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I was just discussing oddities of English with a friend, and I realized something that neither of us could explain.

  • A podiatrist is a foot doctor.
  • A podium is something you stand behind when giving a speech
  • A pedometer is a device which counts your steps.
  • A pedophile is someone with a sexual interest in children.

So what the heck? Apparently pod and ped are Latin and Greek respectively roots for "foot", so that I get. But then apparently pedo is Greek and is "a combining form meaning “child,” used in the formation of compound words". So uh, huh?? I mean, why isn't a pedometer a device for measuring children and a pedophile someone with a foot fetish...?

  • 5
    Originally, a podium is something you stand on (when getting a medal, for example). A lectern is something you stand behind when giving a speech. But podium has been so misused as to now mean lectern. – GrimGrom Aug 19 '16 at 1:07
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    I believe you've answered your own question... the words have different origin languages, and are consistent with respect to those languages. – Azuaron Aug 19 '16 at 1:08
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    OK so there are different roots, sure... but still, if Ped is greek for foot, and pedo is Greek for child, then why isn't a pedometer a device for measuring children? – JVC Aug 19 '16 at 1:11
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    Because nobody felt the need for a word for "a device for measuring children"? This seems like asking why "informative" is not used to mean the opposite of "formative." – herisson Aug 19 '16 at 1:41
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    There already is a word for a device for measuring children. It's called a tape measure. – Steven Littman Aug 19 '16 at 2:48
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You got two different Ablaut grades of the same root, plus a different root here.

One root is Proto-Indo-European *ped- 'foot', as noted. This comes in two varieties:

  • the E-grade, represented in Latin pedis 'foot', with root ped-
  • the O-grade, represented in Greek podos 'foot', with root pod-

English borrowed lots of words with both of these roots:
podiatrist (< Gk iatros, 'physician'), podium, pedal, pedometer (< Lat meter 'measure').

The other root is PIE *pau- 'small; child', the source of Latin parvus 'small',
and Greek paidos 'child'. Words from Greek and Latin with AI or AE in them
tended to be borrowed into English with an E, so we get words from paidos like

  • pediatrician (< Gk iatros, 'physician')
    pedagogue (< Gk agogos, 'leader')
    pedophile (< Gk philos, 'love')

Postnote: The Latin root pod is the same as the pre-Germanic root, but all the Germanic languages went through a series of regular sound changes called "Grimm's Law", in which
PIE *p changed to f, and PIE *d changed to t, leaving the Proto-Germanic root *fot-,
which is the source of English foot.

Same thing for pater and father, (*t changed to th) canis and hound (*k changed to h),
cardium and heart, etc. If you understand Grimm's Law, you double your English vocabulary.

| improve this answer | |
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    While pedagogue is commonly found in British English, the other words are paediatrician and paedophile. It's only adherents of Webster's AmE spelling which generally reduced the digraphs who may be misled. BrE shows the different roots between pedometer and paedometer. – Andrew Leach Aug 20 '16 at 15:40
  • Bully for British spelling, then! But then people will wonder how to spell pædiatrician. – John Lawler Aug 20 '16 at 16:35
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You can answer this question by looking at the various etymologies of the words. A useful resource for looking up etymologies is Etymonline.com, which gives the following:

pedometer (n.)

instrument for measuring distances covered by a walker, 1723, from French pédomètre (1712), a hybrid coined from Latin pedis (genitive of pes "foot;" see foot (n.)) + Greek metron "a measure" (see meter (n.2)). At first Englished as waywiser.

and

pedophile (n.)

1951, derived noun from pedophilia.

and

pedophilia (n.)

1900, from Greek pais (genitive paidos) "child" (see pedo-) + philos "loving" see -phile). First attested in an abstract of a report by Krafft-Ebing.

As you can see, pedometer comes from Latin via French. The Latin root is pedis (notice the 'd'), meaning "of feet".

Pedophile comes from Greek. The root is paidos (notice the 'd'), meaning "of children."

Don't make the mistake of thinking every time you see pedo- in a word, it means "of children". Sometimes it means "of children" (following the Greek etymology) and sometimes it means "of feet" (following the Latin etymology).

The same goes for pod-. You have to look at the specific etymologies to see where the prefix is coming from originally.

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  • Interesting... so basically there is no real rhyme or reason, just some words came into the popular usage via one country of origin, and others via another. If you didn't already know what the intended meaning was, you'd have to look it up. – JVC Aug 19 '16 at 2:19
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    @JonathanvanClute It's nothing so neat as country of origin. English is the result of mixing the languages of Celts, Danes, Norse, Angles, Saxons, Romans, Normans, et al. Greek influenced Latin, which came via the Romans during their conquest of Britain and via the Normans (since the Romans conquered Gaul before the Normans conquered England) and via its use as a European scientific lingua franca. Then the English conquered the rest of the world and pillaged the languages they found thereby. – deadrat Aug 19 '16 at 2:55
  • @deadrat Sounds about right +1 (but you may have missed one) – mcottle Aug 19 '16 at 8:41
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The etymology of the word "pedophile" as I know it is fraught with peril. As I recall it, the word should be spelled and pronounced as pædophile.

