These are just five of the elements from the periodic table whose Latin and Greek roots yield memorable English derivatives.
Au: In an English-speaking classroom, there is no rhyme or reason for Au to mean gold. Mnemonic devices can help – A U, that’s my gold! – but they don’t deliver long-term, meaningful memory.
The real reason Au means gold? In Latin, gold is aurum. It gives English derivatives Aureate, Aureole, and Aureolin.
H: An easier mnemonic device: H is for Hydrogen. But so much more meaningful to teach the Greek roots: Hydro means ‘water’, while Gen means ‘production of’.
Hydro gives us hydroplane, gliding on water, hydroelectric, producing energy from water, and hydrology, the branch of science dealing with water cycles.
Gen gives us genesis, the production of new life, genes, producing hereditary characteristics, and generator, which produces energy.
He: Helium comes straight from Helios, the Greek word for sun. Therefore, a heliotrope is a plant that turns toward the sun, heliolatry is the worship of the sun, and a helioscope allows one safely to view the sun.
Pb: A plumber works with lead and similar metals, plumbiferous paints or toys are hazardous to children, a plumb bob is dangled to determine perpendicularity. If you’re building an addition on your house, you want it plumb, don’t you?
And yes, plumbum means lead in Latin. More derivatives? Plumbery, plumbous, plumbism.
Fe: For Romans, ferrum meant not only iron, but also a sword. This Roman word has given us many scientific derivatives, such as ferreous, containing iron, and ferrometer, a device for measuring magnetic permeability.
Use the roots of these words in your chemistry lesson plans and your lessons will come alive.
Ductile & Inductile: A ductile metal is pliable or yielding, i.e. it can be shaped or hammered thin. One that is inductile is too hard to be pliable. Both words come from the Latin verb ducere, which means to lead or conduct.
Luminous: A luminous element is one that reflects light, i.e. bright, shining, or radiant. It comes from a Latin word meaning light: lumen. Lumen has many English derivatives.
Amorphous: An amorphous substance lacks shape, has no pattern or structure. It is the opposite of crystalline. The Greek roots are a-, meaning not, and morph, meaning shape. There a many English derivatives to teach and learn.
Ingredient: An ingredient is literally something that has entered into a mixture. The Latin root means to step. See dozens of English vocabulary words through the Latin root gradior, and make Latin an ingredient in your chemistry lesson plans.