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High society ladies and gentlemen often contort their noses at the common people their air-conditioned cars whizz by. And then, one of them starts telling the others about what happened on her recent jaunt to a fashion designer. “The clothes he was showing me were so down-market, you know, all the stuff that those Bollywood heroines and the soap queens wear and that, within days, you can see being flaunted by every middle-class girl and her aunty! I strictly told him, ‘Either show me something nice or I’m leaving. Don’t show me what the hoi polloi wears."

The Greek word hoi means ‘the’ and polloi, ‘many’, and so ‘hoi polloi’ means ‘the many’, that is the masses or the common people.

Latin too has a word for the masses derived from the pel- family of roots. That word is plebs. It is found in plebian and plebiscite.

The IE ‘l’ often changes into ‘r’ in Sanskrit. So, the Sanskrit members of the family are poora, complete, poorak, a supplement or filler, pooran, act of filling and sampooranta, completeness, perfectness.


Latin fluere to flow


The ancient astrologers believed, most still do, that the destiny of humans was controlled by stars. When asked how, they explained that the stars emanated an ethereal fluid which streamed towards the earth and touched each individual, thereby altering his state. This invisible emanation ‘flowing’ in to the earth from the stars above was called an ‘influence’. The word influence is still used for a power that produces an effect without itself being seen or perceived.

The disease ‘influenza’ was called so because it was attributed to the ‘influence’ of stars.

Fluere-1: fluxfluentfluctuate

Fluere-2: mellifluoussuperfluous

Fluere-3: affluenceconfluencediffluent

Fluere-4: effluentinfluxrefluxfluvial

IE teu- to swell


Do you know why a thumb is called a ‘thumb’? Because it is the swollen finger! Similarly, the swollen part of the leg is called a ‘thigh’. ‘Thousand’ is a swollen hundred (how imaginative!). A swollen tissue is called a ‘tumour’.

The other swollen-up words are:


Latin satis enough, sufficient


‘Satisfy’ is the most common word from this root. Then, we have satiate and satiety.

Three more words, not from this root, but related to it are:


Latin merx goods, wares


Since the Latin merx meant goods, the trader of goods was called mercatans in Vulgar Latin. That word became marcheant in Old French, then merchaunt in Old English, and so we got our ‘merchant’.

The French played the game the other way. They had the word marcheant for Mr Trader, and so, they called the goods he traded his marcheandise. This word became ‘merchandise’ in English. So, this stylish word is what we use for the traded goods, not the Latin merx or any direct derivative of it.

The act of exchanging, or buying and selling, of goods is called ‘commerce’ (L. com-, together), and the bustling place where this is done is called the ‘market’. Not everyone can be a good trader though, not everyone has mercantile talents, or as some people would rather say, not everyone has the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi. Her counterpart in the Roman mythology was ‘Mercury’, the god of trade, profit, invention and knowledge.

Mercury was also the messenger god. He communicated messages from different gods to the mortals. He was very swift, as a messenger should be. That is why, the Romans named the fastest planet of the solar system after him. Mercury takes only 88 days to revolve around the sun. It is for the same qualities of eager mobility that the only liquid metal was also named mercury.

Someone whose mind flies as quickly between moods as Mercury flew between places is mercurial. Just a few minutes ago, Guddo had called Laado her best friend. Laadi had been chaffing her and she had been laughing. Suddenly, Laado did not even know over what, Guddo told her to shut up and go away, and said petulantly that Laado would never understand her. A baffled Laado tried to ask her what had happened but Guddo glowered at her with such fury that she just left quietly. She knew that Guddo would apologize on her own after some time. It was nothing new. She had borne the brunt of her best friend’s volatility so many times by then that she was almost an expert on Guddo’s mood swings.

In direct contrast to Laado’s fickle Guddo are the jihadi suicide bombers, who seem so steadfast to their ideology that they do not flinch from even killing themselves. That is not the whole truth though. Quite a few of the jihadisoldiers are actually mercenaries, who are paid to fight and kill. For them, fighting is a job like any other, and in most cases, the only one they could get.

The Greeks and the Egyptians knew the god Mercury as Hermes. They regarded Hermes as the inventor of all knowledge—be it mathematics, geometry, astrology, astronomy, alphabet, poetry or literature. The Alchemists, who tried to convert base metals into gold and find a remedy for mortality, called themselves ‘the sons of Hermes’, and alchemy, a hermetic art.

The alchemists had great hopes from mercury (the metal). They believed that when it attained complete purity, mercury acquired transmutive powers. The name they gave to that magical pure powder of mercury was the Elixir or the Panacea (How wonderful indeed if such a magical substance could be found!). The challenge, however, was to purify mercury to that state of perfection.

