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Word of the week


desperately wanting to achieve a goal, working hard to achieve it

Why does AMBITIOUS mean what it means? It has an unexpected explanation!

AMBI / AMPHI - both

I/IT - going

OUS - full of, by nature

So, rather strangely, it literally means 'going both of two ways', or 'going to and fro'.

AMBITIOUS comes from the Latin word AMBITIO, and it described the activities of Ancient Roman political candidates who desperate to win votes. In the run-up to their elections, they would dash about, to and fro, chatting to people, currying favour and flattering, trying their hardest to win people's support. It was the Ancient Roman equivalent of getting on the campaign bus, leafleting, and knocking on doors wearing large rosettes!

The prefix AMBI is seen in AMBIDEXTROUS - when you can use both hands equally well: it literally translates from Latin as 'both hands are right hands'! AMBI has the sense of 'around' in the word 'AMBIENCE' - the surrounding atmosphere (literally 'to-ing-and-fro-ing-ness'!).

AMBI is also linked to the Ancient Greek prefix AMPHI in AMPHIBIOUS (able to live (-BIO-) in both, i.e. in water and on land - think frogs and newts) and AMPHITHEATRE: to the Greeks and Romans a THEATRE was always semicircular, so the circular or oval shape of an AMPHITHEATRE was therefore 'two theatres', 'a theatre at both ends', or 'a theatre all around'.

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a policy of avoiding political or military involvement with other countries

What do a policy of keeping yourself to yourself, and thick wadding in your loft have in common? The Latin word INSULA, that's what!

ISOL - island (from Old French ISOLE and Latin INSULA, both meaning 'island')

ATE - to make into, become

TION - act, process, result

ISM - belief, system, practice

ISOLATIONISM is usually used in a political sense, when a country withdraws from much interaction with the international community, believing this to be the best way of defending its borders, interests and beliefs. The country is metaphorically trying to make itself into an island, separate from its neighbours.

The word ISOLATE, meaning 'to keep something or someone on their own', is often used in a medical sense, when trying to contain a disease, or in a psychological sense, when someone feels alone, with no one to turn to.

ISOLE also gives us our word ISLE and ISLET, although strangely enough, not ISLAND! ISLAND comes from Old English IEGLAND, but probably changed its spelling over the years because of ISLE.

The original root word INSULA has more practical or physical uses in English, often with the idea of creating a barrier to protect something, just as the sea is a barrier between an island and the mainland.

INSULATION - the thick wadding used to keep a building warm (you are using the wadding to create a barrier between the warm interior and the cold exterior: TION - act, process, result)

INSULATOR - a material which blocks electricity from flowing through it (OR - a person or thing performing an action)

PENINSULA - a narrow stretch of land jutting into the sea and surrounded by the sea almost all the way round: it is ALMOST an ISLAND, and the PEN bit comes from Latin PAENE - 'almost'

INSULIN also comes from INSULA - the glucose-controlling hormone is made in an area of the pancreas called the ISLETS of Langerhans.

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a fraud, a person who pretends to be someone else, especially to gain money or power by deceit

IMPOSTOR is sometimes also spelled IMPOSTER, but both the endings mean the same thing:

IM - in, into, on

POST - place, put (from Latin PONO - to place, put)

OR - a person who...

An IMPOSTOR is literally a person who puts upon you, or deceives you.

A past tense form of the verb PONO is POSITUM, so we see several forms in English words: PONE, POSE and POSIT.

DEPOSIT - to put something down (DE - down, away, opposite)

EXPOSE - to put something out, i.e. into the public eye (EX - out, out of)

POSITION - the act or result of placing something somewhere (TION - act, process, result of an action)

POSTPONE - we say 'to put off', but literally it translates as 'to put afterwards, to put later' (POST - after)

PROPOSAL - an idea to put forward (PRO - forward)

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success brought about by skill, courage and effort

Although the origins of this word are in Latin (as usual!), it comes to us through an Old French phrase.

A/AD - to, towards, into

CHIEVE - head (from French CHEF - head)

MENT - result of an action

In French, the verb ACHEVER comes from the old phrase A CHEF VENIR, which meant 'to come to a close, finish'. The modern sense of 'to complete, finish successfully' developed from there. The French use the word CHEF to mean 'head', as in the body part with eyes, ears, hair, etc., and also as in the head of a company, school, project, etc. When we use the word CHEF in English we are actually referring to the head of the kitchen in a restaurant, who is always the chief cook.

Other words linked to the French word CHEF are:

CHIEF - the head person

MISCHIEF - bad behaviour, naughtiness; literally 'to come to a head badly' (MIS = wrong, bad)

KERCHIEF - a square cloth covering for the head, from French COUVRIR - to cover, and COUVRECHEF - a head covering

HANDKERCHIEF - a KERCHIEF held in the hand and used to wipe faces, noses, etc.!

Interestingly, the English phrase 'to come to a head' is a direct translation of the French phrase. We now use it in the sense of 'to come to a critical point, to come to the climax'. Since the critical point of something is usually the big reveal in a mystery or the big showdown in an ongoing argument, etc., we can still see its original meaning.

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a promise of support, usually charitable or professional

SPONSORSHIP is a PROMISE to give support:

SPONS - promise (from Latin SPONDEO - to promise, pledge, bail)

OR - a person who

SHIP - position, status, quality, practice

SPONSORSHIP can be charitable or might provide professional support: you might SPONSOR someone to run a marathon for charity by promising them an amount of money for their fundraising, for instance, or a company might SPONSOR an event by providing funding, materials or services.

The Latin verb SPONDEO is the link between RESPOND, RESPONSIBLE and DESPONDENT.

Although we usually use RESPOND to mean 'reply, answer', it originally meant that you were actually answering 'yes' to a request for something, so you were promising something in return (RE- again, back).

Taking RESPONSIBILITY for something means you are answerable or accountable for it.

When you are feeling DESPONDENT you are giving up, going back on your pledge (DE- down, away, remove).

Finally, SPOUSE is an old-fashioned word for a husband or wife, coming from SPONSA and SPONSUS, the Latin words for a bride and bridegroom: two people betrothed or PROMISED to each other in marriage. The modern Spanish words ESPOSA and ESPOSO, and Italian SPOSA and SPOSO, also meaning bride and bridegroom, are also traced back to this Latin verb.

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large-scale destruction, massacre

The word HOLOCAUST has its origins in ancient religious practices: it only took on its current general meaning in the 1600s, and it became the proper name for the genocide of Jewish people by the Nazis during the Second World War as late as 1957.

From Ancient Greek:

HOLOS - whole, complete

KAUSTOS - burnt

Originally HOLOCAUST was a biblical word (much of the New Testament was written in Greek) referring to the burning of sacrificed animals as part of the offering to God: a burnt offering.

We see HOLO in HOLISTIC (an approach to improving life, especially health, which considers everything in someone's life, not just the symptoms of the problem) and CAUSTIC is often used on its own, meaning BURNING - both literally, in CAUSTIC SODA (used to clear drains, strip paint, etc.) and metaphorically as a synonym for sarcastic, cutting.

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dull, dark; feeling sad or serious

SOMBRE is a mash of two Latin words:

SUB - under

UMBRA - a shade, shadow

If the mood is SOMBRE, you are feeling 'under a shadow' - or, as the English metaphor has it, 'under a cloud'.

SUB often changes when fixed to the beginning of other words, e.g. SUB + PRESS = SUPPRESS (to press down).

Other UMBRA words are:

SOMBRERO - the wide-brimmed, Mexican straw or felt hat giving shade to the wearer

OMBRE - in hair styles and home decor, the blending of different shades of one colour along an area of hair, fabric, wall, etc., going from dark to light or vice versa

UMBRELLA - 'a little shade': although we in Britain think of this as protection from the rain, originally an umbrella was the same as a parasol, providing shade from the sun

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the quality of being a bit strange, unconventional, not central

ECCENTRICITY has both literal and metaphorical uses:

EC/EX - out, out of (sometimes with the implication of 'out of and over, above')

CENTR - centre, middle

IC - to do with

ITY - state, quality, condition

Most people will be more familiar with its metaphorical usage, as a synonym for strange behaviour, oddness, quirky characteristics, or being an oddball. This sense arose in the early 19th Century, and implies someone or something not following the crowd - metaphorically not sticking to central ground.

