10 commonly used English words with mythological origins

6) Harp from ‘Harpy’ (a monstrous bird with a human face in both Greek and Roman mythology) –

Harp from Harpy

We are not talking about the serene sounding musical instrument of harp. On the contrary, we have taken the cacophonous route of ‘harping’ or ‘to harp’ – which means to ‘talk or write persistently and tediously on a particular subject’. The term is derived from a ‘harpy‘ (Greek: ἅρπυια), a creature who carried and tortured people who were on their way to Tartarus. Sometimes they even helped the fellow furies (read above) to dole out judgement on the criminals. As for their odd physical characteristics, the harpies were initially depicted as large birds with faces of beautiful women. However over time, their visages were detailed as unsightly – as is evident from the writings of both Virgil and Ovid.

7) Hell from ‘Hel’ (The Norse underworld and also its ruler) –

Hell from Hel

Most of us must have surely heard about hell, the realm of eternal damnation. Well, its Germanic counterpart was no walk in the park either, with inhabitants like Fenrir the Wolf, Jormungand the Serpent and other subjects who had died through sickness and old age. The ruler of this netherworld (also called Helheim) was the eponymous Hel, who was the daughter of Loki (yes, the very same nemesis of the mighty Thor). Descriptions of Hel, the being, have been found in numerous Viking sagas and poems; and most of them portray her as being partly decomposed with a face and a body of living women, but with thighs and legs of a corpse. Still she was also said to be more powerful than Odin himself, inside her own realm, the Hel.

8) Mentor from ‘Mentor’ (a form of goddess Athena in Greek Mythology)-

Mentor_mythologyMentor in English pertains to – ‘an experienced and trusted adviser’. The word comes from an episode in Greek Mythology that involved the hero Odysseus and his son Telemachus. Originally, Mentor was the name of an old man who was Odysseus’s trusted friend. So, when the hero left for the epic Trojan War, he gave Mentor the responsibility of looking after his son, Telemachus. However, when Athena visited Telemachus, she herself took the guise of the old man, so as to remain hidden from the people of Ithaca. During her disguise, she ‘mentored’ Telemachus in the ways of values, willpower and courage – that even endowed the young man with the determination to go abroad in search of his renowned father.

9) Music from ‘Muses’ (Greek goddesses of inspiration for music, poetry and literature) –

Music from Muses

In English, music relates to sounds that produce harmony, and expression of emotion. This intangible yet ‘personal’ sense is always found in its origins – with the word being derived from ‘Muses‘, the personifications of knowledge and art who were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Interestingly, Mnemosyne herself was the personification of memory, and was also one of the Titans, the children of Uranus the Sky and Gaia the Earth. As for the Muses themselves, they pleasantly embodied ‘performed metrical speech’ or ‘mousike‘ – from which the term ‘music’ is ultimately borrowed.

10) Panic from ‘Pan’ (Greek god of the wild and shepherds) –

Panic from PanIn English, panic simply means sudden fear. The word is adopted from ‘Pan‘, who was the son of Greek messenger god Hermes. Pan resided along the wild mountainsides, and was chronicled as the guardian of pastures, sheep and goats – so much so that he himself was depicted with goat-horns and goat-legs. In terms of characterization, Pan was cheerful, flirtatious as well as irritable, and his hobby was to play on his favorite pipe, the syrinx. But more importantly, he could also turn frightening (especially when he was disturbed in his naps) – which perhaps explains his association with the word ‘panic’.

Sources:  YourDictionary / TheHellenicTimes / AmyLeighStrickland

Image Credits:  vee209 / MADSculptor

  Subscribe to HEXAPOLIS

To join over 1,250 of our dedicated subscribers, simply provide your email address: