poly--many; di-two, narke: deadness, cata-thoroughly, deinos: terrible, monstrous and sauros: lizard can be found at, a site devoted not only to the Greek and Latin root words of English vocabulary words, but also to giving word lists, via trees, of SAT and GRE vocabulary words for SAT and GRE prep. Knowing the core of the English language allows one to unlock that language, making the learning of English vocabulary words much easier. At the etymology site you can find the best Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today, Word Empire III: Clarity. Happy learning!   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.