When combined with a word or another affix which begins with a consonant, this prefix concatenates with -o- (as gynæco-).
This prefix has so many variant forms because its etymon (γυναικ-) contains three spelling elements subject to different transcription conventions:
The alpha-iotadiphthong (αι) is traditionally transcribed as æ or ae — the Roman transcription. Variably, it is also reduced to e (especially in American English) or transcribed as ai, the latter being closer to the Greek (favoured in some academic circles).
Letters kappa (κ) are traditionally transcribed as c, under Roman influence; however, some academics prefer k, which is closer to the Greek. The latter affects pronunciation, effecting k in place of s where κ precedes æ, e, i, œ, or y; in practice, this only affects the rare variant gynaekeum.
Upsila (υ) are traditionally transcribed as y, owing to the Romans’ desire to distinguish its sound ([ʉ], later [y]) in their Grecogenous words from the sound of the native Ⅴ ([u]). Some, especially in academic circles, prefer to transcribe the upsilon as u, since phonologically o͝o is closer than ĭ to ῠ and o͞o is closer than ī to ῡ.
Because the υ in γῠναικ- is short, the initial g is the Grecian gamma (γ), and αι is a diphthong, this prefix’s etymology suggests that the g be hard, the y pronounced as a short vowel, and the æ pronounced as a long vowel; i.e., probably as * gĭʹnēk—. However, whereas the g is indeed usually pronounced hard (as g, not j), contrary to the etymology, the y is usually pronounced long and the æ usually pronounced short.
Related terms Terms ultimately deriving from γῠνή (gunē, “woman”, “female”) but not formed with this prefix
From the Ancient Greek γῠναικ- (gunaik-), stem of γῠνή (gunē, “woman”, “female”).
English Wiktionary. Available under CC-BY-SA license.