Odd Words: Anthropophagi

Saturn Devouring His Son - AnthropophagiPage 12 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition was even worse than page 11. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Page 11 had the ante- words; page 12 thus had the anti- words. But I picked a word that came in between: anthropophagi.

Not Really Anthropophagi

Before we get to the word, I suppose I should point out that the word should not be “anthropophagi.” It should be “anthropophaguses.” This business has got to stop! We take English language words that are based on Greek words and create plurals based on Latin grammar?! What’s with that?! The Greek word isn’t “anthropophagus” anyway; it is “ανθρωποφάγος”! And where Latin fits in, I can’t say.

An unrelated issue: “antihero” is on the same page. The book claims that such a character lacks all heroic attributes and noble qualities. That was doubtless how the word was originally used. But by the time this dictionary came out, it was not used in that way at all.

Anyway, on to anthropophagi:

An·thro·poph·a·gi  noun  \an-thrə-‘päf-ə-jē\

1. cannibals.

Date: mid 16th century.

Origin: Greek, άνθρωπος (man) and φάγος (eat).

Example:

It was my hint to speak, such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.

William Shakespeare (Othello)

Note that anthropophagus is normally used for folklore cannibals, as in the image above.

This entry was posted in Odd Words by Frank Moraes. Bookmark the permalink.
Avatar

About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Odd Words: Anthropophagi

  1. “…the word should not be “anthropophagi.” It should be “anthropophaguses.” This business has got to stop! We take English language words that are based on Greek words and create plurals based on Latin grammar?!”

    With all due respect, you may be incorrect about thinking that the plural is based on Latin grammar. While I have to admit that my knowledge of Latin grammar is exactly zero, from the little Greek that I can still remember, I can say that “anthropophagi” is an identical transliteration of the plural of the Greek noun.

    (Oι) ανθρωποφάγοι = anthropophagi

    In Greek, the diphthong “οι” = i

    (Ο) ανθρωποφάγος is the singular for this noun.

    • Well, the “due respect” I’m owed is little to none, so I’m glad for the correction. The reason I assumed it was Latin is that the word came to English from Greek via Latin — which is true of so many English words that it is hardly worth mentioning. Anyway, I’m glad to know this, even though I must admit that the details are more than a bit beyond me. But I stand by my point, which is that when we take a Greek or Latin word and make it English, the word is English and we should treat it as such.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *