Latin Roots: CIRCUM

Latin roots are the most powerful tool for learning vocabulary in English. Circum occurs in so many words it would be impossible to list them all here. But students who know how to apply it will increase their vocabulary by dozens of words.

Latin Word of the Week (October 22, 2008)


Last week, we saw that pecunia makes the world go round. But what about the Latin roots of the prefix for round?

In Latin, the word circum, meaning around, is both a prefix and a preposition. Romans used the word as a prefix for verbs and in prepositional phrases.

In English today we have dozens of important vocabulary words using this root. Some of them your students will certainly know already, others will be new for most.

Circumnavigate: to sail around. Magellan circumnavigated the world. Well, actually he died first, but his ship made it all the way around.

Circumvent: to find a way around, to bypass. The mayor tried to circumvent the law in seeking a third term in office.

Circumspect: looking around, i.e. careful, vigilant. The defendant was circumspect in answering the prosecutor's questions.

Circumstances: how things stand in the surrounding area. Considering the current economic circumstances, if you can pay your mortgage you are doing alright.

Circumlocute: to speak around. My mom grew tired of my circumlocutions, and she demanded a straight answer.

Circumference: to bring around. She built a fence on the circumference of her property.

Circumcise: to cut around.

Circumfix: to add both a prefix and a suffix to a root word. For example, circumnavigating, indebtedness.

Circumflect: to bend around. The plumber circumflected the gas pipes around the stove pipe.

Circumfluent: flowing around; encompassing. The rock star stood sigining autgraphs admidst the circumfluent crowd of fans.

Circumjacent: lying around, surrounding. She kept an immaculate home in contrast to the circumjacent squalor of the neighborhood.

Circumscribe: to draw a line around. The teen driver was circumscribed by a few simple rules: Don't drive after dark and never more than one friend in the car.

Latin Roots of the Circus:

Our modern circus, the big top with dancing elephants and unicycling clowns, can be traced back to the Roman public entertainments. Chariot races, wild beast hunts, gladiator fights and such spectacles were held in circular arenas.

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