10 Words Originating From Greek Mythology

English is a fascinating language, particularly in that most of our words come from other languages. While most words come from some sort of root words that have travelled from ancient languages to more modern lexicons, some come from myths and stories of gods and goddesses, particularly from stories from ancient Greece. Here are a few fascinating English words with roots dating back to stories of Zeus and his fellow gods.


If you’re familiar with Greek myths, then you’ll immediately recognize the name of the Titan who was forced to hold up the heavens after angering the Olympians. Even if you didn’t recognize his name from myth though, you certainly recognized the modern use of the term for a group of maps. The connection is logical, but it wasn’t used in the cartography until the sixteenth century. Image Via Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez [Wikipedia]

Chronological and Chronic

These words may not seem to have much in common definition-wise, but there is a good reason they start with the same root –they are both related to time. Chronology deals with the way events happened over the course of time and chronic describes something that takes place over a long period of time. Wondering where we got these words? Well, they are all related to Chronos, the god of time. Image Via Jorbasa [Flickr]


This is one of the more famous Greek stories-turned-words. In the ancient tales, Echo was a mountain nymph who talks excessively with her gorgeous voice. Her voice was so lovely that she would often distract Zeus’ wife Hera with her long and entertaining stories while Zeus would sneak away and make love with the other mountain nymphs. When Hera found out about Echo’s role in her husband’s activities, she punished her by taking away her ability to speak, except in repetition of the words of others. There are many differing ends to the story, but in all of them, Echo eventually dies in some heartbreaking manner, leaving her voice to haunt the earth, where it can still be heard to this day.


This word comes from the Greek character Eros, but you probably know him as his more famous Roman name –Cupid. Eros was the god not only of love, but of sexual desire. As a result, his interventions often cause gods and men to fall in love, often when already married. Image Via Eric Pouhier [Wikipedia]


Ever been in a highly-suggestible sleep-like state? Well, you can thank Hypnos for your condition as he was the god of sleep who lived in a dark cave where the sun never penetrates. His home had no doors or gates lest he be awakened by creaking of hinges. Other words have been derived from his Roman name, Somnus, most notably, insomnia. Image Via McMillan and Gage [Flickr]


The famous drug that puts you in a dream-like state actually got its name from Hypnos’ brother, Morpheus (you know, like the guy in the Matrix). Morpheus was the god of dreams and actually had the ability to take human form and appear in people’s dreams.


This might just be the most famous of all the myths on this list. Narcissus was a gorgeous man, half-nymph and half-god, who was so proud of his own looks that he disdained all who dared love him. Eventually, Nemesis (our next word on the list) punished him by luring Narcissus to a pool of water where he could see his own reflection. At this point, there are two endings to the tale, neither of them particularly good. In one version, Narcissus realizes he could never find anyone as attractive as himself, so he finally gives up and kills himself. In the other, Narcissus doesn’t realize it is an image and falls in love with the reflection, refusing to leave its side until he eventually succumbs to hunger.


These days, a nemesis is a rival or enemy, but if Nemesis was against you in ancient Greece, you must have done something bad to anger her. That’s because Nemesis was the god who took revenge against those who showed arrogance before the gods. Long ago, the term was used to simply mean someone who distributed fortune as it was deserved, good or bad. It wasn’t until the 4th century that the word started to mean someone who felt resentment towards another.


Next time you’re tantalized by something you can’t have, just think of poor Tantalus and how miserable he must have been. Of course, he kind of brought his punishment upon himself. Tantalus was a half-god and half-nymph who was invited to dine at Zeus’ table in Olympus. He then stole ambrosia and nectar along with other secrets of the gods and brought them to the mortals. Later on, he offered his own son as a sacrifice to the gods and served him at a banquet. The gods learned of his plan and rebuilt the boy and brought him back to life, disgusted by Tantalus’ plan. As punishment for his misdeeds, Tantalus was forced to stand in a pool of water below a fruit tree with low-hanging branches. Whenever he would reach down to take a drink, the waters would recede and whenever he reached up to pluck some fruit, the branches would rise up out of his reach. Thus Tantalus spent the rest of eternity being tantalized by water and food that he could never have. These are, of course, only a handful of the hundreds and hundreds of Greek myths, many of which have played a fascinating role in modern English words –and I didn’t even include any of the Roman versions that have entered our lexicon. Do you guys know of any other Greek or Roman tales that have inspired common English words? Sources: Your Dictionary, Grose Educational Media, Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9

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The name of the gem amethyst comes the Greek for "not drunken", as it was supposed to shield the wearer from intoxication. A Greek myth tells of a virgin, Amethystos, who was chased by Dionysus. She prayed to the goda to remain pure and Artemis answered her by making her a white stone. The repentant Dionysus poured his purple wine on her and thus she became the purple stone we know today.
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Argh! Your comment system doesn't show Greek fonts (that's what all the ???? are).

And to answer Nick Gizburne's question
here Wikipedia says it in the first sentence of the article.
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I'm Greek and I approve of this post :)

I always enjoy how, despite the fact that the Greek language (as indeed every language) has evolved over time, many words remain unchanged over 2500+ years. For example Chronos (??????), Hypnos (?????), Echo (???) are the modern Greek words for time, sleep and... echo.

Also, Chronos (God of time) should not be confused with Kronos (lat. Cronus or Saturn, the father of Zeus).
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