I am currently constructing a language for my fantasy world. I am utilizing roots, prefixes, suffixes - all that fun stuff. I've noticed something that I find rather strange though. Nearly every word root is Latin or Greek. Nearly every definition for those roots is not. Why is this?

For example, the root capitmeans head. Head sounds nothing like capit. Why don't we just say 'capit' instead of 'head'? I know these two words (capit and head) are from different languages. I want to know why.

EDIT: Posted for clarity's sake: This is the question in different terms: If we use Latin/Greek roots for a lot of our words, why does our source change from Latin to Old English (or Germanic or whatever it happens to be) for the definition of the root?

Example: If we use the root capit to form words involving head, why don't we just call a head a capit? Why are our roots mostly Greek and Latin, while the definitions of the roots (head, hand, love, sit, drag, voice, carry, etc.) are not?

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    Head Is from Old English heafod "top of the body." (Etymonline) – user66974 May 25 '15 at 18:58
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    First, you didn't make up the root "capit". It's the Latin root for head. Latin words don't sound like English words (unless we've borrowed them, as in capital). Latin is not an ancestor of English (English is Germanic, Latin is Italic) though both are Indo-European languages, which have a common ancestor in prehistory. Second, languages change the sounds of their words (geese used to be pronounced GAY-suh, more or less), and if the roots are old, they'll sound different even if they are from the same language. – John Lawler May 25 '15 at 19:01
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    They mean the Latin root capit means head. Which you'll find in Anglicized words like capital [city] (the main/controlling city), and "Latinate" usages such as average income per capita - being per head [of population, each citizen having exactly one head]. – FumbleFingers May 25 '15 at 19:02
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    Tolkein was a linguist. He knew over a dozen languages, and he invented more of them just for fun. He probably could have told you which English words were descended from Old English, which came to English from Latin through Old French, and which ones we just borrowed straight from Latin. If you want to invent languages as competently as Tolkein did, you have a lot to learn first. Of course, the languages in most fantasy novels aren't anywhere as complete and consistent as Tokien's, and the books work perfectly fine. – Peter Shor May 25 '15 at 20:37
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    The real problem is that once you get those roots in your mouth you just pronounce things differently. – Hot Licks May 25 '15 at 21:46

You need to make up one root, and define it in English. Say you decide op means head or is the root for words that have head in them, like capit is English. Then you can add suffixes and prefixes and such to op so that oppy or arop or tomopsoo mean things (in English) the way capital and captain and decapitate mean things to us. Maybe the people in your world will use the word op on its own, or maybe they will have another word specifically for head, the way we do in English. English is a really hard language to explain or invent. Most made up languages don't try to inherit from multiple other made up languages. Many derive from multiple real languages (eg English and French) to give an end result that's clearly different, yet somehow almost understandable. Modesitt is especially good at this. Others just make up a bunch of roots and then add suffixes and prefixes and infixes, as you are doing.

As for your observation that most of our roots are not English, I suspect you're just not noticing. Think about headache, for example. Or headscarf. We make tons of words from head. The words made from capit tend to be more governmenty or intellectual - and that's about who used which languages as English grew.

  • "decapitate" - I like the answer. – olegst May 26 '15 at 6:01

English draws its lexicon from many sources: from Old English, sort of a 'cousin' of Old High German, both being derived from Proto-Germanic; from (at different times) Old and Modern French; from classical Latin (which is also ancestral to Old French) and from classical Greek.

Head, as the comments tell you, descends from an Old English word, heafod = 'head', while the capit- stem is that of Latin caput, also = 'head'. (The same word became chef in Old and then Modern French, from which we borrowed our word for a 'head' cook.)

More remotely, however, all these descend from the same Proto-Indo-European word, kaput; but it has undergone different sound changes along each line of descent.


It's a very long story, but English is a mashup, so words have different origins. The word head sounds nothing like capit because capit is not the root of head. It is the root of capital and decapitation.

A root word is just the word that the prefixes and suffixes are appended to: capit, capital, capitalist, anticapitalist, anitcapitalistic.

  • So for the purposes of worldbuilding, this means I need to make up two roots for each definition - One to attach prefixes and suffixes to, and one to use as the definition. Is this correct? (Aka, I need a word for capit and a word for head - both of which mean head in English.) – Thomas Myron May 25 '15 at 19:21
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    @TommyMyron: What part of capit is not the root of head did you miss? Caput is simply the Latin word for head and has nothing to do with th eEnglish word head. Puella is the Latin word for girl, but that does not mean it is the root of the word girl. – oerkelens May 25 '15 at 19:26
  • I know capit is not the root for the word 'head.' This is, in fact, very nearly the question I am asking - why isn't it? I know why it isn't now. I believe you may have misunderstood me. I will revise my question for clarity. – Thomas Myron May 25 '15 at 19:59

We use Head and Capit for our words along with a few other terms, like Cepha. I suppose if you are creating your own language you can just create your own word.

Head is not the "definition" of Capit; that is what has gotten you confused. The definition of both is "the body part just above the neck."

Now, we do use the Latin, Greek, and English words (and French and Norse) to form various other words through affixes. Sometimes we even use Latin affixes on English words and English affixes on Greek words. If you want to create multiple root languages for your created language then go ahead. Language A could be for the common nouns and verbs, Language B could introduce more advanced terms for economics and law, Language C could form the roots of religion, philosophy, and science, and so on.

Each could have its own style of word formation, giving your created language multi-layered depth. Some could be added before the language is mass printed, incorporating the foreign sounds into common spelling; some introduced after widespread writing, bringing the foreign spelling into your language.


The Latin word is caput, nominative, and capit-is, genitive. In the genitive the u changed to i, influenced by the i of the genitive ending.

Connected with Latin caput is German Haupt. H corresponds to Latin c, and Latin u jumped before p. Also English head is connected with Latin caput. If you compare Haupt and head you see the similarity.

In the course of time consonants changed according to certain rules as formulated by Grimm and others. So that, at first sight, you don't see, that Latin caput and English head are connected.

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