Is This English Word Latin or Germanic?


By: Elisabeth Henderson

6 Min Quiz

Image: WIN-Initiative / Stone / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The English language has a rich and complex history, inseparable from the history of the people who have spoken the language over millennia. Linguists believe that English developed from the speculative Proto-Indo-European language spoken by pre-historic peoples. This language branched into several offshoots, including Germanic, which in turn split into North, West and East Germanic. From the West Germanic offshoot, Old English came into being and was in use from 450 to 1066 A.D. This early form of English shifted into Middle English, which transformed gradually into Modern English around 1550. 

The development of Modern English coincided with the intellectual revival of the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, artists and writers rediscovered the vast knowledge of ancient civilizations — foremost among them the Romans and the Greeks. Among the words brought into English during the Renaissance, 70% of them derived from Latin and Greek, according to Donald M. Ayers’ book, “English Words from Greek and Latin Elements.”  Many of these words have been fully assimilated into English, taking on English grammatical forms and spellings. Others maintain the original form and spelling. 

The distinction between whether a word is of Germanic or Latin roots is more than a question of whether a word was taken from German or from Latin. English as a language has grown from Germanic roots. Latinate words in English were brought in and added onto the language. Of course, some Germanic words also entered the vocabulary later on and maintain a distinctly German spelling. The Online Etymology Dictionary provides an excellent resource for tracking down word origins. 

Can you distinguish language that’s alive from animate language? Get back to your language roots with this quiz! 

If you plan to “stock” up on blueberries for the year by going berrying at a nearby farm, what language family are you close to?

“Stock” derives from the Old English word “stocc,” for the trunk of a tree. The meaning of a supply to keep for later didn’t adhere to the word until the 15th century, and scholars are not clear on how the meanings are related.


When someone says they are “assembling” all the turkeys to decide which to have for the holiday, which language tradition do they follow?

The word “assemble” came into English from the Old French in the 14th century. Earlier Latin roots of the word show that it comes from “assimilare,” meaning to “become alike.” Only later did the word connote coming together in a group rather than just becoming more alike.


If your partner has “nocturnal” habits, what can you assume?

“Nocturnal” has Latin roots and means “belonging to the night.” The prefix, noct, comes from the Latin nox-, which is a cognate with the Old English “neaht.” The suffix, “urnal” is simply used to show that this word relates to time.


If a friend tells you that she writes in her notebook “daily,” where does her language stem from?

The word “daily” originates in Old English and thus is Germanic. “Daily” bears strong resemblance to the Old English “dglic,” so it has been part of the English language for about 1,000 years.


If someone mentioned that they were frying up some “venison” for the evening, what language family would their word choice hearken back to?

The word “venison” began as a Latin verb, “venari,” meaning “to hunt.” The Germanic form of the oft-hunted antlered animal is “deer,” which originally meant any wild animal that one would hunt. Apparently deer are the quintessential hunting animal.


If you wanted to use a Germanic word to describe that something came out to be basically the same as something else, which word would you choose?

The word “even” derives from the ancient, proto-Germanic “ebna.” A synonym for “even,” “equal,” came into English in the 14th century from the Latin “aequalis.“ “Equal,” though, means identical and exact, whereas “even” can mean more generally “level.”


If you are running at a quick pace in a Germanic term, which adverb do you choose?

The Germanic word "fast," from the Old English "faeste," did not originally have to do with speed. The earlier meanings of the word had to do with being held firmly, held fast. Scholars believe the meaning of speed came into being through Scandinavian influence, as running firmly and vigorously came to be called "fast."


If you go to a Germanic fortune-teller, what will they do to your future?

“Foretell,” the Germanic form, and “predict,” the Latin, both have nearly the exact same meaning: “to say before” or to tell something before it happens. The Old English for “tell,” though, has a slightly different nuance. It can mean to reckon, to think, and to consider, in addition to just speaking.


