Glossophile? Glossa-what?

Editor’s note: This article is also available in Spanish.
Nota del editor: Este artícolo también está disponible en español.
¿Glosófilo? ¿Gloso-qué?

As I was thinking about launching this blog, I knew I would need to come up with name.  I wanted something short. Something memorable.  Something meaningful.  I spent several days brainstorming with my wife and some friends, and we had come up with a few ideas.  But nothing felt  quite right.

SapiosexualThen a few days ago, while I was working, the word “sapiosexual” came to mind.  It’s a relatively new word, a neologism, apparently “invented” in 1998. And for most language purists, it’s poorly formulated, and not especially meaningful. But the touted definition is:

sapiosexual noun
a person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others

So this word got me thinking down the path of forming a word from ancient roots to convey the message I wanted.

Looking for a Latin name

If “sapiosexual” is a person who is attracted to intelligence, what word describes someone attracted to languages?  Using the Latin root for language, I’d have “linguasexual”, or the Latin root for speaking, I’d have “loquosexual”.  The first is clearly out because “lingua” also means tongue, and that would be the first meaning to come to mind when reading the word.  The second would also be confused, at least among American English speakers, with attraction for crazy people (thanks to the word “loco”, which we borrowed from Spanish).

And all of this ignores the fact that I’m not really interested in writing a sexual blog at all! (Never mind that most people, probably erroneously, don’t think “sapiosexual” is an overtly sexual term.)

Looking for a Greek name

So my next stop was Greek roots.  The Greek root φίλος (phílos), meaning “friend” or “beloved”, was my starting point.  We have many derivative terms in English. An audiophile is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. A Francophile has a strong affection for all things French. And of course I’m sure you can think of a few other -philias, many of which are not appropriate for work.

So one of -phile or -philia was to be my suffix. I still needed a prefix.  Greek for “language” (as well as “tongue”) is γλώσσα (glóssa). Its from this root where we get terms like “glossary”.

Narrowing it down: Glosso-

I began searching for words formed from these roots.  Glossophilia is an established word.

Glossophobia is the fear of speaking–specifically in public.

Xenoglossophobia is the fear of foreign languages (not a problem I face!).

With these precedents, I knew I was on to something.

Arriving at Glossophile

I simply had to replace the -phobia in glossophobia with my chosen suffixes, -philia and phile.  Of these two, Glossophilia is the more common as a word but it also sounds (to me, at least) more sexual than I prefer. And the domain name is already taken anyway.  So I settled on Glossophile.

I felt like “The Glossophile” had a better ring than simply “Glossophile.” Thus the name of the blog.

So borrowing from the definition of audiophile, I have accepted the following definition for glossophile, and thus the name of my blog:

glossophile noun
a person who is enthusiastic about language

I am a glossophile. I am enthusiastic about language. And this blog is about my enthusiasm about language. And not just foreign language, or I might have called it “The Xenoglossophile.” I’m enthusiastic about my native language, English, as well as the other languages I speak to varying degrees: Spanish, Portuguese, and French. I’m also enthusiastic about languages I don’t speak.

Mark Twain is one of America's favorite glossophiles.
One of America’s favorite glossophiles.

I hope you’re a glossophile, too. If you’re not enthusiastic about language, I hope you’ll stick around, and maybe some of my glossophilia can rub off on you. And don’t worry if you don’t speak more than one language. You can be enthusiastic about your own language, or about language in general. Many of the most famous glossophiles in history were mono-lingual!

Climb You!

Sube Usted / Climb You
This sign, found in the church atop the Pyramid of Cholula near Puebla, Mexico, was meant to indicate that visitors must take a few steps up to exit the room. But the subtle difference between “to climb” and “to go up” were clearly lost on this translator, not to mention word order!