When ECCENTRIC is used in more technical and scientific contexts, however, it has a much more literal sense: off-centre. It might refer to a planet whose orbit is not circular, a circle which does not share a centre with another (if they do share a central point, they are CONCENTRIC - 'centred together'), or of machinery with an axis or other part not placed centrally.

Other EC/EX words are ECSTASY (the condition of being out of, or above, a normal emotional state), ECZEMA (literally 'bubbling out, boiling out' - it was the name ancient physicians gave to any skin infection or condition); and EXCLAMATION (the act (TION) of shouting out (EX); from Latin CLAMO 'to shout')

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the belief that the self is all that can be known, or all that exists

SOLIPSISM breaks down into two Latin words with an English suffix:

SOLUS - alone, only

IPSE - self

ISM - belief, system, practice

This is a philosophical idea, that the only thing you can truly know is real or exists is your own self: everything else could simply be a figment of your imagination. Some child development experts believe that babies and young children are SOLIPSISTS, until they are able to understand that other people have experiences similar to their own, and can develop empathy with others.

Other words linked to SOLIPSISM are:

SOLILOQUY: a speech for a single character in a play (LOQU = words)
SOLITUDE: the condition of being alone (TUDE = condition)
IPSILATERAL: to do with or belonging to the same side of the body (LATERAL = side)
IPSO FACTO: by that very fact, due to that fact itself (a Latin phrase used in English)

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untidy, dishevelled, unbrushed or unwashed

UNKEMPT comes from a verb which died out with Middle English (spoken from around 1100-1500 - think Chaucer!):

UN - not

KEMP - from KEMBEN: to comb (M. English)

T - an old past tense of some verbs

We see the old past tense T-ending in words such as SLEPT, KEPT, WEPT and DREAMT.

Although the verb KEMBEN died out, it left behind our word COMB, and also the job title KEMPSTER: this was a woman who cleaned and COMBED the wool after sheep-shearing, before it was passed on to the SPINSTER, the woman who spun the fluffy wool into yarn, ready for weaving by the WEBSTER.

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a person travelling on foot; dull, lacking in excitement

The Ancient Greek 'pous, podos' and Latin 'pes, pedis', meaning 'foot', are linked, giving us a great variety of foot-related words:

PEDES - feet

PEDESTER - going on foot (Latin)

IAN - following a system or method

Other linked words are EXPEDITE (literally, to get your feet out of fetters and get on with something!), OCTOPUS (eight-foot), TRIPOD (three-foot), BIPED (two-foot), PEDAL, GASTROPOD (stomach-foot: creatures such as snails, slugs, etc.) and CENTIPEDE (one-hundred-foot).

PEDESTAL also comes originally from PEDES, but via the Italian word PIEDISTALLO: PIEDE = foot, DI = of, STALLO = a stall, stand or seat. Because English is most familiar with Latin, however, it has dropped the letter 'i' and reverted to the Latin PEDES.

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giving the most perfect, pure example of something

Surprisingly, QUINTESSENTIAL originated in medieval philosophy!

QUIN - five (from Latin QUINTUS)

ESSENCE/ESSENT - the basic nature and characteristics of something (from Latin ESSE - to be)

AL - suffix meaning 'to do with, of this kind'

Medieval philosophers believed that humans contained four elements - blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy - which determined their personal and mental characteristics. However there was also a pure, clear 'fifth element' - or 'quinta essentia' - which made up the skies and heavenly bodies. Alchemists tried to isolate and extract this element to add to medicines and cures.

From this, QUINTESSENCE has come to mean the absolutely pure, unadulterated form of something.

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the act of making up silly words


Roald Dahl loved to make up words which sounded hilarious, scary or just juicy to say! To celebrate the centenary of his birth on Tuesday 13th September 2016, we have come up with our own made-up word, which describes exactly what he was so good at!

RIDI/RISI - laugh, smile (Latin)

VERB - word (Latin)

IFICATE - a joining of IFY and ATE, both verb suffixes meaning 'to make into, to become'

TION - act, process, result

RISI and RIDI are seen in DERISION (making fun of someone, laughing at them), RIDICULOUS and RISIBLE (both meaning 'laughable').

VERB is obviously a word we use in grammar, but we see it as a syllable in VERBOSE (over-wordy), VERBAL (to do with words, using the spoken word) and VERBATIM (word-for-word).

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falling apart, in ruins due to neglect or age

DILAPIDATED comes from the Latin word for stone, LAPIS:

DI (short for dis) - opposite

LAPIS, LAPID - stone

ATE - to make into, become

Although it is rarely used, the word LAPIDATE does exist in English, meaning (rather unpleasantly!) to stone, or to throw stones AT something. So DILAPIDATED means the opposite - with all the stones (of a building) scattered, thrown AWAY from each other. A LAPIDARY is someone who is skilled at carving and shaping stones, whether precious gems or stone monuments (it can also be used as an adjective: a LAPIDARY record would be an inscription or image carved into stone). To LAPIDIFY is to turn into stone or become stony.

Finally, we also see LAPIS in the name of the blue gemstone LAPIS LAZULI. The word LAZULI gives us our colour word 'azure' - from 'al lazaward', the Persian name for LAPIS LAZULI.

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haughty, as if you believe you are superior to others

This word describes an action you might use if you were behaving SUPERCILIOUSLY!

SUPER - above

CILIUM - eyelid, eyelash (Latin)

SUPERCILIUM - the eyebrow (literally, 'the part above the eyelid or eyelashes')

OUS - full of, by nature

Being SUPERCILIOUS implies raising an eyebrow, or widening an eye, as if in disbelief or horror.

In modern English, CILIUM is the proper anatomical word for an eyelash, and in science it refers to the little hair-like structures on the surface of some cells, which help the cell to move through fluid.

However, the CIL root is sometimes seen in the world of make-up in names for mascara and false eyelashes, as the French for an eyelash is 'le cil' and in Italian 'il ciglio', which both obviously come from the same Latin root.

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something made by merging distinct parts

The GLOM root in this word may be linked to GLOBE: a GLOMUS in Latin was a ball of wool or thread.

CON - together, with

GLOMER - a ball, especially a ball of wool or thread

ATE - to make into, become

CONGLOMERATE can be a noun ('a multinational CONGLOMERATE'), an adjective ('a CONGLOMERATE business') or a verb ('to CONGLOMERATE would improve our profits') referring to the action of rolling separate things up together into one mass.

In the economic sense, a CONGLOMERATE is usually a group of corporations which are not always in the same line of business, but share a parent company, allowing the CONGLOMERATE to have varied and flexible sources of income and influence.

AGGLOMERATE (with the chameleon prefix AD, meaning to or towards) is almost a synonym. In anatomy, a GLOMERULUS is a cluster of nerve endings or blood vessels, resembling a ball of wool.

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shapeless, without form

For readers of a certain generation, MORPH was a character on Take Hart, a children's art TV programme. Being made of clay, he could change shape at will to trick the presenter - so MORPH was a very apt name for him: it means FORM or SHAPE.

A - without

MORPH - form, shape

OUS - by nature, tending to be, full of

MORPH crops up in words such as:

ANTHROPOMORPHISM - giving something human form, e.g. Mars is an ANTHROPOMORPHIC description of the idea of war in Roman myths (anthropo = human).

MORPHOLOGY - the study of forms (in biology the forms of living organisms and in language the changing forms of words).

ENDOMORPH, ECTOMORPH and MESOMORPH - human body-shapes in Physiology: endomorphs have softer, rounder bodies, ectomorphs have leaner, more delicate bodies and mesomorphs have compact muscular bodies (ENDO - within, ECTO - outside, MESO - middle).

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to destroy or wipe out completely

The root of this word is ROOT!

E - out (or EK, EX)

RADIX - a plant root

ATE - to make into, become, perform an action

So when you ERADICATE something, you literally pull it out by its roots.