When your new acquaintance mentioned that they were feeling “amicable” toward you, what did you suspect about them?

The Latin-derived word “amicable” has a slightly more distanced meaning attached to it than the Germanic “friendly.” “Amicable” can mean “pleasant,” in addition to “friendly,” while “friend” originally meant “lover or friend.”


When a friend says they would like to give you a “present,” what do you intuit?

The words “gift” (from Old English/Germanic) and “present” (from Old French/Latin) both have multiple meanings. “Gift” has long held the meaning of luck or talent along with a thing given. “Present” arises from the other meaning of “presence,” originally meaning “to offer in the presence of.”


When you “guess” how much a bear weighs as it’s chasing you, what language tradition are you drawing from?

The verb “guess” arises from the Old English “gessen,” “to infer from observation.” It’s related also to “get,” which took its relevance from hunting. The Latin version, “estimate,” has to do with assigning value, or “esteem” to something.


When you take a “holiday,” from where are you taking your word?

The Old English, Germanic word “holiday” holds its early meaning as a “holy day,” a day set apart, often for religious observance. The Latin “vacation,” has a more vacuous meaning: “free from obligations, time for leisure.” It comes from “vacare,” “to be empty.”


If you are having a Latinate urge to scratch, what is ailing you?

The Latinate word “irritation” came into English in the 15th century to describe sores. The word in Latin and Old French meant “stimulus, incitement, wrath or anger.” So the feeling of burning and itchiness was described as the skin’s anger.


If you desire to visit an “island” for your time off work, what language family are your fantasies drawing from?

The word “island” derives from Old English “iegland,” the “thing on the water.” This word, while very similar in appearance to the Latinate “isle,” is allegedly not etymologically related to it. The origin of “isle” is not determined and may have been brought into Latin from an unknown language.


If you wanted to ponder aloud what kind of folk you were among with a Germanic inflection, what would you say?

The Germanic word “ilk” comes from the Old English “ilca,” for “the same.” The word first applied to family groups and then broadened out to other categories and came to mean “of a kind,” or the same sort.


If someone asks you if you “recognize” them, what are they really saying?

The word “recognize” can be traced to its Old French “recognizance,” meaning, “to know again.” The verb also, in the 15th century, took on the meaning of taking back land that once belonged to you.


If you tell your teacher that you made a “mistake,” what do you hope they understand?

The Germanic word “mistake” has a strong image associated with it. It comes from the Old English words for “wrongly” and “take or seize.” So, originally a mistake seems to have to do with taking something that doesn’t belong to you.


How would you communicate that the sun was directly overhead from a Latin perspective?

The word “noon,” has roots in Latin, coming from “non,” for nine. “Noon” used to signify the ninth hour after sunrise, three o’clock. Nones was also a time for afternoon prayer. “Non,” however, also derives from Old English, so this word has Germanic roots as well.


When your friends suggest going to do karaoke and you hate singing, how do you suggest a Germanic option?

The Germanic word “else” finds its roots in the Proto-Germanic word “aljiiz,” meaning “other.” Early Germanics, upon being faced with the prospect of karaoke, may well have said, “anything other than this.”


When someone complains that they have “stale” bread, what language tradition upholds their view?

The Germanic word “stale” is often used to describe bread that has sat out for too long and has become hard. The original Old English word, though, has a less negative connotation, meaning “settled.” It was used to describe beer that had sat out long enough to let the particles settle down.


If your dining partner requests the mutton, what language tradition are they hailing?

The Latinate word “mutton” comes into English from the French “mouton.” Aside from the confusion about what language the word comes from, there is a discrepancy about what type of meat you get when ordering mutton vs. lamb. Mutton generally refers to the meat of an adult sheep, whereas lamb refers to young meat.


When you pop into a “shop” to poke around for some sweaters to give as gifts to celebrate fall, what language family supports your word choice?