The solution they found was a distillation chamber, in which the condensed liquid was continually channeled again to the boiler, so that the purification continued uninterrupted. This process could succeed only if the vessel was made air-tight, so that no vapors could escape from it. This all-crucial sealing of the vessel was called Hermetic sealing

Despite all their diligence, the alchemists failed to produce a true elixir of life. Instead, ironically, many emperors in ancient China were killed by mercury over dosage from the elixirs their alchemists had concocted for them.


Nonplussed: (adj) confused so much that one does not know what to say or think or do.

Origin: L non plus => ‘nothing more’ => ‘ a state in which a person can say nothing more, cannot think of what else he might say.’

  • The teacher stopped in the middle of a sentence and threw a chalk at Dino. “What am I teaching?” she asked. Dino, woken so abruptly from his daydream, stood up. “Gravity ma’am,” he said. “What about gravity?” He was nonplussed. 

Plebian: (n) belonging to the common people. Opposite of patrician.

Origin: L plebs, the multitudes => ‘the common people’


Plebiscite: (n) a direct vote in which all the valid voters in a population vote in favour of or against a proposal. This vote is not to elect a

representative of the people but to know their opinion about some important issue related to them.

Origin: L plebs, common people + scire, to know => ‘to know the opinion of the common people’

A plebiscite is also called a referendum.

  • JNU held a students’ referendum to decide whether the university’ statute should be amended to allow a Vice-Chancellor to hold office for a second term. A total of 2,741 students cast their vote out of which 2,563 voted against the proposed amendment.


Emanate: (v) to flow out of something; to send out.

Origin: L ex-, out + manare, to flow


Ethereal: (adj) extremely light or delicate; heavenly.

Origin: L aether, the upper air => ‘a hypothetical massless substance which the earlier physicists believed occupied all space and conducted

electromagnetic radiations through space.’

Attribute: (v) to say ‘it is caused by’ or ‘it is made by’ or ‘it is made in’ or ‘it is a quality of’; (n) a quality or a symbol associated with a person.

  • The humidity levels during the day oscillated between 13 and 37 per cent. The meteorology department attributed it to build up of western disturbances over the city.
  • The Ramayana is attributed to the poet Valmiki.
  • The Ramayana’s written form is attributed to the first century A.D.
  • Emotional maturity is a necessary attribute of good leaders.

Flux: (n) flow; continuously changing from one state to another.

Origin: L fluere, to flow -> fluxus, a flowing

  • The world is in a flux. Every moment, many people are born and many die.


Fluent: (adj) flowing like a stream, able to speak easily and smoothly.

Origin: L fluere, to flow => ‘coming out of the mouth like a flowing stream of words.’

  • Ram was fluent in French. He also spoke Persian fluently.
  • The dancer performed beautifully. Her spins, jumps and lifts were so fluent that it seemed that her body seemed like a flowing stream.

Fluctuate: (v) to rise and fall like a wave; to be unstable

Origin: a fluefe, to flow fluctus, a wave => to be like a wave

  • A UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) saves a computer from damage due to voltage fluctuations.


Mellifluous: (adj) flowing with honey; so sweet-sounding that it seems as if honey is flowing out of the speaker’s mouth

Origin: L mel, honey + fluere, to flow

  • Her mellifluous words charmed the audience.

Another word from the root mel is molasses.

(n) the thick brown syrup that remains after sugar crystallizes out of sugarcane juice.

Superfluous: (adj) more than needed.

Origin: L super-, over + fluere, to flow => ‘that which flows over the brim of a container’ => ‘the extra liquid which was not needed’

  • The definition of the word ‘chaff’ is ‘to tease in a good-natured way with no intention to offend.’ Here the phrase ‘with no intention to

offend’ is superfluous because that is what ‘good-natured way’ means too.


Affluence: (n) extreme wealth. An extremely rich person is called affluent.

Origin: L ad-, towards + fluere, to flow => ‘towards whom money flows in a stream’


Confluence: (n) flowing together of two or more streams; the place where two or more streams coming from different directions converge.

Origin: L con-, together + fluere, to flow

  • The Triveni Sangam in Allahabad is a confluence of three rivers—Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

Diffluent: (adj) tending to flow away.

Origin: L dis-, apart + fluere, to flow

  • A diffluent glacier is a small flow of ice which breaks away from a large glacies.

Effluent: (n) that which flows out; (adj) flowing out.

Origin: L ex-, out + fluere, to flow

  • The cold drink factory dumped its effluents in the fresh water stream flowing nearby, thus rendering the stream’s water too polluted for human or animal consumption.


Influx: (n) inflow

Origin: L in-, in + fluere, to flow => ‘to flow in’

  • The influx of Bangladeshi migrants from the porous Indo-Bangladesh border worried the security agencies.