RADISH is an Anglicised version of the word RADIX - the ultimate root vegetable! RADICAL is also linked: in the political, philosophical or religious sense of completely changing a system, roots and all; in maths referring to a quantity expressed as the root of another number; and also in scientific, musical and linguistic terminology.

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rain, hail or snow; the process of depositing a substance from a solution; a rash action

From Latin:

PRAE - before (the origin of our prefix PRE)

CAPUT - the head

PRAECIPITO - to fall or throw headlong, head-first; to rush into something

In Latin, the verb usually referred to a person falling over, falling from grace, or rushing rashly into action without proper thought.

In English we use PRECIPITATE to mean 'to cause something to happen suddenly', or 'to rush into something without thought', usually with negative connotations - causing a crisis, conflict, etc.

It also has scientific meanings in English: following the idea of falling, it refers to the depositing of a solid substance from a solution after a chemical reaction - it literally falls to the bottom of the test tube. PRECIPITATION meaning rain, snow, etc. is also used in this way - something that falls headlong from the sky!

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behaving as if likely to attack

AD - to, towards, at

GRESS - to walk, to go

IVE - tending to, like, to do with

AD is a Latin word, but we use it as a prefix. In English it is seen in a huge variety of words, although we don't often notice it. It is a bit of a chameleon: it changes its APpearance ACcording to the word it is ATtached to! AD often changes its letter D to double the initial letter of the word, as in APPROPRIATE, ANNOUNCE, ASSERTIVE, etc.

GRESS is a root that simply means TO WALK, TO GO. You can add many prefixes to it to give it a variety of nuances, such as CONGRESS (to come together, meet), DIGRESS (to go away from) and PROGRESS (to go forward).

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the practice of exchanging favours for mutual benefit - doing something in return

RECIPROCITY is exactly the kind of word Sound Training loves, because it sneaks in two of our favourite useful prefixes AND a suffix too!

RE - back, again

PRO - forwards, in front

ITY - state, condition, practice, quality

It literally translates as 'the state of going backwards and forwards'. We usually use it figuratively to refer to giving and taking. A feeling that is mutual is RECIPROCATED, and a RECIPROCAL agreement binds two parties equally to responsibilities and rights. In machinery RECIPROCATING is used more literally, so that a RECIPROCATING blade is one which moves backwards and forwards.

Other RE words using the sense 'back' are REPEL, REMOTE, REDUCE and RECEDE. More PRO words meaning 'forwards' are PROPEL, PROMOTE, PRODUCE and PROCEED.

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to reduce strength, destroy

We now use DECIMATE as a general synonym for 'destroy' or 'weaken'. However, its origins are much more specific and brutal:

DECI - a tenth (DECEM is Latin for 10)

ATE - to make into, become

Literally DECIMATE means 'to make into a tenth': in English in the Middle Ages it referred to the taking of a tithe, or a tenth of your income, in taxes. However, the original Latin word, DECIMARE, was a military punishment for mutiny or desertion. The officer of the cohort of soldiers (480 men) being punished would divide his men into groups of ten, who would draw lots. The soldier from each group who drew the short straw would be beaten to death - and the other nine soldiers would have to do it. Of course it meant that the victim in your group could be a close friend, or might have been totally innocent of the crime. Or indeed, it could be you. A horrible punishment for all involved.

There are actually two similar prefixes involving the number ten, with slightly different meanings: DECI, as above, means a TENTH of something, while DECA means TEN of something. So a DECAMETRE means TEN metres, while a DECIMETRE means a TENTH of a metre. Hence, a DECADE is TEN years, a DECAHEDRON is a TEN-sided 3D shape, but a DECIGRAM is a TENTH of a gram, and a DECIBEL is a measurement of loudness equal to a TENTH of a bel.

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a possible future circumstance, or a plan for one

Originally from the Latin verb TANGO - 'to touch', CONTINGENCY breaks down like this:

CON - together, with

TING - touch (also TANG and TACT)

ENCY - state, quality

A CONTINGENCY is literally 'something which touches you', or to put it another way, something which affects you or happens to you. We now use it more often to mean a plan for something which may happen to you.

Sticking with the idea of TOUCH, linked words are:

CONTACT - literally 'to touch together'

TACTFUL - literally 'full of touch': full of sensitivity to others

TANGENT - literally 'touching' (ENT = ing): in maths, a line or plane that touches a curve without crossing it; 'to go off at a TANGENT' means to start from a point of reference but continue on a different subject

TACTILE - to do with the sense of touch, designed to be touched, pleasant to touch, prone to touching others

TANGIBLE - able to be touched (IBLE = able to), solid, real

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quick, not in detail

CURSORY is an adjective describing an action done in a rush: a CURSORY glance at an email, without fully focusing on it or replying; a CURSORY wipe of the dinner table after a meal, removing the obvious crumbs but not cleaning thoroughly. It comes from the Latin verb CURRO meaning 'I run':

CURS - running

OR - a person or thing doing an action

Y - with this quality (an adjective ending)

The original meaning, then, was "fast like a runner". It is clearly linked to CURSOR, which originally meant a runner in a race or a messenger, an errand-boy. Its modern usage, as a marker on a computer screen, refers to the fact that it can RUN through the text or page freely. It is also linked to CURRENT - literally 'running', either as in CURRENT affairs (things happening now), or as in the CURRENT of a river.

For further linked words, and for other vocabularly Wow! moments, visit our Word of the Week Blog at!

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to do with trading and making money

The root of our word COMMERCIAL is the Latin word MERCES, which was used to mean a reward, payment, wages, goods, etc.

COM - together, with

MERC - payment, goods (trading)

AL - to do with

This root also appears in MERCHANT and MERCENARY (a soldier who fights for whoever will pay him, not out of loyalty to any nation), and the old-fashioned MERCER (a dealer in luxury fabrics - silks, furs, etc.). MARKET is a corrupted version of MERC, and MERCANTILE also describes the business of trading.

Interestingly, the early Christian Church took this Latin word and used it to mean a heavenly reward for those who show kindness to others. In early French it was spelled MERCI - hence the modern French word for 'thank-you': when someone had helped you, you said this to express the hope that they would receive their heavenly reward. Later on the medieval church explained that this heavenly reward for charity was God's forgiveness for his faithful for their sins - or MERCY.

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clearly stated, decided or defined

DEFINITE is clearly linked to the word FINISH; they both come from the Latin verb FINIO meaning 'I finish, set limits to':

DE - down
FIN - end, limit, boundary
ITE - an adjective ending

So a literal definition would be 'setting down the limits of something'; and when you set down something's limits, you show exactly what it is and is not.

The word DEFINE is obviously the root word for DEFINITE, and DEFINITION is then the act or result of DEFINING (TION = act, process, result). But had you spotted these linked words?

CONFINE - to keep someone within certain limits (CON - together)

AFFINITY - a liking or understanding of something or someone (from the idea of being a close neighbour to someone, living close by the border to their land: AF/AD - at, to, ITY - state of)

INFINITE - unending (IN - not ; ITE - adjective)

INFINITVE - the part of a verb shown as 'to ...', e.g. 'to be', 'to have', 'to run'; in this form, the verb is not limited by tense, person, number or mood (IN - not; ITE - adjective; IVE - by nature)

and finally:

FINE - describing something that is right as it is, does not need any work doing to it - it is, in fact, FINISHED!

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to make someone or something feel or look younger again

RE - again, back
JUVEN - young (young person)
ATE - to make into, become

Try not to think about JUVENILE delinquents - concentrate instead on Italian football team JUVENTUS - fitness, health and vigour! We get this word from the Latin IUVENIS (the initial letter 'i' is said as a 'y' sound, as in yellow), meaning a young person, in the prime of life.

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adding extra features or information in order to improve, emphasize or complete

COMPLEMENTARY is often mixed up with COMPLIMENTARY, which of course often means flattering, nice. Unfortunately, they come from the same Latin origins:

COM - together, altogther
PLE - filling
MENT - an action, or the result of an action
ARY - to do with, like

So the basic sense of both words is of completing or fulfilling something. However, over time COMPLIMENT became used more specifically to mean 'to fulfill the demands of politeness and courtesy'. Dr Johnson, the dictionary compiler, commented that a COMPLIMENT generally meant 'less than it declares'!

The easiest way to remember the difference between COMPLEMENT and COMPLIMENT in modern English is to remember that COMPLEMENT is closer to COMPLETE: they share the letter 'E' and they share their meaning too. Yin comPLEments Yang; a co-ordinating tie or scarf comPLEments a suit; team members with different skills can comPLEment each other: they contribute something which creates a successful whole.

Other words which use the Latin root PLE or PLEN are PLENTY, IMPLEMENT (to put into action, or FULFILL a plan), and DEPLETE (to empty or reduce - DE = opposite).

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the main church of a diocese - the SEAT of Christian authority for the area

In the Christian church the cathedral is the main church for a diocese presided over by a bishop - the bishop's headquarters, if you like. Originally it was referred to as the 'cathedral church'. It is, quite literally, the SEAT of the bishop's power, for CATHEDRAL comes from the Ancient Greek KATHEDRA meaning a chair or throne.

CATA - down
HEDRA - a seat, base
AL - to do with

So the CATHEDRAL is the church where the bishop has his throne, representing his authority within the Church as a whole.

KATA (or the anglicized CATA) is seen in many words such as CATASTROPHE (a down-turning of someone's fortunes), but HEDRA is rather rarer. However, students of geometry may well recognise it from shape-names such as TETRAHEDRON, DECAHEDRON, POLYHEDRON, etc. where it is used to mean 'face', giving us solid shapes with 4 (TETRA), 10 (DECA) or many (POLY) faces.

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a large, herbivorous dinosaur with three horns

Dinosaur names are fascinating to break down, as they contain so much detail about each creature! TRICERATOPS tells us the most important features of this prehistoric giant:

TRI - three
KERAS, KERATOS - horn (sometimes spelt CERAS, CERATOS)
OPSIS - face, eyes (from Greek verb ORAO, to see)

A creature which is related by name, if not by genes, to the TRICERATOPS is the RHINOCEROS (RHINO = nose, CEROS = horn). KERAS is more often seen in chemical terms, and is often seen on adverts for shampoos and conditioners containing KERATIN, the protein which makes hair, nails, horn, feathers, etc.

Finally, many of our words to do with sight and eyes come from the same Greek verb as OPSIS, so we get OPtician, OPtical, OPthamology, etc.

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technology using microelectronics such as microchips and microcircuits

MICROTECHNOLOGY comes from the Greek word TECHNE, meaning skill, craft or art, and therefore denotes anything man-made:

MICRO - small
TECHNE - skill, art, craft
OLOGY - the study or science of

MICROTECHNOLOGY describes much of modern electronic and computer-based technology, as the prefix MICRO here refers to components or features measuring around 1 micrometre (or one millionth of a metre!) - usually parts such as microchips and microcircuits in a computer, etc.

Although these days we usually assume TECHNOLOGY only refers to computers, the internet, etc., on its own it actually describes any scientific knowledge used in practical ways to create new inventions. Once upon a time, paper and pencils were cutting edge technology!

TECHNOLOGY is used to describe inventions and progress in many different areas - BIOTECHNOLOGY (bio = living things) and CYTOTECHNOLOGY (cyto = cells) in medicine, PYROTECHNICS - the creation and display of fireworks (pyro = fire) and GEOTECHNOLOGY in civil engineering to modify rocks and soil (geo = rocks, earth).

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in a beautiful way, pleasing to the eye

AESTHETICALLY is rooted in the Ancient Greek verb AISTHANOMAI, "I perceive, sense' :

AESTHET - sensing, perceiving
ICAL - to do with
LY - in this particular way

The word AESTHETICS was used by philosophers and scientists to describe general perception by the senses until the middle of the 1700s. However, the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten then used it to describe the philosophical study of art and natural beauty, in particular the criticism of artistic taste, and this use stuck - by the 1830s it was commonly used in Britain too.

AESTHETICALLY is linked to several medical terms through its original meaning:

ANAESTHETIC - a drug used to numb feeling during medical procedures (prefix AN = not)

HYPERAESTHESIA - a condition of physical over-sensitivity, especially in the skin (prefix HYPER = over, above, too much)

PARAESTHESIA - an abnormal prickling sensation caused by pressure or damage to nerves - better known as 'pins and needles'! (prefix PARA = beside, beyond, different to)

* Many thanks to author ADELE PARKS for suggesting our new WORD OF THE WEEK! *

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the four hundredth anniversary of an event

This week we commemorate the QUADRICENTENARY of the death of William Shakespeare.

QUADRI - four

CENT - hundred

ENNI comes from Latin ANNUS, a year

AL - to do with

ANNUS is seen, in slightly different guises, in gardening words such as PERENNIAL (lasting a long time, literally 'through the year': per = through) and BIENNIAL (flowering every two years: bi= 2), and in other celebratory time phrases such as MILLENNIUM (a period of 1000 years: mille = 1000) and BICENTENNIAL (two hundredth anniversary, bi = 2, cent = 100, al = to do with).

There are several variations of the prefix for the number four - quadri, quadru, quart, quat, quattro, quad - but they all originate from the Latin number 4, QUATTUOR.

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likely to change your mind or mood quickly

When you are CAPRICIOUS you don't settle on one thing, one choice, one mood - you skip about, changing direction and keeping everyone guessing!

There are two possible explanations as to the origins of CAPRICIOUS - both are animal-based and to do with leaping about. Both also come to English from Italian musical terms:

1) KHAPROS (Ancient Greek) and CAPER / CAPRA (Latin, masculine and feminine versions) both mean a goat. In Italian, a CAPRIOLE is a type of leap in a dance, coming from the Latin CAPREOLUS, meaning a wild goat. Goats, of course, are renowned for their nimble footwork on vertiginous, rocky mountain slopes.

2) In Italian CAPO means 'head' and RICCIO means 'hedghog'. The idea here is to do with fear: if you have a 'hedgehog-head', your hair is standing on end and spiky. You may well also be shivering or jumping and starting with fear. The Italian word CAPRICCIO referred to a lively piece of music, perhaps meaning that it was full of shivers and starts, and 'spiky' could be another way to describe staccato music.

So which origin should we choose? I prefer the first. No - definitely the second. Actually I like both. But let's not get moody about it...

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Prefix of the Week: PARA

1) beside; alongside, not part of; 2) protecting

PARA is an interesting and unusual prefix because it is actually two different and unrelated prefixes.

1) The more usual meaning, BESIDE or WORKING ALONGSIDE BUT NOT PART OF, is an Ancient Greek prefix seen in many English words.

PARALLEL (Greek ALLELOS = 'another thing') means, of course, two things running beside each other. In his PARABLES, Jesus told stories which, when compared BESIDE real life situations, could teach his followers lessons for life.

An occupation such as a PARALEGAL or PARAMEDIC means that the worker is trained in some aspects of law or medical treatment, but is not a fully qualified lawyer, doctor or nurse. A PARAMILITARY organisation works in a similar way to a military organisation, but is not part of an official national army. PARAPHERNALIA in Ancient Greece originally meant the things a woman owned that were not part of her dowry (the -PHER- part, meaning 'bringing', referred to the dowry itself, or the money and goods she BROUGHT to the marriage).

The sense NOT PART OF is also sometimes extended to mean DIFFERENT TO, in words such as PARANORMAL (different to normal) and PARADOX (a contradictory statement).

2) The second PARA prefix comes from the Latin verb PARARE, normally meaning 'to prepare', but sometimes having the sense 'to ward off, protect against'.

This is seen less frequently in English, in words such as PARASOL (Latin SOL = sun), PARACHUTE (French CHUTER = to fall), and PARAPET (Latin PECTUS and Italian PETTO = chest: a chest-high wall to protect from falling off a high building).

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to emit light, glow


LUMEN - light
ESCE - to start, become

The full meaning is 'to emit a light which is not from burning something, but from a natural glow', such as phosphorescence or fluorescence. Unusually, the original word here is the longer noun LUMINESCENCE (the act of emitting light), and the shorter verb, LUMINESCE, is a back formation - that is, it has been created later by removing the noun suffix ENCE: when creating words we usually ADD prefixes or suffixes to a root or an original word, rather than remove them.

