syzygy (si-zə-jē)

On August 21, 2017, millions of people in North America witnessed a rare astronomical event – a total eclipse of the Sun. This occurs when the Moon’s orbit aligns with the Earth and Sun.

When the Moon passes in front of the Sun, it casts two different types of shadows on Earth, the umbral shadow (umbra literally means “shadow” in Latin) and penumbral shadow. The umbral shadow is quite small, while the penumbral shadow covers a larger area of the Earth’s surface. In order to experience a total eclipse, you must be within the umbral shadow, or the path of totality, during the time of the eclipse.

The path of totality on August 21st was 70 miles wide, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. However, everyone in the United States experienced a partial eclipse, even if they were not in the path of totality.

In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, syzygy* occurred for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. This was one of the longest periods of totality that could be viewed in the United States. Hopkinsville is a relatively short drive from our house and we decided to make the trek for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We drove to a friend’s farm and sat in a quiet, open, field to watch this awe-inspiring event.

At the time of totality, the birds stopped singing, the cicadas started chirping, and darkness fell upon us. There was a peaceful white light emanating from the Sun and it was beautiful. We even witnessed the dazzling “Diamond Ring effect” as totality ended. I am truly grateful to have experienced this event with my family.

*Syzygy occurs when three celestial bodies align perfectly. The word comes from the Greek word syzygos which means yoked or united together.

cynophilist (sī-näfələ̇st)

Happy Valentine’s Day! We have a new love in our lives and I have been very excited to write this post for many months. In September of 2016, we brought home a 12-week-old Tibetan Spaniel puppy. We named her Coco Cuddles, and she is adorable, sweet, and cuddly.

Tibetan Spaniels are a rather uncommon breed, but we have found that this particular breed suits our family perfectly. Coco is loving, lively, alert, smart, playful, and sometimes mischievous. As their name would suggest, Tibetan Spaniels originated in Tibet. They are a very old breed; they are depicted in Asian art dating back to 1100 BC.

Tibetan Spaniels can be many different colors with various markings, but our Coco is  parti colored, meaning that she is a mix of different colors – she is white with light sable markings. She is almost 8 months old now and weighs 8 pounds. Her adult weight will be between 13 and 15 pounds, so she won’t really gain much more weight.

By now, you’ve probably guessed that the word cynophilist has something to do with dogs! Cynophilist comes from the Greek roots cyn-, meaning dog, and phil-, meaning love so the word means “dog lover.”

Are any of you cynophilists?

To see more pictures of baby Coco, go to Briallu Tibetan Spaniels – Coco’s litter name was Penelope.

lethifold (lēthə-fōld)

A Lethifold is shroud of darkness that preys upon sleeping wizards or Muggles. (image from

In Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Newt Scamander states that a Lethifold is a very rare creature that dwells in tropical climates. A Lethifold looks like a black cloak that floats along ominously during the night seeking victims who are sleeping. Once its prey has been suffocated thoroughly, it simply digests them in their beds, leaving no trace of its victims.

Since Lethifolds are stealthy killers, it is difficult to find much information about them. However, Flavius Belby, who survived a Lethifold attack, wrote the earliest account of Lethifolds in 1782. During the attack, Belby writes that he tried to overcome the Lethifold by using a Stupefying Charm and an Impediment Hex, neither of which worked. Finally, Belby cast the Patronus Charm, which repelled the Lethifold successfully.

The Ministry of Magic rates these highly dangerous creatures XXXXX, meaning that they are known to kill wizards and it is not possible to train or domesticate them.

Lethifold contains the Latin root leth-, meaning deadly or fatal. Leth- was probably influenced by the Greek word “lethe,” referring to the mythological river in the Underworld whose waters caused spirits to forget everything about their former lives. It makes sense that the word “lethe” would later influence the Latin “leth-” because if a person forgets who he is and loses all his memories, he loses his sense of self which is similar to death.  Since the Lethifold is a deadly creature, this name seems apropos.

Join me next week as we continue exploring fantastic creatures from the Harry Potter world. I hope you are all enjoying these posts as much as I am enjoying writing them!

Name That Animal: Challenge #5

What would you name this fantastic beast? (Image from Pinterest)

I haven’t published a Name That Animal Challenge in several months, so here you go!

Pretend that you are a scientist and you have just discovered a new animal and you have the privilege of naming this unusual species. Scientists typically name new species by using Greek or/and Latin roots because the prefixes, stems, and suffixes are just like building blocks that you can use in countless ways.

Your challenge is to name the interesting animal in the picture above using your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. Keep in mind that you can use characteristics like size, color, or shape to name the animal. Feel free to search my blog to find root words to help you or use the list below.


hippo-, -hippus                             horse

morph                                               form, shape

cephal                                               head

pter                                                    wing


equi-, -equus                                 horse

corp                                                body

ungul-, ungula                              hoof

capit                                                head

ali-, al-                                            wing

avi-, av-                                          bird

I came up with hippopter or winged horse. The letter “o” is the most common way to link Greek roots, and the letter “i” is used to link Latin roots. However, you can do whatever you like and enjoy!

It’s not too late to participate in my  Name That Animal Challenge #1, Name That Animal Challenge #2,  and Name That Animal Challenge #3, and Name That Animal Challenge #4.

psephology (sēˈfäləjē)

Today is a historic day in the United States because a new president will be elected. Psephologists everywhere will be trying to analyze and predict the outcome of this year’s election.

Psephology comes from the Greek roots pseph– meaning pebble, and –logy, meaning study of. Logically, psephology should then be the study of pebbles or perhaps rocks. However, psephology is actually the study of voting and elections.

This may not initially make sense, until you realize that the Ancient Greeks utilized pebbles to vote for public officials. The Greeks would deposit a pebble into an urn to indicate the candidate they wished to elect.

