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Latin cavus hollow


The ‘caves’ in the mountains and the ‘cavities’ in the teeth are both from this root as are the words cavern, ‘concave’ and excavate. All of them are cousins of our humble kuaan.

The word ‘decoy’ too is from the root cavus. Read on and see if you can find its meaning from the context. The passage is taken from the book ‘The Descent of Man’ by Charles Darwin.


“In one section of the genus Turnix, quail-like birds, the female is invariably larger than the male (being nearly twice as large in one of the Australian species), and this is an unusual circumstance…In Turnix taigoor of India the male, the whole tone of the plumage is lighter and less pronounced than that of the female. The female appears to be noisier, and is certainly much more pugnacious than the male; so that the females and not the males are often kept by the natives for fighting, like game-cocks. As male birds are exposed by the English bird-catchers for a decoy near a trap, in order to catch other males by exciting their rivalry, so the females of this Turnix are employed in India. When thus exposed, the females soon begin their loud purring call, which can be heard a long way off, and any females within ear-shot run rapidly to the spot, and start fighting with the bird. In this way from twelve to twenty birds, all breeding females, may be caught in the course of a single day.”


IE pel-  to fill


The word ‘complete’ has come from the Latin complere, which means ‘to fill up, fulfill.’ The ‘compliments’ that we shower on our friends and our guests or our hosts at a party are also from complere, and therefore signify nothing more than the fulfilment of a social duty!

The other words from plere are:

Plere the pool-1: complementcomplysupplementreplete

Plere the pool-2: depleteexpletive, implement

‘Supply’ too is from plere. It is a combination of the prefix sub-, from below, and plere, and so means ‘to fill up.’

Notice how similar the English words ‘fill’ and ‘full’ are. This closeness also holds in Latin. Plere means to fill and plenus means full.

Did you shout ‘plenty’ the moment you saw plenus? Great if you did! The other words based on this idea of fullness are:

Plenus in plenty-1: plenaryplenitude

Plenus in plenty-2: plenumpleonasm

Plenus in plenty-3: plenipotentiaryreplenishplethora

Another member of the family is the Latin word plous, which means ‘more.’ It is found in ‘plural’, ‘plus’, nonplussed and ‘surplus’.

The Greek cousin of plous is polus and it means ‘much, many’. That is where the oft-used prefix poly- comes from.


Wane: (v) decrease in strength or intensity.

Origin: related to the vanus words.

  • The man could never recover from his disease, and day by day, his strength waned.

Wanton: (adj) reckless, unrestrained, immoral.

  • “Nuptial love makes mankind; friendly love perfects it; but wanton love corrupts it.” Francis Bacon

Nepotism: (n) favouritism shown to one’s family or friends in business, politics, etc.

Origin: L nepotem, nephew, descendant. The word nephew itself is from nepotem. The Latin root nepotem is a cousin of the Sanskrit root

napat which means ‘grandson’ and is found in the Hindi word naati, daughter’s son.


Cavern: (n) a large, usually underground, cave.

Origin: L cavus

  • A fearful little child was still warning Hatimtai to go back, when the ground started shaking and a sudden duststorm almost blinded them. “He…he is c…coming…the demon….,” the child ran away mid-sentence. Soon, the demon loomed over Hatimtai and, revealing his cavernous mouth, roared, “In my kingdom, not the minutest trace of life can survive. You are my food of the day!” 

Excavate: (v) to dig out the contents of something so that only a hollow cave or pit is left behind.

Origin: L ex-, out + cavus, hollow => ‘to hollow out’

  • The archaeologists excavated many relics of the Harappan civilization from a small village in Punjab.

Decoy: (n) something or someone that attracts a bird, animal or person towards a hidden trap or shooter.

Origin: L cavus -> cavea, cage -> Dutch kooi, cage. In Dutch, de kooi meant ‘the cage’ => ‘something that leads a bird to a life in the cage.’

Complement: (v) to make complete or whole; (n) a thing that makes complete or whole.

Origin: L com- + plere, to fill => ‘to make full’

  • The husband has the qualities that the wife doesn’t have and vice versa. They complement one another beautifully.

Comply: (v) to fulfil all wishes or demands set before one; (adj) compliant.

Origin: L com- + plere, to fill => ‘to ful-fill’

  • It is the duty of every citizen to comply with the laws of his land. 

Supplement: (v) an addition which fills a deficiency, strengthens a thing or makes it complete. Such a thing is also called a supplement.

Origin: L sub-, up from below + plere, to fill => ‘to fill up from below.’ The word ‘supply’ too has the same etymology.

  • Dietary supplements offer the nutrients that are otherwise missing or deficient in a person’s regular diet, so that all of the body’s nutritional needs are fulfilled.

Replete: (adj) filled to the top, full.

Origin: L re- + plere, to fill => ‘filled up’

  • Every part of India is replete with corruption scandals.
  • The movie was replete with jokes. Not a minute of the movie was without a funny one-liner.

Deplete: (v) to empty out the reserves of.

Origin: L de-, down + plere, to fill => ‘to make less full’ => ‘to empty out’

  • The oil and gas reserves of the earth are being depleted.


Expletive: (n) a word or expression that does not contribute to the meaning of the sentence but which is interjected by the speaker to express his emotion or usually, just out of habit. These are usually profane words and are beeped out on TV and replaced with #$%@ marks in  print.

Origin: L ex-, out + plere, to fill => ‘words used to fill out a sentence.’


Plenary: (adj) full, absolute; having full attendance.

Origin: L plenus, full

  • The laws of the school’s governing body stated that the decision of a principal’s appointment or removal could be taken only in a plenary meeting.

Plenitude: (n) state of being full or having plenty.

Origin: L plenus, full

  • India is blessed with a plentiude of natural resources.


Plenum: (n) a meeting which has full attendance; state of being full.

Origin: L plenum, full

  • The school’s governing council held a plenum to decide on the next principal of the school.

Pleonasm: (n) use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.

Origin: Gk poly, many -> pleon, more -> pleonasein, more than needed

  • ‘Bright light’, ‘happy laughter’, ‘burning fire’, ‘completely impossible’ are examples of pleonasms. You don’t need to say ‘bright’ before light’, because light is always bright. Similarly, the reason why you are calling a thing ‘impossible’ is because it is completely undoable there is no thing which is ‘Partially impossible’. See also, tautology.

Plenipotentiary: (adj) having or granting full power; (n) a person who has full power to act on behalf of another.

Origin: L plenus, full + potentum, power

  • The Government of India gave plenipotentiary power to the Ambassador of India to Afghanistan to negotiate on its behalf with the hijackers who had taken an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar. 

Replenish: (v) to make full again.

Origin: L re-, again + plenus, full

  • The traveller through the mountains looked for a natural spring to replenish his empty water bottle.

Plethora: (n) overabundance, having much more than needed.

Origin: Gk plethora, fullness.

  • Mumbai has a plethora of restaurants and pubs.

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