We see the suffix ESCE more often as part of the longer suffixes ESCENT or ESCENCE, in words such as SENESCENT (becoming older (think SENILE and SENIOR) ), ADOLESCENCE (the process of becoming an adult), CONVALESCENT (someone who is getting stronger (VAL) after an illness).

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the use of words which sound nice

Most people will be familiar with the word euPHEMism - the use of a mild or gentle word to refer to something unpleasant or embarrassing - but EUPHONISM is heard less often. It comes from Greek:

EU - good, well, easy
PHON - sound
ISM - a belief, practice, system

It is literally 'the practice of using nice sounds'.

EU is seen as a prefix at the beginning of EULOGY (a speech praising someone, especially someone who has died: Greek 'logos' = words, speech) and EUTHANASIA, (an easy death, a good death: Greek 'thanatos' = death).

The opposite of EU is KAKO / CACO, so we see CACOPHONY (a bad or horrible noise, a din); this is quite rare in English words, however.

PHON as a root word is seen most obviously in sound gadgets such as TELEPHONE (sounds from far off: Greek 'tele' = far off) and MICROPHONE (something which magnifies small sounds: 'micro' = small), but also in language/literacy words such as PHONICS (the study of sounds made by written letters / letter strings: 'ics' = a branch of study), and musical terms such as SYMPHONY (sounds played together: 'sym' = together, with).

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tending to use very long words when shorter ones would do

This fabulous word actually demonstrates its own meaning! It uses a shortened version of the word 'semi':
SES = SEMI - half
QUE - and
PES - a foot
PEDALIS - a foot long (from PES, PEDIS - a foot)
AN - a suffix which makes adjectives, to do with a particular system or habit

It literally means 'using words of a foot and a half in length', and was also used by Roman writers to denote something that was ridiculously and unnecessarily long.

PEDALIS in Latin means 'a foot' in the same senses as we would use it, both as a part of the body and as a measurement of length. In fact, the length of measurement was originally based on the length of a man's foot!

PED- is seen in many other English words, from the obvious, such as PEDestrian, PEDal, PEDestal, quadruPED (a four-footed creature, quad = four), to the less discernable: exPEDition, imPEDiment, PEDigree.

PED- is also linked to -POD and -PUS as seen in gastroPOD and octoPUS, but should not be mixed up with the shortened form of PAED- seen in mostly American spellings of PAEDiatrician/PEDiatrician, PEDagogy, etc.

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a shield bearing a coat of arms

ESCUTCHEON is a Medieval English word, coming, via Old French, from the Latin word SCUTUM, meaning a soldier's shield.

Its original use was to describe the shield-shaped base of a coat of arms in heraldry, or a smaller shield-shaped image placed in the middle of a larger design, to show where several different coats of arms had been joined, perhaps by marriage. A 'blot on the escutcheon' means a stain on the family's honour, something shameful.

ESCUTCHEON is also used in a more modern sense to mean a decorative metal plate covering a join in functional part of a building, where pipes come through walls, for instance, or a doorplate with a decorative keyhole, where the ESCUTCHEON covers and protects the lock from damage.

ESCUTCHEON was suggested as our Word of the Week by Susan Hill, author of 'The Woman in Black', who tweeted it to us over the weekend - many thanks, Susan!


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orbiting a planet in time with the planet's rotation

GEO - earth, rock
SYN - together, with
CHRONO - time
OUS - characterised by, by nature

A GEOSYNCHRONOUS object often appears to be unmoving in the sky to observers on earth, because it moves with the planet, always remaining the same distance away.

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with the sun at the centre

Our solar system is HELIOCENTRIC:

HELIOS - Ancient Greek god of the sun
CENTR - centre
IC - to do with

The Ancient Roman version of HELIOS was SOL - where the word SOLAR (-ar - to do with) comes from.

CENTRE is obviously a word in its own right, but it also hides in a variety of surprising words:

ECCENTRICITY - the state (-ity) of being out of (ec-) the centre, i.e. not conforming to normality
CONCENTRATION: the act (-tion) of bringing attention together (con-) in the centre - or focusing on one central point
CENTRIFUGAL - literally, to do with (-al) fleeing (-fug-) the centre - to do with the force that flings something out from a central point when it is spun round.

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fold, layer

Tricky to spot because of its three forms, this root comes from the Latin verb PLICO meaning 'to fold' or 'to layer'.

It is also linked to the verb PLECTO meaning 'to plait' - a technique which, of course, entails folding and twisting lengths of hair, wool, or other materials, together.

The easiest places to spot 'ply' are on boxes of tissues - do you want 3-PLY? 4-PLY? - at the wool shop, where you might ask for 4-PLY yarn (wool made of four strands twisted togther), or on a trip to the DIY store to buy PLYwood - created from layering thin sheets of wood together in alternating directions to create a strong wood product.

However, this root also lends itself to the classic prefix/root-word/suffix word structure in many English words, so here are a few other ply/plex/plic words and their literal meanings:

APPLY - to layer on, connect to, join (ad = to, towards). In Latin the corresponding verb, applico, could also be used, with the word for mouth or lips, to mean to kiss! An APPLICATION then means the process (tion) of making (-ate) a connection - so when you fill in an application form for a job, you are making a first connection with a prospective employer.

COMPLEX - useful as an adjective or a noun, this means 'many-layered', i.e. hard to understand because it has many twists, folds, issues, etc. understand, or a place with many buildings and areas. COMPLEXITY adds the suffix -ity (quality, state or extent) which changes the meaning to the quality of being difficult, or the level of difficulty it causes. COMPLICATION is the act, process or result (tion) of adding many layers (plic) together (com), and demonstrates perfectly how apparently unrelated roots can hide connections between words.

MULTIPLICATION - this is literally, the act (tion) of layering (plic) the same number on itself many (multi) times, or the act of MULTIPLYing. A MULTIPLEX cinema has many screens. Again, words linked here use all three versions of the root.

So finally, I hope that I have SUPPLIED enough examples, enabling you to REPLY EXPLICITLY to any COMPLICATED questions without DUPLICATING your words or drawing the wrong IMPLICATIONS!

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A severe boil or abscess, OR a bright red gemstone such as a garnet

This is one of those wonderful words which means two completely opposite things - yet you can see what links both!

carbo - carbon, coal

uncle - little (a suffix forming diminutive nouns)

So, a 'little coal' could easily describe the ruby gleam of a precious stone, or the angry inflammation of an infected boil!

The suffix -UNCLE is from the Latin suffix -UNCULUS, which is also sometimes shortened to -ULUS in Latin, and -ULE in English. So other words where we see this diminishing suffix are:

MOLECULE - literally means a 'little mass, little structure', from Latin 'moles', a shapeless mass, or a construction

GRANULATED - literally, 'made into little grains', from Latin 'granus', a grain, and the suffix '-ate' meaning 'to make into, become'

AVUNCULAR - meaning kindly, helpful or protective towards a younger or less experienced person, it comes from the Latin 'avunculus' meaning 'an uncle on your mother's side', and the suffix '-ar' meaning 'to do with, like'; 'avunculus' itself means 'little grandfather', coming from Latin 'avus', a grandfather

For further word links and usage of the word 'carbuncle', why not visit

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a firm decision

Have you thought about your New Year's RESOLUTIONS yet?

The root word of RESOLUTION is 'solve', from the Latin verb 'solvere' meaning 'to loosen' - think of loosening a knot or a tangle.

RE - intensifies the meaning of the root word

SOLU/SOLV - to loosen, untangle, make clear

TION - act, process, result

So RESOLUTION is the act or result of making something really clear, finding an answer once and for all.