The Germanic word for an establishment that offers items for sale, “shop,” comes from an Old English word meaning “barn.” The Latin word, “store,” on the other hand, had the meaning both for constructing a building and storing provisions.


If you want to give a Germanic tone to a warning about a slithering creature on the path, what do you say?

The Germanic word “snake” and the Latinate word “serpent” both derive from verbs for “to creep or crawl” in their respective languages. Both languages also use the word in figurative senses to describe someone who is out to trick you.


If you have a “thought” about something you’d like to do on a pleasant summer day, what language tradition are you operating in?

The Germanic word “thought” contained some of the same meaning we now ascribe to it in its Old English form, ”process of thinking, a thought.” It also connoted something that is not always thought of as thought: “compassion.” The Latin “idea” is connected to the Platonic ideals, the forms.


If you wonder aloud what will “ensue” if you take a risky line of work, what language tradition do you ponder in?

The Latinate word “ensue” follows the French word “ensivre,” “to follow close upon.” The Old English-derived word, “follow,” also has the meaning of to accompany, adding a meaning of discipleship.


When a father “forbids” his children to dress up as goblins for Halloween, what language tradition is he channeling?

“Forbid” hails from the Old English “forbeodan.” “For” meant “against,” and “beodan” meant “command.” The word for “command” held the meaning “to make aware,” making the original meaning “to make aware against” something.


When a person proposes a toast to “liberty,” which language tradition are they celebrating in?

The word “liberty” has roots in Old French and Latin before that. The word entered into English in the 14th century, from the French meaning of “free choice, free will.” The older, Latin word, “libertatum,” had a more literal civil and political meaning of freedom from bondage.


Which of the following words could you use to show in a Germanic tone that someone used to be your lover?

“Former” comes from the Old English, Germanic word “forma,” meaning first in time. The Latin version, “previous,” means going before and has the roots for the road before. So, the Latin version contains the image of going on the road before you.


How would you communicate a sense of pleasure to someone who only understands Latinate words?

The Latin-derived word “joy” comes from the word “gaudia,” which meant “expressions of joy,” as in the act of rejoicing. The French took this word and attached to it the meaning of pleasure, including erotic pleasure. The Germanic version, “gladness” comes from an Old English word meaning brightness.


If you pray to "God," which language tradition do you pray in?

The Old English word, “god,” has retained its form over the millennia. The word describes the “supreme being or the image of a god.” The word may have come from the Proto-Indo-European root, “ghut,” which meant “that which is invoked.”


When you say that a brisket smoked for 14 hours is “good,” which language family are you dining with?

The Germanic word “good” derives from the Old English “god,” spelled like the word for god, but with a long vowel sound. The word came from the Proto-Indo-European word for “fitting.” The Latin version, “beneficial” holds the meaning of “advantageous.”


If you “forsook” a ship, in what language family would you be abandoning it?

The word “forsake” comes from the Old English roots “for,” meaning “completely,” and “sacan,” to “struggle, accuse, or blame.” The word shows a connection between turning against something or someone and the struggle that may be entailed in doing so. So, if you forsook a ship, you abandoned it.


When you want to pose a question to a friend about what you should have for dinner, and you want to imply Latin cuisine, what are you doing?

The Latin-derived word for asking, “inquire” means “to ask a question, but it also has the meaning, “to learn by asking.” The Old English variation also has the meaning of “demand,” and it comes from an earlier word for “wish.”


When your child says that their “belly” hurts, what language tradition communicates their pain?

The English word “belly” comes from the Old English “belg,” meaning “bag.” The word did not transition to carry the meaning of the stomach until the 12th century and was associated with gluttony.


If someone asks you what “color” you prefer to eat in a bag of jelly beans, what language family do they snack with?

“Color” comes into English in the 13th century from the French. Both the French and the Latin before it had the meaning of complexion of the skin as well as color in general. The Proto-Indo-European root it comes from, “kel,” had the sense of “to color or conceal.”


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