The Word Guy: Versatile syllable 'ped' is afoot in English
Ed Collins of West Newton, Pa. writes to ask how the syllable “ped” can have three meanings: “foot” (as in “pedal”), “child” (as in “pediatrician”) and “teacher” (as in “pedagogue”).
Ed, meet “ped,” one of the most-versatile syllables in English. “Ped” actually has five distinct meanings, each derived from a different Latin, Greek or Egyptian root.
Like a podiatrist examining a patient's toes, I'll take each meaning one at a time. This little piggy went ...
• The “ped” in “pedal” derives from the Latin word “pes, pedis” (foot). It's clearly afoot in words, such as “pedestrian,” “pedestal” and “podiatrist,” but also tiptoes into several other foot-related words, including “podium” (a base on which the feet stand), “impeach” (from the Latin “pedica,” meaning “a fetter that ensnares the feet”) and even “pedigree” (because the descending branches of a genealogical chart reminded someone of a crane's foot, “pi‚ de grue” in French).
“Ped” even pioneered the word “pioneer.” The Late Latin “pedo” meant “one who has broad feet.” So when the French astutely noted that foot soldiers have broad feet — all that marching! — they adopted “pedo” as “peonier,” which later came to mean a person who ventures, often on foot, into a new area.
• “Pediatrician” and other “ped” words related to children are derived from the Greek word for “boy” (“paido”). This root also gives us “pedogogue” (literally, “a leader of boys” in Greek), but “pedagogue” and its twin, “pedant,” have since come to mean, respectively, “someone who instructs in a dogmatic manner” and “someone who makes a show of learning.”
• Speaking of making a show of learning, did you know that “pedology” is the study of soil? Neither did I. “Pedology” derives from the Greek “pedon” (earth).
(Call this a “foot”note, but was the Greek “pedon” inspired by “pes, pedis” because soil is underfoot? Alas, such speculation has no sure linguistic footing.)
• “Pediment,” the triangular gable on classical buildings such as the Parthenon, derives not from Greek or Latin but from the Egyptian word for another triangular structure: “pyramid.”
• Ever wonder what “pediculosis” means? I'll give you a hint: “Pedis” is the Latin word for “louse” so “pediculosis” is an infestation of ... It's enough to make you squeal “wee, wee, wee” all the way home.
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send reports of misuse , as well as examples of good writing, via email to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates will play NL wild-card game at PNC Park after shutting out Reds
- Nothing normal about Steelers’ standard as backups fill vital roles
- Pirates notebook: Huntington weighs whether wild-card round should be expanded
- Penguins notebook: Farnham relishes making opening-night roster
- Power plants challenged by carbon capture and storage
- Pittsburgh Police Department to expand use of body cameras for officers
- Pittsburgh’s bike sharing service starts off healthy
- Energy efficiency goes mainstream with help of regulations, consumer demand
- Auction Watch: Furniture, china sales show signs of life; law office’s art goes on block
- Manor festival will help animal shelters, rescues
- Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s 125th anniversary bash raises stunning $11.9 million