Other SOLV words are DISSOLVE (to break a substance down, or to disband a group: DIS = away, down), ABSOLVE (to find someone not guilty of wrongdoing, i.e. to loosen or free someone from the bonds of guilt or responsibility: AB = away, from), and SOLVENT (a liquid in which a substance can be dissolved, or broken down: ENT = -ing)

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the quality of kindness beyond what is necessary, wanting to give or to help without reward

GENEROSITY was originally to do with noble birth. The Latin root GENUS in Roman and medieval times had the sense of 'noble birth', so GENEROSITY meant 'the quality of behaving as if of noble birth'! Hmmm...

genus - birth, stock, especially high or noble birth

ous - having the characteristics of, being by nature

ity - state, quality, condition

We now use GENUS in a scientific sense it to mean 'class, type' when identifying, classifying and naming plants or animals. It is also seen with this sense in the words GENERAL and GENERIC - both referring to 'all classes, all types'. GEN is also used as a scientific suffix denoting production:

carcinoGEN - something capable of producing cancerous cells

glycoGEN - a substance which stores carbohydrates, producing glucose

pathoGEN - something which produces disease (patho - disease, suffering)

All very scientific! However, let's return to the modern meaning of GENEROSITY, and try to keep that Christmas spirit!

A Merry Christmas to my fellow word-nerds!

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unwilling to spend money or use up resources; stingy

From the Latin verb PARCO - to spare, be sparing, economise

parsi - sparing

mony - action, state, condition

ous - having the characteristics of, being by nature

So PARSIMONIOUS means having the nature to be very sparing with money - being a right Scrooge!

We see the suffix -MONY in words such as CEREMONY, HARMONY, MATRIMONY, etc.

"Bah! Humbug!" to you all.

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laughably old-fashioned, out of touch

In English we take much of our imagery from popular Bible stories, and the word ANTEDILUVIAN relies on this.

ante - before

diluvium - a flood (Latin dis - away, Greek luo - to wash)

It literally means 'from before the Flood', referring to the story of Noah's Ark. William Congreve wrote, “A branch of one of your antediluvian families, fellows that the flood could not wash away"; more recently Virginia Woolf referred to "Women's rights, that antediluvian topic" in 'Mrs Dalloway', and in Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' the heroine feels that other characters display "an attitude that was so antediluvian it was almost comical. You shouldn't worry your pretty head over complex matters, little girl."

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inescapable, unavoidable

INELUCTABLE is linked by its Latin root word to RELUCTANT:

in - not

e - out, out of

luctor - to wrestle, struggle

able - can be done

Something that is INELUCTABLE is not able to escaped, however hard you might try. RELUCTANT means 'fighting back' (prefix RE = back, again; suffix -ANT / -ENT = equivalent to -ING)

American author and teacher Bel Kaufman wrote of teaching that 'Once you accept as one of the ineluctable laws of nature that kids will continue to say ... "between you and I" and "mischievious" ... you can go on from there" ('Up the Down Staircase', 1965).

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a woman who campaigns for the right of women to vote

There are two theories for the origin of the word SUFFRAGETTE. Both agree on the prefix, root word and suffix:

SUB - under; it can have the sense of 'in the power of someone' or 'supporting something'. In front of some consonants the 'b' of SUB changes to a double letter to make it easier to say, e.g. support, suffer, suggest should really be subport, subfer, subgest.

FRAG - from the Latin verb 'frango' - to break. This is where 'fracture', 'fraction', 'fragment', etc. come from.

ETTE - a female version of something, a smaller version of something, or an imitation of something, e.g. usherette, kitchenette, leatherette.

One theory is that the base of 'suffrage' was from 'fragor' which in Latin means a loud noise or crash, orginally the noise of something breaking. By medieval times 'suffrage' had come to be used within the church to mean prayers or pleas made on someone else's behalf. So one theory is that 'suffrage' came from the idea of people cheering or clapping in support of someone's plea.

The second theory is that at elections in Ancient Rome, people voted by putting their token into their favourite candidate's pot. The tokens were possibly made from broken pieces of pottery or tiles. So the results of the vote were 'subject to the broken pieces', or perhaps the careers of politicians were 'supported by broken tiles'!

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a person who works in soil management and crop production

AGRONOMISTS are linked (etymologically!) to both 'AGRIculture' and 'ecoNOMY':

agri / agro - to do with land or fields (Latin)
nomy /nomos - to do with rules, principles, the way something is run (Greek)
ist - a person with a job, hobby or interest

We see the NOMY part of the word in words such as

ASTRONOMY - understanding the laws of the stars (Latin astra = stars)
ECONOMY - the principles of managing the home (eco comes from the Greek oikos - the home)
AUTONOMY - governing yourself, making your own decisions in a matter (Greek autos = self)

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the art of making and displaying fireworks

PYROTECHNICS comes from Ancient Greek:

pyr - fire

technos - craft, skill

ics - an art, science, study or action

'PYR' crops up in English words such as:
PYROMANIAC - someone with an obsession about setting fire to things
PYRE - a pile of wood and burnable materials on which to cremate a body
PYRACANTHAS - a thorny shrub with red or yellow berries, also called the firethorn (from Ancient Greek acantha - thorn)

TECHNOS is also found in:
TECHNOLOGY - the study (ology) of crafting and inventing things
POLYTECHNIC - a college that teaches many (poly) skills
TECHNIQUE - the method of performing a particular creative task or other skill

The suffix -ICS is used at the end of:
POLITICS - study or action to do with the state (from Ancient Greek polis - a city-state)
MATHEMATICS - literally, the study of learning (from Ancient Greek manthanein - to learn)
ACOUSTICS - the science of sound and listening (from Ancient Greek akouein - to hear)

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the stretching and ripping of objects by forces in a Black Hole

SPAGHETTIFICATION literally translates as 'the process of making something into spaghetti':

fy / fic - to make into (from Latin facio - I make, do)

tion - the act, process or result of doing something

Some astrophysicists believe that the forces of gravity within a Black Hole would stretch and compress any object that entered it, until it was long and thin like spaghetti.

Adding -FY to any word makes it into a verb meaning 'to make into something': in fact, adding -FY verbifies words...

Other -FY examples are:

SATISFY - literally 'to make something enough' (satis = Latin for 'enough')
DEIFY - to turn something into a god, treat something or someone like a god (deus = Latin for 'a god')
MAGNIFY - to make something bigger (magnus = Latin for 'big')

-FICATION means the process or the result of making something. Other -FICATION examples are:

DESERTIFICATION - the process or result of turning an area into a desert
AMPLIFICATION - the process or result of making a sound louder (amplus = Latin for large)
GLORIFICATION - the process or result of making something seem glorious

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nameless, unknown

The root word of ANONYMOUS is the Ancient Greek word ONOMA, meaning a name, title or term: it carries both a prefix and a suffix:

A/AN - not, without

ONOMA - name, title, term

OUS - suffix meaning full of, having the characteristic of

Vowels often become changed when a word is adopted by other languages, so the second 'o' has, over time, become a 'y'. In English this gives us a new root, -nym-, which we often see in other English words:

synonym - a word with the same meaning as another (syn = together, with, same)

pseudonym - a false name (pseudo = a lie, falsehood, cheating)

patronymic - a name coming from the name of your father or an ancestor, e.g. Jackson (patros = father, ic = to do with).

Patronymics are a common feature in Russian literature, e.g. Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, the husband of Anna Karenina: Alexandrovich translates as 'son of Alexander'.

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the fear of everything

Most phobia words have their origins in Ancient Greek, and PANTOPHOBIA is no exception!

panto - all, everything

phobia - fear of

The feeling of PANTOPHOBIA is usually described as having a constant fear that 'something bad is going to happen'. It may come from feelings of anxiety over several individual issues, that eventually become one great big sense of dread.

PANTO comes from the Greek word PAN meaning 'all, every'. It is also seen in words such as:

PANTOmime - 'imitator of everything': the word came from an ancient form of dramatic danc performance, telling a story through exaggerated actions put to music

PANorama - a view of everything all around

Thank you to Jacob at Melior Community Academy, Scunthorpe for suggesting this week's WORD OF THE WEEK!

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a new word made of parts of two (or more) apparently unlinked words

Lewis Carroll first used the term PORTMANTEAU to describe made-up words. It is French in origin:

port - from PORTER = to carry

manteau - a cloak, coat (similar to 'mantle' in English)

In Carroll's time a PORTMANTEAU was a type of upright travelling trunk with two hinged compartments which folded together like a book.
In Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty-Dumpty explains words such as 'mimsy' - a mixture of 'miserable' and 'flimsy' (from the poem Jabberwocky) to Alice as like a portmanteau, "two meanings packed into one word".
More modern examples are 'Grexit' - the potential EXIT of GREECE from the EU, and 'Brangelina' for the celebrity couple BRAD Pitt and ANGELINA Jolie!