You might also be interested in the derivation of two other words related to elections – candidate and vote. The word candidate comes from the Latin word candidatus, which literally means “clothed in white.” In ancient Rome, a person seeking a public office would wear a toga whitened with chalk. The word candidate came into the English language at the beginning of the 17th century.

The word vote ultimately comes from the Latin word votum, which means a vow or a wish. This could mean that when people cast a vote, they are wishing for a better future and hoping that the candidate that they are voting for will do everything in their power to honor their promises or vows.

Even though I am not old enough to vote, I will be accompanying my parents as they cast their votes today!



myasthenia (mīəsˈthēnēə)

This picture shows many symptoms characteristic of myasthenia. Note ptosis of the eyes and facial drooping due to muscle weakness. Image from


I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts. I have been very busy studying for the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee (more on that later)! To continue our medical theme, let’s explore the word myasthenia, which is a disease that causes muscle weakness in multiple organs.

Myasthenia, commonly known as myasthenia gravis, occurs when the body makes antibodies to nerve receptors, preventing them from telling muscles to contract correctly. Symptoms get worse with repetitive activity and improve with rest.

This disease affects many parts of the body. For example, in the eye, it causes ptosis (drooping of the eyelid) and diplopia (double vision). It can cause weakness in the jaw muscles, resulting in dysphagia (trouble swallowing). The voice can be affected with dysarthria (difficulty speaking). Rarely, myasthenia can affect the diaphragm muscle and result in breathing paralysis.

Myasthenia comes from the Greek roots myo-, meaning muscle, and -asthenia, meaning weakness. Myasthenia literally means “muscle weakness,” which aptly describes this affliction.


osteopoikilosis (ästēōpȯikə̇lōsə̇s)

My dad is a radiologist and he suggested that we start our medical theme with the word osteopoikilosis. Some diseases are best shown with medical imaging, which is what my dad is an expert in. This disease is a great example.

Osteopoikilosis is also known as “spotted bone disease.” Bone is made of two major parts: the cortical bone, which is on the outside, and the medullary bone, which is on the inside. When cortical bone forms islands inside the medullary bone in multiple locations in the body, osteopoikilosis occurs.

The disease is associated with symptoms such as joint pains, rashes, syndactyly (when digits fuse together), and dwarfism. It has a characteristic look on x-ray with bone islands concentrated around joints.

Osteopoikilosis comes from the Greek roots osteo- meaning bone, and poikilo- meaning spotted or variegated. The suffix -osis meaning condition of. Osteopoikilosis literally means “condition of spotted bone.”

iatrophobia (īa‧trə-ˈfōbē-ə)

Iatrophobia is the fear of doctors.

Halloween is approaching at the end of the month and I am so excited! This is one of my favorite holidays; it’s a day to dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. It is the only day of the year my mom allows my sister and I to eat lots of candy and stay up later than usual.

Last year, I explored phobias during the month of October, and I thought it would be fun to continue the theme.

One of my biggest fears is going to the *pediatrician’s office, especially when I need to get vaccinated. I feel dizzy and nauseous when a needle approaches. Iatrophobia is the abnormal fear of doctors. It comes from the Greek roots iatro– meaning physician or medicine and –phobia meaning abnormal fear of.

Do any of you have iatrophobia?

*The root word –iatr can be found hiding in the middle of words, such as in the word pediatrician – a doctor who specializes in children’s medicine.

If you want to explore other phobias I’ve written about, search my blog with the key word “phobia”.

petroglyph (pe‧trəˌglif)

I hope you all enjoyed my previous post on pahoehoe! During our visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i, we hiked over fields of pahoehoe to see the ancient Pu’u Loa petroglyphs in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

The word petroglyph contains the Greek roots petro– , meaning rock, and glyph, meaning carving or engraving. Petroglyph literally means “rock carving.”

The Pu’u Loa petroglyphs were carved many centuries ago by native Hawaiians. Since the ancient Hawaiians didn’t have a written language, they created petroglyphs to express what was important to each of them. I was in awe of the sheer number of petroglyphs; this site contains approximately 15,000 images that have been engraved in pahoehoe. Some of the images we saw included human forms, insects, and geometric shapes. We spent a lot of time poring over the images and contemplating the meaning behind the petroglyphs.

eulogy (yüləjē)

A eulogy is a speech or composition in praise of someone, especially one who has recently passed away. Eulogy comes from the Greek roots eu meaning good and log meaning word. It literally means “good words.”

Midas was an adorable 14-year-old canine member of our family who passed away unexpectedly on July 23, 2015. Midas was a Tibetan Spaniel, an intelligent and loyal breed of dog that originated in the monasteries of Tibet over 2000 years ago. He was a beautiful golden color and was named after King Midas from Greek mythology who had the golden touch.

Midas was the best dog ever! I will miss him sitting near me as I studied for spelling bees or did my homework. He was always the first one to greet my dad with wagging tail and joyful yelps after a long day of work. My sister misses feeling his soft fur and hearing the pitter-patter of his paws on the hardwood floors. My mom will never forget how he needed to hide his stuffed animal pig after he ate.  We all smile thinking about how he would spend a long time trying to figure out where to hide his precious pig, only to hide it in the middle of the floor!

His favorite activity was waiting for the mailman, even on Sunday, so that he could attack the mail as it came through the mail slot. In Tibet, Tibetan Spaniels would perch atop the monastery towers and alert the monks when they saw people approaching. True to his breed, Midas would always alert us when he saw anyone approaching the house. He did not like strangers but he sure did love his family.

We know that Midas loved us as much as we loved him. We are all sad that he is gone, but he will never be forgotten.