Skip to main content

Every Word Tells a Story 5 - Elixir, Electric and Ephemera

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.


The Fifth Element

In our trip through the alphabet ( a word that is a conjoined twin of the first two Greek letters alpha and beta!) we arrive at ‘E’. The fifth letter of the alphabet and the second vowel in our journey has spawned many words to choose from.

Before we look at the beautiful dawn from the East, check out for any Eavesdroppers , contemplate on the Ephemeral nature of the poor mayfly, consider the power of the Electricity, drink the Elixir of life and sleep like Endymion, Lets Enthusiastically contemplate some of the prefixes E has given to our English language.

Knowing the prefixes and suffixes help us to identify the nature and meaning of the words. Many of these stem from Greek or Latin and are instantly recognisable from familiar words.


Some Prefixes beginning with E

PrefixMeaningExample Words


Out, Out of

Eject, Evict, Eviscerate


Greek ἐκτός (ektos), “outside”

Ectoplasm, Ectocervix, Ectoderm, Ectopic


From the Latin ego - , I , Related to self

Egomaniac, Egocentric

Em-, En-

In, Into, on, onto and also an intensifier

Emboss, Embankment, Enfold, Enrage


Greek ἔνδον (endon, “inner”, “internal”). Inside

Endoscope, Endocervix, Endocrine


Greek ἐπί (epi, “on top of”). above, over, on top of

Epicentre, Epigram



Equilateral, Equidistant, Equilibrium


Greek εὖ (eu, “well, good”)

Eugenics, Eulogy, Euthanasia


Greek ἐξ (eks, “out of, from”), Out of, now also -former

Exsanguination, Extract, Ex-Wife

Exo-, Extra-

From AncientGreek ἔξω (exō, “outer, external”). Latin exter- Outside, Beyond

Exobiology, Extraterrestrial, Extramarital

Eastern Dawn

Eastern Dawn


The word east comes from several allied sources. While it has come to represent one of the cardinal points of the compass, its origins generally mean sunrise or dawn. The Greek – Eos , the Latin- Aurora , and the Germanic Eostre all represent the Goddess of Dawn . They may all stem from a Indo-European origin. The ancient Indian goddess Usha is the representation of dawn and she is mentioned in one of oldest Vedic texts, the Rig Veda.

East - from ancient times has come to mean the direction in which dawn breaks.

Eos & Helios

Eos & Helios

Eos and Tithonus

Eos and Tithonus

The Goddess of Dawn , Eos is often depicted as heralding the arrival of her brother Helios in the sky. She fell in love with the mortal Tithonus and asked Zeus to grant him immortality. However she forgot to ask for eternal youth so Tithonus lived forever, growing older and older till he was a shrivelled babbling wreck begging for death to overcome him while Eos, being a Titan, was always young and eternal.

Scroll to Continue

In later versions of the myth he eventually turned into a cicada, begging endlessly for death. The Greek Gods always knew how to have fun with a mortal!






This word that means secretly listening in on others conversation has a curious origin.

The Eaves of the roof are the projecting edges that protect the walls of the house from rainwater. When it rains the water collects and drops from the eaves outside, and the ground where the water falls was called the eaves drip. In ancient Anglo Saxon law the landowner was prohibited from building anything at less than 2 feet from the boundary of his land to prevent eavesdrip damage on neighbour’s property.

So anyone who was standing just outside the wall listening in was called a eaves dropper after the ground he/she was standing on. The same law also punished any skulking eavesdroppers.

Electric Bulb

Electric Bulb


What now means anything pertaining to electricity originally comes from the Greek word for amber, (ηλεκτρον ) Electron .

Amber is a fossilized tree resin that has a fascinating history. But the reason electron came to mean electric or charged material is because when rubbed, amber generates static electricity or a charge. Ancient Greeks noticed that amber attracted smaller articles when rubbed with fur.

In 1600 William Gilbert , an English scientist, published his treatise De Magnete and coined the term electricus , referring to this property of attracting small particles after being rubbed.

The Greeks named amber probably owing to its yellowish red hue, as Elektron is also derived from one of the names for the sun –god, Elektor.