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having a deep understanding of or insight into something

PERSPICACIOUS splits nicely into the prefix / root word / suffix equation!

per - through

spic - from specio - to look at, see

acious - tending to, having the capacity to (this is similar to 'ous', but not exactly the same)

Literally, it means 'having the capacity to see through something clearly'.

Do not confuse PERSPICACIOUS with PERSPICUOUS, however: the latter approaches the concept of clarity from the other side, meaning 'able to be understood easily'. Make sure you are PERSPICACIOUS enough to see the PERSPICUOUS difference!

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the occurrence or discovery of something useful or lucky, simply by chance

SERENDIPITY is a neologism (a new (neo) word (logos)'), coined in 1754 by the writer and politician Horace Walpole. It is taken from a Persian fairytale, 'The Three Princes of Serendip', in which the princes travel the world discovering interesting things by accident.

Serendip was the early name for Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Walpole simply added the suffix 'ity', meaning 'state, quality, condition of' to the name.

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a beneficial relationship or interaction between different people, groups or organisms

Ancient Greek in origin, there are three elements to SYMBIOSIS:

sym / syn - together, with

bio - life, living

osis - process, state, medical condition

The basic definition of SYMBIOSIS is the state or process of living together. It is usually used in the sense of existing side by side in a way that provides benefits for both or all parties; however, parasites also live in symbiosis with their host, but the host often suffers because of it.

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to sleep through the hot summer months

AESTIVATION is the opposite of HIBERNATION - it is usually used in zoology to describe how some animals sleep through long periods of hot, dry weather.

It comes from the Latin:
aestas - summer
aestivus - to do with summer, summery
ate - to make into, become, be
tion - the act, process or result of

So a literal translation is 'the act or result of being summery, behaving as if it is summer', or it's scientific definition is 'to spend the summer in a state of dormancy'.

HIBERNATION comes from the Latin word for winter - HIBERNUS.

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in a scattered fashion, from place to place or time to time, irregularly

SPORADIC has its origins in farming. It comes from the Ancient Greek verb SPEIRO, meaning 'to sow, to scatter seeds':

SPORA: scattered, thrown around

IC: to do with, in that way

So SPORADIC means in a scattered fashion, from place to place or time to time, irregularly.

Other words linked to SPORADIC are SPORES - the seeds of certain fungi and plants, and DIASPORA - the members of a community, often religious, who have been scattered across the world, especially the Jewish Diaspora.

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A person who compiles dictionaries

LEXICOGRAPHER comes from Ancient Greek:

LEXIS: a speech, word (linked to LOGOS, as in catalogue, dialogue)
GRAPH: to do with writing
ER: a person or thing performing an action

So a LEXICOGRAPHER is a person who writes a book of words - or a person who puts together a dictionary.

LEXICON is actually short for the Greek phrase LEXICON BIBLION - a word book.

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The pleasure of (anticipated) success

We all know NIKE as a brand of sports equipment and clothing, but the name actually comes from Ancient Greece. NIKE was the Greek goddess of Victory, and HEDONism is pleasure-seeking, or the belief that pleasure should be the highest aim in life.

Many thanks to Suzie Dent, from Channel 4's Countdown, who tweeted @SoundTrainingUK with this week's Word of the Week suggestion!


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the study of proper names

The meanings of names of people and places fascinates people - witness the huge market for bookmarks, pens, mugs, cards, ANYTHING printed with a person's name and its origins! The name for the research behind this is ONOMATOLOGY, from Ancient Greek:

ONOMA - a name (compare it to 'un nom' in French, and the word 'onomatopoeia')

OLOGY - the study of

It is sometimes also called ONOMASTICS; the specific study of people's names is ANTHROPONOMASTICS (anthropos = a man, a person) and the study of place names in particular is TOPONOMASTICS (topos = a place).

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A root word meaning 'TO TURN'

VERTO is the Latin verb meaning 'to turn', and we see VERT and VERS crop up in many English words:

CONVERT - to change completely to something else (CON - together, altogether)

CONTROVERSIAL - causing argument or discussion - literally 'to do with turning against' (CONTRO - against; AL - to do with)

VERTEBRA - the column of ring-like bones in the spine enables the back to twist and turn

INTROVERT / EXTROVERT - an INTROVERT is someone who turns in on themselves, a shy person, whereas an EXTROVERT does the opposite, and is very outgoing (INTRA - to the inside; EXTRA - to the outside)

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The ability to withstand hardship - as this week's London Marathon runners will show us!

en-: in, into

durus: hard

-ance: quality, state, instance

ENDURANCE is the quality of having hardness or toughness within.

Good luck to all the runners in the London Marathon on Sunday!

To read our ENDURANCE blog, and for further word play, information and articles, click on our Sound Training blog link at the top of the page.

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The act of burying someone again

This week sees the REINTERMENT of King Richard III, the last English king to die in battle. His remains were found buried under a Leicester carpark in 2012, in the remains of a lost medieval church. He will finally be laid to rest in a royal tomb on Thursday in Leicester Cathedral.

The word REINTERMENT is Latin in origin:

re - again

in - in, into

ter - from 'terra': the earth, ground

ment - result of an action

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A person who loves books

Celebrate your book addiction: let everyone know you're a BIBLIOPHILE!

BIBLION = a book (in Ancient Greek)

PHILOS = loving, fond, friendly towards

Which is your favourite book - or books?

In the Christian world THE BIBLE is THE BOOK - both in importance and in the meaning of its name. The Old Testament books were originally written in Hebrew, and were translated into Ancient Greek by scholars at the famous Library in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century BC - Egypt was then ruled by the Greek heirs of Alexander the Great. The New Testament books were written in the first century AD in Ancient Greek, as this was the language of education in the Mediterranean area (ruled by the Romans), at that time.

Other BIBLION words:
BIBLIOGRAPHY: (graph = writing) a list of books to read about a particular subject
BIBLIOLATRY: (latry = worship of) an excessive love of books; or, the act of sticking too closely to a literal interpretation of the Bible
BIBLIOTICS: the study of documents, handwriting and writing tools to decide if the documents are authentic - carried out by a BIBLIOTIST (ist = a person doing a job or hobby)
BIBLIOPOLE: (-pole, -poly = to do with trade, e.g. monopoly) a bookdealer, especially one who buys and sells rare books

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A person who studies the origins and development of the universe - the Theory of Everything!

COSMOLOGIST comes from the Ancient Greek 'kosmos' meaning 'order' or 'world, universe'.

kosmos - order, universe
-ology - the study or science of
-ist - a member of a profession

A COSMOLOGIST is a person whose profession is the study of the order and workings of the universe. Arguably the most famous British cosmologist alive today is Dr Stephen Hawking, whose life has recently been examined in the film 'The Theory of Everything', winning a Best Actor Oscar for actor Eddie Redmayne at the Oscars Awards ceremony on Sunday.

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There's no time like the present! PROCRASTINATION comes from the Latin word CRAS meaning 'tomorrow'.

PROCRASTINATION is, to me, a perfectly formed word: it is made up of a root word, with a prefix and two suffixes added.

pro - forwards, in front

cras / crastinus - Latin for tomorrow / belonging to tomorrow

ate - to make into, become

tion - (the result of) an act or process

So PROCRASTINATION is the act of (or the result of the act of) making something into the business of tomorrow - or putting it off till tomorrow.

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The belief in fair and kind treatment of all humans

HUMANITARIANISM can be broken down into four sections:

HUMAN + ITY (state) + ARIAN (having a concern/belief in something) + ISM (a belief/system).

Put back together, it is the belief in fair and kind treatment of all humans, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs etc.

On the third Monday in January (this year Monday 19th January) America celebrates Martin Luther King Day, in honour of the civil rights activist who campaigned against racial segregation and was assassinated for his beliefs in 1968.

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the birth of a baby, especially of Jesus Christ

NATIVITY comes from the Latin NATUS meaning BORN, EXISTING, with the suffix -ITY, meaning THE STATE OF, AN INSTANCE OF.

