Did you know that 'fantastic' and 'phenotype' are etymological relatives?

Daniel de Haas used some word datasets to create “ancestral trees” that linked words together, helping him find words that had the same root but were semantically different. A few examples:

“piano” & “plainclothed”

“Piano” is a shortened form of the Italian word “pianoforte”, which means “soft-loud”. The “piano” part comes from Latin “planus”, meaning “level, flat, even”, and which is also the source of the word “plain” and eventually “plainclothed”.

“potable” & “poison”

One of many of the pairs of words in these results that seem obvious once pointed out, “potable” and “poison” both ultimately come from Latin “potare”, meaning “to drink”. “Potare” also gives English the word “potion”, a close cousin of “poison”.

“fantastic” & “phenotype”

“Fantastic” and “phenotype” both descend from the Greek “phainein”, meaning “show”.

The path from “phainein” to “phenotype” is fairly plain, but “fantastic” takes a longer path via Greek “phantos” (“visible”) ➔ Greek “phantazesthai” (“have visions, imagine”) ➔ Greek “phantastikos” (“imaginary, fantastic”) ➔ Old French “fantastique” (“fantastic”).

The leap from a word meaning “imaginary” to a word meaning “fantastic” struck me as odd initially, but apparently it comes from the sense of the word “imaginary” as “unreal”.

I love etymology so much!

Other blogs on etymology: the etymological identity crisis of Arctic bears, daughters, milking cows, and etymological debates, and Language Log discovers the word ‘yeet’ (and so do I, kinda)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.