Sunday, July 26, 2009

What do polyamory and hexadecimal have in common?

The title of this MeFi post reminded me of two related linguistic curiosities: both polyamory and hexadecimal are hybrid mashups of Greek and Latin roots.

"Poly" is Greek for "many"; but Greek for romantic love is "eros". "Amor" is a Latin root. A more fiddly linguist would have coined the term polyerotics (Greek) or multiamory (Latin).

Likewise, "hex" is Greek for "six"; but the Greek root for ten is "deka". "Decimal" is Latin. In this case, more consistent coinages would have been either hexadecadic/deca-hexadic (Greek) or sexadecimal (Latin).

Interestingly, in both cases, at least one of consistent formations (polyerotics*, sexadecimal) is more sexually suggestive to the modern English speaker than the hybrid coinage. Coincidence?

*Actually, "polyerotic" seems to have been adopted by online polyamorist communities as a designation for specifically sexual polyamorous relationships. This is OK, I suppose, although I think the Greeks had it right that romantic love and sexual desire (which they denoted with the same word) cannot be cleanly cleaved in two.

1 comment:

  1. I think I prefer ‘sexadecimal’ — six and ten are respectively ‘hexe’ and ‘deka’ in Greek, but sixteen is ‘hekkaideka’ (for reasons that only make sense if you're a linguist). ‘Hekkaidecadic’ might be a bit difficult to pronounce. :)

    Polyerotic is good. Someone on Livejournal came up with ‘polyerotia’ as a wholly Greek-rooted replacement for ‘polyamory’. Unfortunately, it suffers from semantic issues, since ‘eros’ still denotes both love and sex in Greek.

    Not nice if you're trying to convince someone poly isn't the same as swinging!

    Being a native speaker, the dodgy semantics and bad feel of the word ‘polyerotia’ get to me, and I often dream about a better term to describe that aspect of myself in Greek.

    I fear I may have better luck in sexadecimal.