At this time of year children across the country are performing their Nativity plays at school - traditional or with added lobsters and aliens!

But there are many other words used all the time which come from the same root:

NATURE - your birth, inborn personality; or 'all things which have been born', all living things

NATIVE - by birth, e.g. your native country, native language

NATION - originally, a group of people with common ancestors - joined, therefore, by birth

Also, some names come from this root; NATALIE / NATALYA, from the Latin phrase DIES NATALIS, meaning 'birthday', especially Jesus' birthday, and therefore 'Christmas', were originally popular in France and Russia; NATASHA is the pet-name version of NATALIE.

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Root of the week: ARCH

The root of many words, from the Greek verb ARCHO, meaning TO RULE, or TO BEGIN

English words using the sense of TO RULE include:

matriARCHal – (of a group or society) being led by a senior woman (mater, matri- = mother, -al = like, of that sort)
anARCHist - a person who believes there should be no ruler (an = without, ist = a person)
ARCHbishop, ARCHangel, ARCH-enemy - a head bishop, a senior angel, a most important enemy

English words using the sense of TO BEGIN include:

ARCHaeology - the study of (ology) things from the beginning (i.e., from long ago)
ARCHaic – ancient, old-fashioned (-ic = to do with, e.g. archaic language)
ARCHetype – the first, original version of something

The scientific and mathematical genius ARCHimedes (he of 'Eureka!' fame and the Archimedes Screw) has a curiously apt name: 'medes' comes from the Greek for 'to plan, think, invent'. So he truly was 'The Master Inventor'!

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a person who investigates crimes and tries to uncover the truth...

On 1st December 1887 Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print, in A Study in Scarlet. My investigations into Holmes' profession have uncovered the following facts:

DE – the opposite, away from, down, off;
TECT –a roof, a cover;
IVE –by nature, tending to do or to be something – it’s usually an ending for an adjective (such as ‘active’) but sometimes these words become used as nouns.

So a DETECTIVE is someone who tends to uncover things.

TECT comes from the Latin verb TEGO and the Greek verb STEGO, which both mean TO COVER, and often are used in the senses of clothing, roofs, or building.

Other linked English words are ARCHITECTURE, PROTECT and STEGOSAURUS (a dinosaur with plates which looked like roof-tiles along its spine!).

Elementary, my dear Watson...

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The Cenotaph

The War Memorial in Whitehall, London, to commemorate those soldiers who died in the First World War

CENOTAPH comes from two Greek words: KENOS, meaning 'empty' and TAPHOS, meaning 'tomb'.

Cenotaphs have been used in countries across the world and for thousands of years as memorials to an individual or group who are actually buried elsewhere.

The Cenotaph in London was originally erected as a memorial for the fallen British soldiers of the First World War. However, it has now become the focus of commemoration for British soldiers who have died in all conflicts since then.

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a collection of the best poetry, writings or pieces of music

ANTHOLOGY comes from two Ancient Greek words:

anthos - a flower, blossom

logia - a collection

It literally means 'a collection of flowers' - but of course it's used metaphorically. We speak in English of the 'flower' of youth, meaning 'the best', and of ideas 'blossoming', or a plan coming to 'fruition'. Our language is so full of metaphors referring to nature and plants that we hardly notice them any more - look out for them!

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A word, phrase or number which reads the same both forwards and backwards

It is made up from two Ancient Greek words:

PALIN = again, back

DROMOS = a course, race, racetrack.

Strangely, though, it wasn't ever a Greek word itself - it was actually made up by the English Jacobean poet and playwright Ben Jonson (1572-1637).

Some examples of palindromes:

Names - Hannah.
Dates - 20th February 2002 = 20 02 2002.
Phrases - 'A Toyota's a Toyota'.

Do you know any interesting or funny palindromes?

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VELOCITY breaks down into a Latin root and a suffix:

VELOX - swift, fast
ITY - state, quality, condition of

So VELOCITY is 'the state or quality of being fast'.

Linking to the Tour de France: the French for a bicycle is un vélo - a shortened form of vélocipede, which was an early type of bike with no pedals. Hence indoor cycle races take place in a VELOrome.

More velo words - a VELOCImeter is an instrument which measures (-meter) speed/velocity, and a VELOCIraptor is a very speedy dinosaur!

Enjoy the cycling!

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a single head of state

MONARCH comes from two Ancient Greek words:

MONOS - alone

ARKHO - I rule

So a MONARCH is someone who rules and holds power alone, such as a king or queen.

Other MONOS and ARKH/ARCH words are:

monologue = a long speech for one person in a play (log = word, speech)

monogamy = marriage to only one person (gamy = marriage)

monotone = a sound or voice which stays at one pitch, with no intonation

archangel = a senior angel

archbishop = the chief bishop for an area

patriarchy = a society led by a male elder (pater, patros = father)

anarchy = the state of being without (a/an) a ruler

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What others say about us...

We decided to assess all our EAL students using the stepping stones baseline assessment including the pupils in year 6 who we felt were not in need of extra support. The results surprised us; it highlighted serious gaps in their knowledge which we were unaware of. We subsequently placed these pupils onto the appropriate steps within the Stepping Stone Module, preparing them for their secondary school career.

Bernie Rizzi-Allan -Headteacher from St Bedes Catholic Academy, Stockton

The training was great and Katy is so inspiring! I found it so dynamic and engaging; you can see why kids are drawn into it so easily! I would definitely recommend the training because I really felt confident to go away and deliver the sessions as it was so practical and as a club we feel like it would benefit lots of our participants, from primary through to adult learners (and maybe even our staff!) as it is so easily adapted to the needs of the group.

Ruth Southwick, MFC Foundation, Middlesbrough

Sound Training is a brilliant addition to our curriculum provision. Both the Y6 pupils and their teachers are excited by its impact. The children enjoy going, can read more fluently and discuss greater meaning of a range of texts and the teachers are also noting a growing confidence in the class as well as higher levels of attainment across reading, writing and mathematics. It's definitely helping the children to be secondary ready.

Katrina Morley, Head Teacher, Pennyman Primary

I felt quite special and privileged to be chosen for the course. I was definitely surprised at how much I enjoyed it and it has been a great help with my reading skills. My vocabulary has increased and I find it much easier to read new words straight away.

Nicola, Yr 9 pupil, Chaucer Technology School, Canterbury

You learn lots. They train you in sound and in reading in a sophisticated way. It helps you not just in English but in other subjects like Geography and History.

Carl, Head Boy, Brynmawr School, Wales

The Stepping Stone Training was the most enjoyable and exciting training course I have been on. By the end of the day I felt excited, inspired and confident about using the resources with my students. This is the first time I have felt I can teach phonics to secondary school children where they won’t feel ‘patronised’ or ‘babyish’ or ‘stupid’. The games are fun and, although I have only just begun to use them with students, the progress appears to be amazing. Thank you so much!

Mel Kane, Valley Park School

Sound Training gives students the confidence in tackling unfamiliar words that they carry over into their wider reading.

Blanche Southern, Teacher of English, Oaks Park High School

Last night my son was practising something he called Sound Training which has made a remarkable impact on his reading and spelling and his confidence has really improved

Parent, Carshalton Boys Sports College, Carshalton

Aside from the improvement in reading, the programme has delivered noticeably increased self-esteem, confidence, and improved classroom engagement. Sound Training has enabled the pupils at Acklam Whin to “unstick” their reading and re-engage with their learning with greater confidence and understanding.

John Lees, Headteacher, Acklam Whin School

The pupils didn’t view the training as a lesson, rather than a series of fun challenges or games. The truth is that they were learning an awful lot. It’s such an exciting programme. It is very intense and pacy with constant changes of activity.

Linda Pulman, Sound Trainer, Chaucer Technology School, Canterbury

Jennie Hick, Vice Principal

Jennie Hick, Vice Principal

“The key thing for us is that our staff love delivering it, which means that our students love learning it. The obvious difference you ...

Jennie Hick, Vice Principal

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Sounding out



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an alliance with a combined goal, often political or military, usually temporary

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a punishment as revenge for wrong-doing

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