English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Some words have the same etymology, root, but mean different things, such as mysterious and mystical. What are some other pairs (or more) that fall into this category, and what exactly is this category called?

share|improve this question
There are lots of possible answers to that (words sharing the same root but whose meaning have diverged), so this should be CW, shouldn't it? – F'x Mar 18 '11 at 11:34
My favorite example is awful and awesome. At some point, awful did also have the same connotation as awesome, but in modern usage, they are almost antonyms. – Aditya Apr 7 '11 at 5:07
Sanguine and Sanguinary. "Happy" and "bloodthirsty" respectively. Both have roots in L. sanguineus "of blood". (Think rosy cheeks) – aaaidan Apr 3 '12 at 4:17

There are actually lots of these. They are called doublets.

My favorite example, which is not mentioned on that Wikipedia page, is the following:

Genre, gender, generic, and genus all come from the Latin genus meaning "kind/class" (although the word actually goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European *gen-/*gon-/*gn- meaning "produce, beget, be born").

share|improve this answer
Does that list also include 'genetic', 'generate', 'genealogy', and 'genesis'? – oosterwal Mar 18 '11 at 16:56
Thank you. That is the precise information I was looking for. Thank all three of you who responded. I'm much obliged. – user6255 Mar 20 '11 at 4:08
@oosterwal: Yes, and probably several others! – Kosmonaut Mar 20 '11 at 15:23
and 'degenerate', 'genitalia', 'gentleman', and 'genuine'. – Malvolio Apr 12 '11 at 6:06
If we include other non-Latin/non-Greek cognates of this PIE root (which, incidentally, is *ĝenh₁-, not just *gen-), it also includes words like kind, kin, kind(ergarten), king, genius, germ, german, germane, gentle, gentile, gentility, progenitor, engine, ingenious, gin (trap), etc. It’s a very productive (!) root that has begotten (!) a vast variety of words and meanings in various languages. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 23 '14 at 17:46

Just to point out, doublets are cognates within a single language.

My favorite pair is galaxy and lactose, which come from the Greek word for milk, gala. The genitive is galaktos. Apparently, Milky Way wasn't a weird choice of name at all...

share|improve this answer
Lactose is from Latin (ultimately lac, lactis = milk), whereas galaxy (and galactose) are from Greek. Probably both from proto IE root glakt- – Francis Davey Nov 23 '14 at 17:30

The word to describe this situatino (about words) is cognate. 'Skirt' and 'shirt' are cognate because they have a word in common etymologically.

share|improve this answer
That pair is also a doublet because they're both English... – kitukwfyer Mar 18 '11 at 17:28

My favourite pair is "canon" (=rule) and "cannon" (=weapon). Both from the same Greek word (kanna) meaning a reed, probably from a semitic root. I think that is an awesome stretch of meaning.

share|improve this answer

Cognates with different meanings from different languages/dialects are known as False Friends.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.