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Welcome to issue #52 of Words Matter, our bi-weekly newsletter. Please feel free to share with a friend!
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Where'd it go?
Geologists--people who study the earth-- say that the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia was once part of a majestic mountain range that would rival the Alps. All that remain are rock outcroppings, caverns, rolling hills, and lots of fossils--magnificent leftovers, but puny compared to the one-time mountainous majesty.
Words, too, often contain fossils. An original root morpheme may lurk hidden in a modern word in barely recognizable form. Often the presence of silent letters in the spelling of a word indicates language "erosion". The silent gh in night and light are traces of the sounds we still see and hear in nocturnal or translucent. The silent b in debt still shows that word's family kinship with the word debit.
Speaking of family kinship, take a look at the root gen, meaning basically anything born. The word kin is itself a variation of that root, found in gene, genesis, progeny, genealogy, and many other words relating to family and offspring (note kindergarten--a place for children to blossom).
In biology class you learn that a genus is a type or related group, and that its plural is genera. One genus, two genera. From that plural we derive words spelled with gener (general, generic, generate, etc.).
The word germ (as in the germ of an idea) shows evidence of the original root. In previous articles here, you have run into the word cognate, 'born together', as two different words may be derived from the same source (regal and royal, for example). Notice that in cognate, the root gen- has dropped its middle e to appear as gn.
A subgroup of words relating to birth reveals a piece of the original root: nature, natal, renaissance ("rebirth"). To be naive is to act or think as one just born. The word née alerts a reader to the original family name of a woman who has changed her surname, while also reducing the root morpheme to a puny shadow of its origin.
One last fossil: the word puny contains mere remnants of the prefix post plus the root gen. Puny means 'developed afterward or late'! What majestic kin we can find innate in simple words! --R.D. "Doc" Larrick
Enjoy this brief student video on the root GENER that comes directly from WordBuildonLine Elements Level 2.
The root GENER
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