Insect  in fossilized Amber

Insect in fossilized Amber

An Amber ring

An Amber ring

Amber itself is a precious stone known to mankind since prehistoric times and came to popularity again recently after scientists realised they could extract any prehistoric DNA from the insects that are trapped inside this material, frozen in time. This concept is explored in the book and the film, Jurassic Park.

It comes from the Arabic Ambar that was the name given to sperm-whale oil known in french as Amber Gris ( Grey amber) . This waxy substance from the intestines of sperm whales was used to produce perfumes.

Yellow amber can be found washed up along Baltic coast line, as was the ambergris from the whale regurgitate ( disgusting!)

As the Fossilized amber was also found washed along the shores with Ambergris, there was confusion amongst those who found this and they called it Amber -jaune or yellow amber.



Vintage Ephemera

Vintage Ephemera


Talking about insects, consider the genus ephemeroptera , the humble mayfly. Its adult lifespan is between few hours to one day. Such transience does not bother the mayfly and it sure lives its life to the full, completing its task of flying and travelling, eating, having sex and eventually dying peacefully in the river where it is born.

The word ephemera comes from the Greek and used to mean things that last for a day and has gradually come to mean any transitory material. I love the sound of ephemera, it has such a lyrical quality and a hint of sadness.

In collectors terms it now means any printed material of transitory nature, such as greeting cards, playbills, bookmarks, tickets, posters etc.

Anything Ephemeral is transitory, not long lasting and is opposite of Eternal.


Docmo's Etymology of Anatomical Terms


Talking of Eternity, The ‘Elixir of life’ has fascinated ancient and modern civilisations such as Chinese, Indian, Greek, Arabic and Egyptian as well as preoccupying the minds of Medieval alchemists.

Many have ironically died from consuming potions made of various toxic metals such as mercury, believing them to be elixirs of life.

The birth of modern chemistry owes a lot to these alchemical pursuits as the passion for converting base metals to gold lead to inventions and discoveries that would have otherwise not been found.

Variously known as Ambrosia, Amrit, Soma, Pool of Nectar and Fountain of Life, the pursuit of a magical elixir that gives us immortality is still a fascination for humanity.



The word ‘elixir’ owes its origins to first the Arabic Al- iksir meaning an effective recipe , usually a sweet liquid containing any medicinal preparation to mask the unpleasant taste of the dry medicinal powers. The iksir itself comes from Greek ‘Xerion’ or a powder for drying wounds- from ‘Xeros’ dry.

The elixir is medicinal terms contains at least one main ingredient dissolved in a solvent that is 15 to 20% alcohol and can be any liquid medicinal preparation from expectorants to antipyretics.

Diana & Endymion - Pierre Subleyras

Diana & Endymion - Pierre Subleyras

 Endymion - Jerome Martin Langlois

Endymion - Jerome Martin Langlois


Like the story of Eos and Tithonus , the other pairing that has fascinated poets and artists alike is that of Selene and Endymion .

In Greek mythology, Endymion was an Aeolian shepherd with such handsome looks that moon Goddess Selene ( Diana to the Romans) fell in love with him. She loved his sleeping form so much that she asked Zeus to (a) keep him young forever and (b) keep him asleep forever so she can admire his 'sleeping beauty' always. Zeus granted both these wishes, as he just loved messing up the mortals and playing games.

So poor Endymion, is forever young and forever asleep in a cave at Mt Latmus, that Selene visits every night.

Diane et Endymion - Jacques Leegenhoek

Diane et Endymion - Jacques Leegenhoek

John Keats ( 1795- 1821)

John Keats ( 1795- 1821)

Endymionis somnum dormire, "to sleep the sleep of Endymion" was so popular in ancient times that the myth of Selene and Endymion was often carved on the sarcophagi or ancient coffins to represent eternal sleep.

As John Keats says in his brilliant poem, Endymion,

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep...




Enthusiasm indicates divine inspiration. This represented by its word origin.

The word was meant to represent mortals possessed by Gods – en - meaning inside and – theos, God.

So literally, a God inside you.The modern meaning of enthusiasm means someone who is inspired, energetic , adventurous and active.

So may you remain enthusiastic in your pursuits, dear reader. May you always be divinely inspired.

