It’s Greek to Me: From Pan to Pandemic

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most common questions that people search today is: what is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? If you are familiar with Greek roots, you know the key is in the prefix. An epidemic is an infectious disease that occurs in a community or specific area. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “upon a district” from the Greek roots epi (meaning “upon or among”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). A pandemic, on the other hand (hopefully one you have washed thoroughly for at least 20 seconds) is an infectious disease that occurs in an entire country or all over the world. Translated literally from the Greek, it means “all people” from the Greek roots pan (meaning “all”) and demos (meaning “people or district”). For example, the coronavirus began as an epidemic in Wuhan, China and as it spread across Europe and eventually all around the globe, it became a pandemic.

The prefix pan- is an extremely useful Greek root to know because it unlocks the meaning of so many words. Here is a list of some interesting words that use the root-word pan (some are not found in most printed dictionaries):

panacea: a cure of all illnesses

panarchy: a universal realm (chiefly poetic term)

panatheism: belief that god(s) do not exist and thus nothing can be correctly considered holy or sacred

pancratic: knowledge of all subjects

pandemonium: noisy and wild confusion; chaos

panegyric: a public speech that praises someone

pangender: encompassing all genders

pangenesis: A hypothetical mechanism of heredity proposed by Charles Darwin that states that each part of the body continually emits its own type of small organic particle (gemmules) that aggregate in the gonads, contributing transmissible information to the gametes

panharmonic: universal or general harmony

panhellenic: concerning or representing all people of Greek origin; concerning or representing all fraternities and sororities

panhumanism: the concept of an affiliation with all mankind through a legislative structure that allows all economic and technological development for the benefit of all people 

panjandrum: a person who claims to have great influence or authority

pansophia: universal wisdom

pantheism: belief that the universe is a manifestation of God

pantheon: a group of respected, important individuals

pantisocracy: a utopian society where everyone has equal position and responsibility

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Read related posts: What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

For further reading: The Greek and Latin Roots of English by Tamara Green
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins by Bob Moore

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