"Unicorn" comes from the French and late Latin, with the "cornus" part meaning "horn". I am wondering what other English words share this root. I could think of "rhinoceros". Can you think of something (or multiple somethings) else?

  • 2
    Rhinoceros? Sure, it's the same PIE root, but from Greek rather than Latin. Apr 7, 2011 at 12:42
  • The ancient Biblical Hebrew word for horn (of an animal) is "keren." Anyone else think that may be where the Latin connection comes from?
    – user105509
    Jan 8, 2015 at 23:49
  • @Faith Schames - An interesting hint. In my view there might be a connection. But there is not much to be found on the Internet about possible relations between semitic and IE words.
    – rogermue
    Jan 9, 2015 at 4:51
  • @FaithSchames It has been suggested and is reasonably commonly held that the Proto-Indo-European root was borrowed either to or from Proto-Semitic at some point (similar to the number seven, PIE *septḿ, which is almost universally considered a loan word from Semitic). Unlike with ‘seven’, though, there’s nothing unusual about the root in either language, so we don’t know which way the borrowing went. Jan 9, 2015 at 10:50

5 Answers 5


The Latin word for horn is cornu, stem cornu- (with null-inflection in the nominative case). Note that Latin cornus, "cornel/dogwood", comes from a different Proto-Indo-European root and is not related. Rhinoceros comes from Greek keras, horn.

Both Latin cornu and Greek keras come from the same PIE root *ḱer- (very frequently, and seemingly somewhat at random, expanded to *ḱerh₂- ), which meant something like "horn, head" (note that there appear to be other PIE roots *ker- that are not related).

The examples Snumpy and Trideceth gave all come from Latin cornu-. The following words come from the PIE root *ḱer- through Latin, but not from Latin cornu-:

  • cervix
  • cerebral
  • triceratops
  • rhinoceros

The word horn comes from the same PIE root, but not through Latin: the /k/ sound was lenited to /x/ or /h/ in Proto-Germanic, as Colin Fine said, which is why we have /h/ now, just as in other Germanic languages.

  • 3
    The most obvious seems to be "cornet".
    – caxtontype
    Apr 7, 2011 at 15:58
  • 3
    +1 for a very good answer. But a nitpick: /k/ did not "disappear" in Germanic (the way /p/ really did disappear in Celtic, for example) but was lenited to /x/ or /h/, just as /p/ was lenited to /f/.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 7, 2011 at 16:19
  • @ColinFine: Ack, I knew someone would catch me! At first I had an even worse expression. Then I changed it to this, but I knew I should have looked up what happened exactly to the k, apart from the fact that it is now an h; I knew this was weak, but I was too lazy to look it up. I will incorporate your comment into my answer, if you don't mind. I figured "disappeared" might be taken as "it didn't exist after a certain time, when something else came instead of the k"; but I know that isn't the right way to say it. Apr 7, 2011 at 20:55
  • 1
    To be exact, the PIE root is *ḱer- (very frequently, and seemingly somewhat at random, expanded to *ḱerh₂-), rather than *ker-. Jan 8, 2015 at 23:57

and, believe it or not, corn

  • 5
    Presumably you mean a corn on the foot but not as in grain. Different roots
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Apr 7, 2011 at 10:28

Previous answers listed cervix, cerebral, triceratops, rhinoceros, cornea, Capricorn, cornicen, corniform, cornucopia, corneous, corner, tricorn, corn (on the foot), and cornicle as being from the same PIE root. There are others, including hirn, keratin, kerato- and anything formed therefrom, cerebro- and anything formed therefrom, many (but not all) other corn- and -corn words, and, possibly, Cornelia. Unrelated are cerul- words, ceremony, karma (related to ceremony, though), hurl, and, as someone else has mentioned, corn (grain).



There are many medical terms as well, which I'll not bother mentioning.


bicorn and tricorn (as in 18th century hats)

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