Company & Product Names
That Are Latin, Greek & German
1. Volvo is a Swedish automobile name in Latin meaning ‘I roll.’ Volvo was the clever original name of a ball-bearing developed by SKF or Svenska Kullagerfabriken AB, a Swedish manufacturer founded in 1907.
The Latin verb volvere ‘to turn, to roll’ has dozens of often-used derivatives in modern English like involvement, convoluted, devolve, evolution, revolt, revolver, volume. There is the pleasant but no-longer-much-used Latin phrase volventibus annis ‘as the years roll by, as time goes by.’
2. Acer computer products. Acer is a Latin adjective which had two poles of meaning as used by the ancient Romans. Its root /ac/ meant ‘sharp’ as in another word with the same root, acidus. But acer’s chief Latin use was complimentary: ‘fierce in battle,’ that is, not wimpy like all those lesser humans defeated by Roman armies. Acer’s secondary meaning was pejorative: ‘bitter, pungent, irritating’ as in our English derivative adjective, acrid. The company’s modern name probably also depended on its English sound: something that “aces” problems.
3. Audi – Latin imperative singular of audire ‘to hear.’ It means an order: “Hear!” as in a phrase like “Now hear this! or, in older English, “Hark ye!” Incidentally, English to harken and German horchen are of course cognate.
Audi is a translation of the German imperative verb form horch! ‘hear.” A man named August Horch founded the car company then left after five years, but he still wished to manufacture automobiles. Since the original Horch company was still operating, he used Latin to name his start-up company Audi.
4. BouMatic is a manufacturer of automatic milking equipment and other dairy-farm systems. Their corporate name began in 1939 when Lawrence Bouma founded Bou-Matic Milkers Inc. in Ontario, California. Someone conversant with Greek soon realized that the company name could also be analyzed as a combination of bou Classical Greek βοûς ‘cow’ + -matic from automatic, itself from ancient Greek αὐτόματος automatos ‘self-acting’ from autos Greek ‘self’ + matos Greek ‘ready, willing, and able to act.’ The neuter form of the Greek compound adjective gives English a word for a creepy, stunned robot, automaton.
5. BMW is an acronym for Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works).
6. Celera specializes in disease management services. The company’s name is from the Latin adjective celer, celere ‘fast, swift, speedy,’ as in swiftness in decoding the human genome, with the punning suggestion in the compound company name of ‘era of the cell.’ English derivatives of the Latin celer root include accelerate ‘to speed up,’ and celerity ‘speediness.’
7. Eidos makes computer games, its big seller is the Tomb Raider series of games. Greek εἶδος means ‘form’ or ‘species’ or ‘image’ from a prime verbal root Greek idein ‘to see, to know.’
A word that contains this root is kaleidoscope, something one looks into, in order to see beautiful forms, the word derived from Greek καλός ‘beautiful’ + εἶδος ‘form’ + modern Latin -scopium from Greek σκοπεῖν ‘to look at, to examine’ as in telescope and microscope. Invented in 1817, the kaleidoscope was named by its inventor, a British scientist named Sir David Brewster.
Eidos by itself is a technical term in cultural anthropology popularized by the great French scholar Claude Lévi-Strauss who defined it, after Bateson, as the way a social group or culture expresses its distinctive intellectual or cognitive character. The eidos also encompasses how such characteristics are described.
Don't Avoid This -Oid
Greek eidos gives English one of its most productive scientific adjectival suffixes, namely –oid in words like rhomboid and ellipsoid.
-Oid even gives English some pejorative nouns like the unloved-by-purists noun factoid which names a statement that appears to be factual but is utter piffle. His head was ovoid ‘egg-like.’ An asteroid is formed like a star (Greek aster). “The room full of critics was jammed with Toronto’s more credible anthropoids.” The writer means that several of the persons were humanlike in form only, from Greek anthropos ‘man, human’ + -oid ‘having the form of, that is, like, similar to.’
The ancient Greeks used the suffix too; οειδής = o + eidos (the omicron /o/ is a connective vowel, a vowel for euphony, making compound words easier to enunciate when linked together) οειδής was borrowed into classical Latin as -oides to become -oïde in French and –oid in English.
A direct borrowing (through German) from the Greek εἰδητικός eidetikos ‘specific, able to be represented by an image’ is an adjective which finds use in psychology and in art criticism. Eidetic refers to an image that is so clear, of such astoundingly sharp resolution as to be almost hallucinatory. An eidetic person may be one gifted with “photographic” memory, seeing past images in visionary and praeternatural detail.
Thou Shalt Have No Other Eidola Before Thee!
The English word idol stems from the same rot as Eidos. Its Greek form was εἴδωλον eidolon with ancient Greek meanings such as ‘image, shape, form, portrait, image of a god, image of a false god, hence an idol.’ In poetic English, eidolon means a phantom image, a mere spectre. In his omnium-gatherum magnum opus Leaves of Grass, American poet Walt Whitman titled one of the poems “Eidolons,” a dithery apostrophe to deceptive images of reality that, upon inspection, seem mere unpresent phantasms. Esse est percepi. Whatever you say, Walt. In the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons” there is a monster character named The Rogue Eidolon. The word shows up in the lyrics and names of rock bands too.
8. Lego is a blend of two Danish words: leg godt ‘play well.’ In Latin lego means ‘I stick together,’ but the company says that is a mere coincidence and the etymology of the company name is pure Danish.
9. Novartis, the pharmaceutical company, is a blending of two Latin words novae artes which may be translated as ‘new skills.’
10. Nestlé was named after its founder, Henri Nestlé, who was born in Germany as a Nestle, which is a Swabian diminutive, a German dialect word for ‘little nest’ or ‘bird’s nest.’ The company logo is a bird’s nest with a mother bird and two chicks.
11. XeroX – named from xerography from Greek ξηρός xeros ‘dry’ + Greek γραϕία graphia ‘writing.’ Begun as The Haloid Company in 1906, it launched its first XeroX copier in 1949, and changed its name to Haloid Xerox in 1958. The Greek adjectival root is used in English scientific terms. Xeroderma is a disease whose chief symptom is ‘dry skin.’ A plant adapted to survival in dry, desert climates is a xerophyte and is xerophytic, from Greek ξηρός xeros ‘dry’+ Greek ϕυτόν phyton ‘plant.’
My turn now. I get to make up a company name. I here propose to invent a new word naming a company that travels the world slaughtering stupid people. I know, I know, what an elite fascist monster I am. Well . . . boo-hoo! I’m going to use ancient Greek roots because they make the new term sound much more gruesome.
My new company name is Elithioctony Incorporated. Elithioctony (ee-lithee-OC-tony) < Greek elithios ‘foolish, simperingly dumb’ + ktonia ‘slaughter.’ Thus elithioctony is the ceremonial putting to death of dullards. It would be accomplished by means of a large, laser ray gun. After one failed the IQ test, a door would appear with a sign that read “Free Sex.” Behind the door would wait the loaded laser gun.
For example, ancient Roman heathens used to slaughter bulls for religious reasons, as part of a crude mystery religion called Mithraism. The icon of this religion was a depiction of the eponymous Mithras killing a bull. Today these depictions in sculpture or art are still called tauroctonies. For the word for these bully bloodbaths was tauroctony from tauros Greek ‘bull’ + ktonia Greek ‘massacre’ > ktonos Greek ‘murder.’
Today’s parting command to you is: Elithioctonists, go forth!
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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