Etymology, or an Ode to the Greek Language

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deriving from the Greek for 'true' (eteos/etymos) and 'word' (logos)

Curious about the origin of a word or term? Send it to us and we shall go forth and investigate.

The May newsletter prompted me to look up the word 'mentor', now widely used for a more experienced person acting as an adviser, especially someone guiding career development.

'Mentor' was first the name of a character in Homer's Odyssey, the trusted friend whom Odysseus left in charge of his household when he departed for Troy. It was partly through Mentor that the goddess Athena guided Odysseus' son, Telemachus, in the search for his father.

However, scholars have noted that Homer's Mentor did not really display the qualities of a nurturer, counsellor and role model that we might expect from the word's modern usage. Instead it was the 18th century French mystic and educator, Fénelon, writer of Les aventures de Télémaque (a 'continuation' of Homer's epic), who endowed Mentor with these virtues in his role as the teacher of Telemachus. By 1750, 'mentor' was a common noun in both French and English.

Other words which were originally personal names include atlas, biro, bloomers, lynch, leotard and sandwich, but I did not come across any other names which have been transformed into a human quality in this way.

Deborah Patterson AE