The Greek root gram means writing.
Do you remember those acrostic poems you wrote in elementary school, where you had a word and for each letter of the word you had to write a word or sentence? A chronogram (chron means time) is the same idea, but it uses Roman numerals. For example, MMXIII is 2013 in Roman numerals; you would write a word or sentence for each letter in the number. Elizabeth I died in 1603 (MDCIII in Roman numerals). A famous chronogram for the event is:
A few other gram words relate to word games:
- A pangram (pan means all) is a sentence that uses every letter in the alphabet: Brown jars prevented the mixture from freezing too quickly.
- An anagram (ana means against) is a word or phrase formed by reordering the letters of another word or phrase. An anagram for the name Kaley is leaky.
- An epigram (epi means upon) isn’t really a game, but a smidgen of the wise or funny, like:
- Beauty, when unadorned, adorned the most
- The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself.
School house grammar and the witch’s grimoire
Seven hundred years ago, in the dark ages of Europe, students of grammar had it good – at least to my way of thinking. Grammar back then was the study of Latin (fun!) rather than the study of boring rules made up for your own language. Educated folk also learned philosophy, astronomy, natural history, and mathematics, which to the peasant class verged on the magical. In fact, “all learning fell under suspicion, till at length the very grammar itself … gave to English the word gramary,” with a number of variant spellings, meaning magical learning. Following the word, you can see the lost superstitions of centuries (thanks to the OED):
- 1470: My mother was a westerne woman, And learned in gramarye.
- 1805: Whate’er he did of gramarye, Was always done maliciously.
- 1832: It was like casting a spell of ‘gramarie’ over his opponents.
Even today a grimoire is a book of spells. And the Scots pronunciation of grammar, with an l in place of r, gave us glamour. At first identical to grammar, glamour came to mean a particular type of spell. A glamour changes the appearance of a thing, usually to make it seem more alluring than it really is. Not surprising that it now calls to mind the tricks employed by modern fashion and beauty disciples.
The origin of all this is gram, the ancient Greek word meaning a letter of the alphabet. The Greeks came to use gram to mean a small weight, the forerunner to weight measurement in the metric system.
More words with Greek root gram
- diagram – (dia means across) a drawing that shows a thing’s structure or how it works
- hologram – (hol means whole) an image projected in 3D
- instagram - a popular photo-sharing/social networking web site
- monogram – (mono means single) a person’s initials incorporated into a single design
- program – (pro means forth, as in to set forth) list of events; originally the word meant a public notice
- aerogram – sent by air (i.e., airmail)
- cablegram – sent by cable
- radiogram – sent by radio
- telegram – tent by telegraph
- hexagram – six pointed shape that looks like a star
- parallelogram – four sided shape with two parallel sides
- pentagram – five pointed shape that looks like a star
- tangram – a Chinese puzzle with seven shapes that can be arranged in different ways
Foundations of writing
- ideogram – an idea represented by a character (letter or number): 1 is tied to a meaning, not a sound – it means the same thing, whether you say one (English), un (French), uno (Spanish), ein (German), bir (Turkish)
- pictogram – a type of ideogram that represents and idea with a picture: R means the Sun
- logogram – a character that represents a word: 日is the Chinese character ri, which means day, sun, or date; it originated as a pictogram of the sun
- phonogram – a character that represents a human speech sound, like f
Grams of information
- dendrogram – tree diagram showing a classification system
- cladogram – tree diagram showing the relationships between species
- histogram – a kind of bar graph
- scattergram – a kind of graph made up of scattered dots
- echogram – a map showing underwater distances, created by using an echo sounder
- spectrogram – color wavelengths
- thermogram – graphic demonstration of temperature
- sonogram – imaged produced by an ultrasound, which uses reflected sound waves
- audiogram – graphic of hearing
- cardiogram – graphic of heart function
- encephalogram – graphic of brain activity
- mammogram – graphic of breast tissue
- renogram – graphic of kidney