Opposite: outflux


Refluent: (adj) flowing back; ebbing; (n) reflux.

Origin: L re-, back + fluere, to flow

  • The shells that were swept onto the beach by the surging tide were not taken back by the refluent tide.

Fluvial: (adj) related with a river.

Origin: L fluere, to flow -> fluvius, that which flows, that is, a river

  • Fluvial god, fluvial transport

Tumid: (adj) swollen body part; inflated language.

Origin: L tumere, to swell

  • If you put a cell from a living organism in a water solution, water will move into the cell and the cell will become tumid.

Detumescence: (n) reduction of swelling in a body part.

Origin: L de-, down + tumere, to swell => ‘swelling coming down’

  • The king spent his last days in a shrinking empire and a correspondingly detumescent glory.

Protuberance: (n) something that is swollen and is bulging out beyond the surrounding surface; (v) protuberate.

Origin: L pro-, forward + tumere, to swell

  • One should get any lump or protuberance that one notices in any part of the body checked immediately. It might be cancer!

Satiate: (v) to satisfy fully; to satisfy even more than fully; (adj) satiated: whose appetite is fully satisfied

Origin: L satis, enough

  • The bride’s side served such a sumptuous meal to the baaraatis that even the most gluttonous among them were satiated.

Satiety: (n) the state of being full beyond satisfaction.

Origin: noun form of satiate.

  • The speed at which a person consumes food has an effect on his feeling of satiety. If he is hurriedly gobbling up his food, he is likely to eat more than needed, before he feels sated.

Sate: (v) to satiate.

Origin: Sate is not from L satis but is a Germanic cousin of this root.


Saturate: (v) to make totally full.

Origin: L satur, full

  • A sponge is said to be saturated when it can hold no more water.

Satire: (n) an artistic creation which makes fun of human vices, weaknesses or beliefs.

Origin: L satis, full => ‘a dish which is filled with different types of fruit’ => ‘a work which playfully attacks different types of vices’

  • The movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is a satire on the collusion of the building mafia and municipal officials of Mumbai in the 1980s.

Mercantile: (adj) of or related to merchants or trade.

Origin: adjective form of ‘merchant.’

  • Though Raju was a businessman’s son, he had no mercantile abilities at all. He was made for poetry and literature instead.

Mercurial: (adj) that which changes very fast.

Origin: L mercurialis, of the god Mercury

The world of glamour is mercurial. Some one who is a star today may be down in the dust tomorrow and vice versa.


Chaff: (v) to tease playfylly in a good-natured way.

Brunt: (n) the main impact of a blow.

Volatile: (adj) that which evaporates rapidly, that which changes state rapidly.


Fickle: (adj) that which changes just like that, has no sense of loyalty, and is therefore, not at all reliable or stable.


Steadfast: (adj) standing firmly no matter what, unchanging, unmoving.

Origin: Old Eng stead, stand + fast, firm


Ideology: (n) system of beliefs that define a group of people or a culture.

Origin: Greek idea, idea + -ology, study


Flinch: (v) to shrink or withdraw from.


Mercenary: (n) a professional, especially a soldier, who works only for money; (adj) motivated solely by money.

Origin: L merces, money, wages

The word ‘soldier’ has a parallel etymology to ‘mercenary.’ It is derived from the Latin root solidus, meaning ‘a gold coin’ and so, meant ‘one who works for gold coins.’


Alchemy: (n) an ancient form of chemistry which aimed to turn ordinary metals into gold and to find a medicine which could cure all

diseases and make man immortal. The men who practiced alchemy were called Alchemists.

From the specific definition above, alchemy slowly started being used for any, seemingly magical, process which transmuted an object of

little value into an object of great value.

Chemistry derives its name from alchemy.


Hermetic: (adj) related with Hermes.

Elixir: (n) a substance believed to cure all diseases, prolong life indefinitely and to transmute base metals into gold. It is also known as the

philosopher’s stone.

  • In the Hindu mythology, the Sanjeevni plant is depicted as an elixir.

Panacea: (n) a universal remedy, that is, a medicine that cures all diseases. The key word in this definition is ‘universal’. A panacea is the cure of all woes. A medicine that cures merely one or two problems cannot be called a panacea.

Origin: Gk pan-, all + akos, cure => ‘a cure-all’


Distillation: (n) purification or concentration of a substance by boiling it, collecting its vapours in a separate vessel and then condensing

them. The concentrated solution obtained when the vapours are condensed is called the distillate.

Hermetic seal:
(n) an airtight seal.

Origin: named after Hermes, the god whom Alchemists worshipped

  • The precious handwritten letter of the Mughal emperor was kept in a hermetically sealed glass case in the museum.
  • The jam that we buy from markets usually comes in hermetically sealed glass bottles.

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