hematite (hēməˌtīt)

Hematite, an important component of iron, is responsible for the many red pigments found on Earth.

Recently, a young speller reached out to me to ask a question about the word “hematite.”

Hematite literally means “blood stone.” The word contains the Greek root hemato- meaning blood and the Greek suffix -ite*, commonly used for minerals and rocks. The combining forms for blood also include hema- and hemo-.

An important rule in spelling is that, when combining roots, you shouldn’t have random letters left over. If we break the word hematite down using hemo- or hema-, then we would be left with -tite as the ending. The root/suffix -tite does not exist. This is the first clue that you’ve broken down the word wrong.

The more roots you study, the better you’ll be able to recognize them in the words you come across every day. I hope this insight is helpful to those of you studying for your regional competitions or the Scripps National Spelling Bee!

* -ite can also be used to indicate a person belonging to or associated with a place, tribe, leader, system, etc. such as in the words: Israelite, Londonite, and Lincolnite.

ouroboric (ôr-ə-bôr’-ĭk)

An ouroboros is a snake that eats its own tail. (photo from shutterstock)

Recently I read an article in CSO Magazine about how Nestlé is finally converting its packaging to recycled plastics. By continuing the ouroboric cycle of “make, use, reuse, remake, recycle,” companies can minimize waste and emissions that are harmful to the environment. While these cycles can be positive, they can also have negative consequences. Society’s focus on social media can often be an ouroboric cycle that leads to hours of lost time.

Ouroboric is an adjective meaning “self consuming” (Wiktionary). The word ouroboric actually comes from the Greek phrase “drakon οὐροβόρος” (ouroboros). Drakon refers to a serpent-like dragon. The word ouroboros comes from the Greek root oura meaning tail and bora meaning food. Ouroboros literally means a snake that eats its own tail (for food or otherwise).

The word ouroboros has a long history in mythology. In Egypt, the ouroboros symbolized the beginning and end of time, and was associated with the god of the Sun (Ra). It most famously appears in Norse mythology as the legend of the Midgard Serpent, the son of Loki and the sworn enemy of Thor.

Jörmungandr (or the Midgard Serpent) is a giant snake that encircles Midgard/Earth and is so long that he ends up swallowing his own tail in an effort to cling to the world. Jörmungandr symbolizes never-ending suffering. Over time and across religions, the ouroboros has come to represent eternity, the end of the world, or the schism of birth and death.