29 English Words With Origins in Greek Mythology

, Staff Writer
Updated February 26, 2020
29 English Words With Origins in Greek Mythology
    Atlas carrying the firmament
    Karl F. Schofmann / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Did you know that many common English words have origins in Greek mythology? From "atlas" to "zephyr," the Greek language, and specifically Greek mythology, has had a tremendous influence on the English language.

English Words From Ancient Greek Myths

The names and stories of the Greek gods live on in these mythical words.

1. Atlas

The English word "atlas" means a book of maps, and it comes directly from a Greek myth. According to Greek lore, Atlas was a Titan who was condemned to carry the heavens upon his shoulders.

2. Cloth

In English, the word "cloth" means a fabric or material, often used for clothing. This has a Greek word origin in the story of Clotho, the youngest of the Three Fates, who spun the thread of life.

3. Chaos

The word "chaos" means disorder and randomness. It comes from the Greek myth of Khaos, the void from which all life sprang.

4. Charity

"Charity" means the selfless giving of help to others who are in need. This word comes from the story of Charis, one of the three Graces in Greek mythology. The Graces were goddesses of beauty, kindness, life, creativity, and nature.

5. Chronology

The English word "chronology" refers to the order of events in time. It's also related to "chronic," which is generally something that persists for a person's lifespan. Both have Greek word origins in the story of Chronos, the god of time.

6. Erotic

In English, "erotic" means sexual in nature. This term comes directly from Erôs, the Greek god of love and sexual desire.


7. Echo

An "echo" is a sound that comes back to you because it reverberates off a surface. The word comes directly from the name of a Greek nymph, Echo. The king of the gods, Zeus, became enamored with Echo. In a fit of jealousy, his wife, Hera, cursed Echo to speak only the last words that were spoken to her.

8. Europe

In English, the word "Europe" refers to a continent, but that name comes from a Greek myth. Europa was a beautiful princess, and the king of the gods, Zeus, fell in love with her.

9. Fury

"Fury" is a word used to mean strong or even uncontrollable anger. This English word comes from the Greek myth of the Furies, female goddesses of vengeance.

10. Halcyon

The English word "halcyon" is an adjective used to describe an idyllically peaceful and perfect time that occurred in the past. In Greek mythology, a halcyon was a legendary bird that made a nest on the ocean. She had the power to calm the rough winds and waves.


11. Heliotrope

A "heliotrope" is a kind of plant that turns toward the sun to gather more light. Its name comes from the Greek titan Hêlios, who controlled the rising and setting of the sun.

12. Hermaphrodite

The word "hermaphrodite" refers to a person or animal that exhibits physical characteristics of both genders. It comes from the myth of the Greek god Hermaphroditos, son of Aphrodite and Hermes. According to legend, a nymph fell in love with Hermaphroditos and prayed that she could be united with him. Her prayers were answered, and her body joined with his.

13. Hypnosis

"Hypnosis" means a sleep-like state of consciousness. The word comes from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep.

14. Iridescent

When you use the word "iridescent" to describe something in English, you are talking about a surface that reflects multiple colors or even a rainbow. This word comes from the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris.


15. Lethargy

The English word "lethargy" means forgetfulness and lack of energy. It comes from the Greek myth of Lethe, a river that flowed through the underworld. According to legend, when people died, they would drink water from the river. The water would lead them to forget their past lives.

16. Lycanthrope

The word "lycanthrope" describes someone who is half man, half wolf. It's a synonym for werewolf, and it's also a Greek origin word. It comes from the myth of Lycaon, a human transformed into a wolf as punishment for cannibalism.

17. Mentor

In English, a "mentor" is an inspiring leader or teacher who passes on his or her skills to others. This comes directly from Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, in which the mythological character of Odysseus entrusted his son's education to a man named Mentor.


18. Morphine

The pain-killing narcotic drug called "morphine" also gets its name from Greek mythology. According to legend, Morpheus was the god of sleep and dreams.

19. Music

In the English language, "music" means sounds arranged intentionally to be beautiful and harmonious. This comes directly from the Muses, Greek goddesses of the arts and science.

20. Narcissism

The term "narcissism" refers to extreme love of the self or absorption in the self, and it gets its name from a famous Greek myth. In the story, Narcissus was a beautiful man who fell in love with his own reflection.

21. Nectar

When you're talking about fruit or flowers, you might use the term "nectar," which refers to any sweet plant secretion. This cool Greek word comes from the favorite drink of the gods and goddesses, also called nectar.


22. Nemesis

In English, "nemesis" means an archenemy or villain or the agent of someone's downfall. However, before it was an English word, Nemesis was the Greek goddess in charge of revenge against humans who were arrogant.

23. Ocean

The word "ocean" means a large body of salt water. It comes from the name of Ôkeanos, the god of the river Oceanus, the source of the Earth's fresh water.

24. Panic

If someone is in a "panic," he or she has lost emotional control and is experiencing strong fear. The word comes from the Greek god Pan, who according to legend, would cause humans to flee in fear when he chose.

25. Phobia

A "phobia" is another word related to fear. This time, it means something of which someone is irrationally afraid. The word comes from the Greek god of fear, Phobos.


26. Psychology

The science of "psychology" is the study of the human mind and behavior. This term comes from Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul.

27. Tantalize

When you "tantalize" someone, you tempt them with something they find almost irresistible. In Greek mythology, Tantalus was an evil king. At a feast with the gods and goddesses, he tried to serve up his own son. Enraged, Zeus condemned him to Hades, where he would forever be hungry and thirsty despite standing in a puddle of water next to a fruit tree that was just out of reach.

28. Typhoon

The term "typhoon" means a huge, rotating tropical storm. The name for this storm comes directly from Typhon. According to Greek mythology, he was the storm giant and the father of all monsters.


29. Zephyr

A soft and gentle west wind is called a "zephyr." This weather pattern also gets its name from Greek mythology. Zephyrus was the Greek god of the west wind.

Expand Your English Vocabulary With Greek

Ancient Greek is a language that is still alive and well, especially when you consider the many English words derived from Greek. In addition, Greek root words are part of many English words, and knowing the meanings of these root words can help you expand your English vocabulary. Which cool Greek words will you include in your next piece of writing?