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CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW

Composition of Scientific Words, by Roland Wilbur Brown

Harry M. Hubbell

Vol. 43, No. 2 (APRIL 1955)

COMPOSITION OF SCIENTIFIC WORDS, by Roland Wilbur Brown; 882 pages; $8.00; published by the author, 1954; U. S. National Museum, Washington, D.C.

This book is a revision and enlargement of the author’s Materials for Word-study published in 1927. The major portion of the work—814 pages—is the lexicon in which “English key-words receive their appropriate Latin, Greek, and other synonyms with derivative examples.” The abundant cross references make it possible, it would seem, for a word-coiner to find a suitable tag for anything. The lexicon is a truly amazing and herculean labor. Some slips are inevitable in such an enormous work; akbasis for ecbasis on p. 840; and on the same page kalobates is a tight rope walker, not a walker on stilts. The misprints are few and generally unimportant.

The first sixty pages are devoted to an introduction on the history and nature of the English language, and in particular on the formation of scientific words. In this section the author is less successful. Several slips may be noted: Page 3. Logos rarely if ever means “word”; the proper Greek term for “word” is lexis; and logotechnes means artificer of speech, a rhetorician. Page 17. It is stretching a point to say that “the Romans . . . assimilated a large part of the Greek vocabulary.” The number of Greek words taken into Latin is relatively small. A similar comparison of the two languages on p. 40 needs correction: Latin is much less amenable than Greek to the formation of compounds, particularly those of a noun and verb; this is one reason why so many scientific coinages are made from Greek rather than from Latin. Page 42. kynosoura (dog’s-tail) is cited as an example of addition of letters for the sake of euphony, i.e., to kynooura. The “s” really belongs with kyno, thus making kynos, the genetive case of dog. This correct explanation is given on p. 39.

These are, however, minutiae which probably annoy only a pedantic professor of Greek; the section contains much sound advice and help for word coiners.

Harry M. Hubbell (1881–1971) was a professor of classics at Yale University. He translated works by Cicero, Philodemus and other writers from Latin into English.


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