Mystical stuff, plastics, politics – the wonderful “kosmos” of Greek words

Have you ever imagined that “mystical” stuff is just another way to say “secret stuff”? Seriously, discovering the real meanings of Greek words is quite a fascinating process.

Last year, I wrote my first article about the words of Greek origin we all use, but rarely think of their original meanings. In some of my other articles, I brought up more examples, as it somehow enhanced my readers’ curiosity. So, here I come with the second article fully dedicated to Greek etymologies.

Before I start, let me give you some context. I have been learning Greek for a bit over a year. In the process, I have studied some etymologies, a little bit of Ancient Greek, along with a conversational level of Modern Greek in which I am still a bit bungling (laugh).

Greek words from Greek museums
My illustrations made with thematic pencils

Animals, anime… life?

Let’s start with something basic. For example, you know that many school subjects are called with Greek words. Geography, biology, history, mathematics, you name it. But have you ever thought about the word “zoo”, the actual abbreviation of the “zoological garden”? In fact, that short three letter word zoo is the greek – ζώο [zoo] – meaning – animal.

Additionally, Greek language is like a puzzle, and so many words can be a constructive parts of other words. So, there is a shorter, only two-letters word, ζω [zo]. That word means “I live“, and obviously it has versions in accordance with verbal conjugations for present, past, future, you know. Finally, there is another word, ζωή [zoee], meaning – surprise – life! Moreover, if you pick a random popular Greek song, the chance is 99% that you will hear that word, and the name Zoe derives from it.

Now, imagine the word animals, the correlation with the anima, anime, and other words you heard in some context. After all, animals are living creatures with some kind of spirit, right? Bonus! The word ζωγράφος [zografos] could be understood as “the one who writes/scribbles the life or animals”, but in actual Greek it means – painter! Oh gosh!

Mystical stuff - 4 words, 1 root.
4 words, one root. 2 of these words have an obvious shared meaning, while the other two have a fascinating relationship of ancient meanings.

Read also: Sami, the wise people of the North, and their meanings of animals and life

The art of plastic; ecology, and environment

This crazy Greek show is moving on. As we just introduced something art related, we need to continue in that tone. In the previous article, I explained how art is called τέχνη [tehni] in Greek, and it gives the root to the international word technology. But what does plastic mean? Plastic is literally shaping and forming.

Basically, the root of the word plastic is in the ancient word πλασσω [plasso], modern πλατω [plato] meaning create or shape, from where originates the adjective πλαστικό [plastiko] meaning something like “shaped“. As a result, plastics became yet another term related to art, mostly sculpture and other 3D shaping. Clearly, the term plastic surgery also makes sense in that case.

Subsequently, the synthetic materials that are easy to mould were subsequently named “plastics”. Now, as we mentioned animals and plastics, many of you might have been thinking about the environment. Moreover, you may think about ecology, the science about the environment.

Ecology originates from οίκος [oikos], meaning home. It is that simple. Adding the word λόγος [logos] or λογία [logia], ecology stands as the science about knowing and caring for our home, or in other words, for our surroundings. Look at the picture below:

Serifos, Greece
These two pieces of “contemporary plastic” are the result of activities related to the care for our environemnt, our oikos, our home. The pieces of that easy-to-use material, that got to be named plastic, were floating over the bright clear shallow sea on the island of Serifos in Cyclades, Greece. They came from no-one-knows-where, and ended up spoiling out crystal clear beach views, so we decided to clean it.

Isn’t it a fascinating φιλοσοφία [filosofia], philosophy or love for the wisdom, building bridges between the ancient and the modern world?

Read also: Stories of the Sea

Isn’t it all about politics?

These topics might make museums look political. For instance, some people believe that environment or inclusion are political matters, and they have a right to an opinion about it. However, we easily forget the origin of politics.

So, in ancient Greece there were city states, known as polis. Further, πόλη [poli] means city in modern Greek. On the other hand, the adjective of that noun (for neutral gender) is πολιτικό [politiko] basically meaning – civil. In fact, civil is the Latin counterpart of politiko. So, politics somewhat relates to all the activities of engaged citizens in a community. In the first article about Greek words, I explained who were the idiots in Ancient Greece, and they were clearly not “civil society” or “political citizens”.

With some light irony we might say that in the lovely ancient times politicians were not idiots (unlike nowadays) but the meaning of that word, in Greek of any era, is not the one we think (laugh).

Did I say that Greek language is like a puzzle? For example, there is a further derivation of that word politiko. There is πολιτισμός [politismos] and πολιτισμικό [politismiko] meaning culture and cultural. After all, these are some handy words for me to think about almost all my activities.

The island of Serifos, pencil drawing.

Read also: The curious origins of currencies and numismatics

Some mystical stuff about the world and the universe.

Finally, we can all agree that the world around us is so complex and unlimited, like cosmos. Wait, what is cosmos? Is it the space, where astronauts go? Yes and no.

As we all know, in ancient world the understanding of space was limited and largely discussed between scientists, mostly mathematicians. Above all, it was quite a mystical stuff for them. One thing is certain, ancient Greeks called everything around them, land, sea, and sky – κόσμος [kosmos].

However, kosmos means mostly world, and not that unlimited, unknown, uncharted – universe. First, let me introduce you one modern Greek word that fascinated me in my learning process. It is συμπεριλαμβάνω [syberilanvano] and it means “I include it all“. Likewise, there is a shorten form without the first two letters of this word, meaning “I include”. But this long version gives as an important nuance of the meaning.

In fact, σύμπαν [syban], means universe, as it is the root of everything called universal. With this little explanation, I moved away from explain origins of internationally known words, but I found it quite cool to explain how even logic behind the meanings has quite many Greek origins.

After all, it is some mystical stuff, right?

Trying to be as playful as possible, I say stuff, mystical stuff.

Now, let’s conclude this article with the explanation of the mystical. In Modern Greek, μυστικό [mystiko] means secret. So basically, every time you want to say that something is mystical, you imply that it is somewhat secret.

On the other hand, the Greek origins of our words in English and other languages are more complex than that. To avoid making this article too long, I will just finish with a little story related to “mystical stuff”.

Mystical Stuff
The Secret

There is a word μύω [myo] meaning “I initiate“. In quite a completed sequence of ancient creativity, that word could mean “to introduce someone to something” or “to make someone familiar with something”. Oddly, it entered the religious ceremonies, first pagan in which it was considered the best kept secret of the temple. As a result, “mystical stuff” were things from people’s beliefs, things that were not clear or easily explained. After that, the New Testament adopted the related word μυστήριον [mysterion], that also happens to sound familiar to us (laugh), as a “hidden thing”.

As this article came to an end, I can’t wait for more, because there are much more Greek etymologies to talk about!

Notice: all the words presented in this article are written with Modern Greek orthography as most of them are widely used in the contemporary version of the language. A little bit of sources:

Plastic, retrieved on January 18, 2021

Mystery explained, (religious website), retrieved on January 19, 2021

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