Colorful Words from the Greek

Several Greek color words have enriched the English vocabulary.

We get the combining form melano from the Greek word meaning dark or black.

melancholy: a gloomy mental state; according to ancient physiology, a humor called “black bile” was secreted by the kidneys and the spleen, and was thought to cause melancholia.

melanoma: a skin tumor containing a dark pigment.

melanin: any dark brown or black pigments of animal or plant structures, for example, hair, or the surface of a raw potato when exposed to air.

The element leuk in certain medical terms is from the Greek word for white.

leukemia: a chronic disease characterized by an abnormal increase in the number of white blood cells.

leukocyte: a white blood cell.

The Greek word for red gives us the combining form erythro, which is used in the specialized terminology of medicine, chemistry, and mineralogy.

erythrophyll: the red coloring matter of leaves in autumn.

erythroretin: a resinous constituent of rhubarb root.

erythroscope: an optical contrivance, by which the green of foliage is caused to appear red, while all other green objects retain their natural color.

erythrocyte: a red blood corpuscle.

Cyan is the Greek word for dark blue, but what artists call “cyan blue” is a color midway between green and blue.

cyanide: an extremely poisonous crystalline solid. It got its name because it was first obtained by heating the dye pigment known as Prussian blue.

cyanin: the blue coloring matter of certain flowers (e.g., violets and cornflowers).

cyanosis: blueness of the skin owing to the circulation of imperfectly oxygenated blood.

The Greek word from which we get the combining form chlor described a pale green.

chloroform: volatile liquid used as an anesthetic. Chloroform is colorless; it got its name as the result of combining the words chlorine andformic, as in formic acid.

chlorophyll: the coloring matter of the leaves and other green parts of plants.

chlorine: a yellowish-green heavy gas.

Finally, the Greek word for color gives us the combining form chromo, which creates nouns and adjectives that denote colored objects, coloring processes, and coloring agents:

chromatic: full of color.

polychrome: art executed in many colors.

chromium: a metallic element remarkable for the brilliant colors–red, yellow, or green–of its compounds.

(from Daily Writing Tips, Maeve Maddox, 2014)


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