In print, you can see the word paedophile in the Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition. The paedophile spelling goes back as far as 1908, whereas the pedophile spelling only started appearing in 1944 according to the Google Ngrams library. It looks like the word was just too difficult to properly enunciate for most people, so the spelling was changed to reflect the common pronunciation when it started becoming popularized amongst the general public.

However those ae/æ words have been seemingly evicted from the language. Yeah, the Encyclopædia Britanica still uses the Encyclopædia spelling and have been since at least the 9th edition which is significant but as far as I know everybody else, including the now much more known Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia uses the alternate spelling. The Google nGrams are pretty condemning here too as the Encyclopædia spelling has been declining in isolation from the other variants and isn't even a blip on the radar by means of comparison if you discount what's arguably the most significant historical use of the word.

Do note that this makes so much more sense with The Online Etymology Dictionary etymology entry Silenus already mentioned:

1900, from Greek pais (genitive paidos) "child" (see pedo-) + philos "loving" see -phile). First attested in an abstract of a report by Krafft-Ebing.


The emphasis is my own, to emphasize the probable pronunciation of the word-forming element we probably should be using, if people weren't lazy and the cause wasn't hopeless. Oh well, at least it's not like pedophile ever meant anything else in English as far as I know, although it does seem to deny foot fetishists the unique single word they should rightfully own (which is not to say that anybody would want the name at this point anyway). Regardless, if not only in order to further emphasize this point, let's go look at the referenced entry at The Online Etymology Dictionary too:

Pedo before vowels ped-, word-forming element meaning "boy, child," from Greek pedo-, comb. form of pais "boy, child," especially a son, from PIE root *peu- "small, little, few, young" (see few (adj.)). The British form paed- is better because it avoids confusion with ped-.


paedo- see pedo-.


A recent use of the word can be found in Stop Using the Word Paedophile, written by Julie Bindel for The Guardian.


Citations and Alternate links:

Wiktionary entries for pædophile and encyclopædia, reproduced on Wordnik.

The Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition's entry for paedophile.

As stated by Stop Using the Word Paedophile, written by Julie Bindel for The Guardian and published Tuesday 23 May 2006: Archived on The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

This is the present Encyclopædia Britanica's homepage, archived on The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

There is a photograph on The Dull but Dependable Encyclopaedia Britannica Bows to the Digital Facts of Life by Max Davidson for The Telegraph 14 Mar 2012, archived on The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

This is Wikipedia Homepage, 31 Mar 01 snapshot, archived on The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

This is a Screenshot of the Google Ngrams Usage Trends Comparison for, Encyclopaedia, Encyclopædia and encyclopedia.

This is Screenshot of the Google Ngrams Usage Trends Comparison for Paedophile, Pedophile

This is a Google nGrams Screenshot for the usage trend of Encyclopædia, which is isolated from other words

This is The Online Etymology Dictionary's Entry for pedophile: Archived on The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

This is The Online Etymology Search Results Page for pedo-, with the paedo wordforming element

Here are scholarly citations for The Online Etymology Dictionary, and an archival link to them The Internet Archive's wayback machine.

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  • "ae" - > "e" is much more the case in American English. In Britain the "a" is retained in "paed-", thus avoiding the ambiguity between feet and children. – Chris H Aug 19 '16 at 6:47
  • "the -phile suffix doesn't even mean an erotic sort of love in Greek" This is debatable. There's a tradition in philosophy/theology of drawing fine distinctions between various Greek words for love. However, that Wikipedia article notes that Aristotle used "philia" to refer to love between lovers, Wiktionary lists "sexual love" as one meaning... – herisson Aug 19 '16 at 8:10
  • and The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon includes the definition "later, of lovers, fondness." – herisson Aug 19 '16 at 8:10
  • There are several other problems with this answer I need to address later. I think the Online Etymology Dictionary entry addresses Chris's concern sufficiently until then, since it notes that paedophile is the British form. @sumelic Secondhand information is problematic like that. I'll remove that portion of the answer for now since it's nonessential, re-purpose the reference (which didn't address what I originally thought it did anyway) and let you know when I have references I can fully parse. It'd be nice if you can give me a more precise date than "later" in the meantime. Thanks. – Tonepoet Aug 19 '16 at 10:00
  • Unfortunately, I don't know Greek, so all of my information is also second-hand. I was just quoting LSJ, which is considered a good dictionary of ancient Greek. Using Google Books, I found a passage from The Greeks and Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient World, by James N. Davidson... – herisson Aug 19 '16 at 10:29
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Also I think you're confusing the way o Meter works as a suffix. Kind of like a speedometer or a tachometer, it is Ped-ometer. Not pedo-meter.

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  • So it's ped (foot) then O then Meter. So foot of measure.. or measuring of feet – David R Oct 16 '18 at 22:58
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    This isn't the entire story, however. There are plenty of words that have only a -meter suffix: altimeter, velocimeter, gravimeter, etc. – Laurel Oct 16 '18 at 23:45
  • @Laurel -o/-i meter. Just a glue vowel – Carly Oct 17 '18 at 1:43
  • @Carly Ammeter, voltameter, acoumeter... I have more examples, although not all of them are well-known. – Laurel Oct 17 '18 at 1:50

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