Words at Play

Metropolis, Matrix & More

Top 10 Words That Come from "Mother"


Nowadays, it refers to a large city - particularly an important one.

In ancient Greece, metropolis referred to the mother city of a colony. (Corinth, for example, was the metropolis of Syracuse.)

Metropolis comes from the Greek mētēr ("mother") + polis ("city").

Is matrix the mother of all terms?

Maybe not, but the term originates in the Latin mater, meaning "mother."

The original (now-archaic) meaning of matrix was "uterus." Today the word usually refers to a situation or set of conditions in which something develops or forms.

An amateur pursues an activity for love, not money.

Amateur has an ancestor in the Latin amare, meaning "to love."

Although the relationship isn't certain, amare is probably related to a term meaning "mother": amma. In the Germanic language spoken before the 12th century, amma meant "mother" or "nurse."

A good school nurtures its students; the term alma mater ("fostering mother" in Latin) is rooted in that nurturing.

Alma mater refers either to a school one attended, or to that school's song.

The ancients used alma mater as a title for such goddesses as Ceres, the Roman goddess of the growth of food plants, and Cybele, who was worshipped as the universal mother of gods, humans, and animals.

The mari in this word recognizes a perennially honored mother: Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Gold describes the bright hue of the marigold's flowers.

Matrimony joins two people, but that pairing is rooted in one word: mother.

Matrimony comes from mater, Latin for "mother." This reflects the traditional role of marriage in legalizing motherhood - allowing women to produce legitimate children and heirs.

(Worried that men aren't getting a fair shake? Marital comes from maritus, Latin for both "married" and "husband.")

You may have seen one of these in your garden.

This impressive-looking spider has the genus (and common) name Argiope.

According to mythology, Argiopē was a nymph (i.e. a minor female divinity associated with the natural world) and mother of a celebrated bard.

Spin out the tale a bit further, and you learn that spiders such as the Argiope have been known to trap nymphs - sexually immature insects - in their webs.

Typically, of course, a nun is not a mother.

The linguistic background of the word nun, however, is fertile when it comes to children.

Its Late Latin ancestor nonna named a child's nurse. Nonna came from baby talk. So did the Greek nanna ("female relative" or "aunt"), the Sanskrit nanā ("mother"), the Welsh nain ("grandmother"), and the Albanian nanë ("mother").

top-10-words-that-come-from-mother-cassiope
Photo: Wikipedia

Here we have another flower reference, which seems appropriate for Mother's Day.

Cassiope, a shrub with nodding white or pink flowers, is found in cold climates. These plants are named for Cassiopeia, the mythical queen of Ethiopia - whose motherly pride in her daughter, and herself, happened to get her in trouble.

Cassiopeia angered the sea god, Poseidon, by claiming that she and her daughter, Andromeda, were more beautiful than the sea-nymphs. As punishment, Poseidon placed her - upside-down, no less - high in the sky near the north pole, where the constellation Cassiopeia bears her name.

Matter
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The fact of the matter is this: the Latin word for "mother," mater, is this word's distant ancestor.

Mater was shaped into materia, meaning "physical substance" or "matter." Materia eventually developed into matter.

Why did mother lead to matter? The connection is uncertain, but perhaps it's because matter is the substance from which something is made; and it is mother from which we all are made.




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