 Human shaped Electric Pylons

Human shaped Electric Pylons

Thank You, Dear Reader.

I am grateful for your visit and time.

Let our relationship not be ephemeral but eternal , so come back and visit more hubs!

Do please leave comments below and if you like this hub and the others that precede it, do share with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter or other networking sites.

© 2011 Mohan Kumar


Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 03, 2012:

Oh I have already done 'F' and ' G' ( see the links) so Iam working on bringing some heavenly, heliotropic, hexagonal, hasty 'H' words. I'll read your piece. Thanks for visiting.

Specialist5 from Norwich, CT USA on February 03, 2012:

Hi Docmo, Glad you're back even though I didn't know you were gone. Can't wait to see what's next on your agenda. May "F." Feel free to fully fill your next piece with flattery, foolery, fun and other fantastic stuff. I'll be waiting. If you get a chance, stop by my piece on Ordinal and Cardinal Figures (Numbers) With Dates and let me know what you think. Take care and be well.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 02, 2012:

@Specialist5- thank you very much for reading and commenting- I am glad you enjoyed this. I've had a bit of a hiatus from hubs and am only just getting back to business... you have inspired me to write the next installment of this series!

Specialist5 from Norwich, CT USA on February 01, 2012:

Excellent piece; everything one would hope to find and even more. Love the pixs! I'm headed back to "A" to read more. I'm sure they will encompass all the enthralling info simmilar to the "E" piece. Keep up the great work. You're a true wordsmith.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 09, 2011:

@cookingdiva - Thanks for dropping by despite your busy teaching schedule .. I've just got back from a 2 day teaching commitment- its exhausting teaching post graduates! I ma really pleased this series is being appreciated.

@thoughtforce.. it is amazing _ I've always considered myself having a good vocabulary and an idea about roots but after starting to write this I am amazed at the level of new stories I ma learning words! Thanks for dropping by.

Christina Lornemark from Sweden on February 09, 2011:

Wonderful hub, with so much great information about words! Like all language, also English have many words that seem to be taken out of nothing and not make any sense, like the eavesdropper! Thanks for excellent explanation of words!

cookingdiva on February 08, 2011:


Simply amazing, I am loving this series of yours: "every words tells a story:". They sure do and you're good story teller and poet.

How have you been? I am so busy with teaching KG, I miss being here on HP.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 07, 2011:

Thank you, good drbj, I will be delighted to know that happens. While I would not presume any superiotiy in literacy, the story teller in me delights at the pleasures that word origins serve up. In sharing these I take childish pleasure in sharing stories. I hope they are enjoyed as much as I enjoy them.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 07, 2011:

Before you are done, Docmo, with these excellent explanatory hubs, much of the reading population will be far, far more language-literate. Thank you.

BTW, the graphics are awesome, too.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 06, 2011:

My writing too, stems from this constant awe and amazement at the intricate network of stories that underpin the words - humanity's greatest achievement, the one we all take for granted, is the construction of this structure of communication. I think the genius is in the common user, the people who took the words and made them their own, changed, adapted and let it take wings and fly. People who read and respond, write and react.

Thank you Amy, for your comments and support.

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on February 06, 2011:

I am continually amazed at the genius in those that began language. With only their observations in rudimentary science, nature and mythology, they set the standard, the building blocks for all future enormous endeavor without the present day crutches the world now encompasses. Thank you, Docmo, for this interesting, well researched topic that affects everyone, but none more than the writing community. You set an excellence that cannot be outdone.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 06, 2011:

@Rastamermaid - Thank you - have I started an alliterative avalanche of 'E' numbers?

@Gypsy48, welcome to my side of town. Kick back, grab a cuppa and enjoy the read. If you love words, you are in for a treat. Thank you very much.

Gypsy48 on February 06, 2011:

Excellent, informative hub! I am really enjoying your alphabet trip. I love words and knowing their meanings.

Enlightened, eloquent and exceptional work :)

Rastamermaid from Universe on February 06, 2011:

Excellent,exceptionally good, extremely meritorious, superior.

Great hub!

Thanks for sharing!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 06, 2011:

@stayinVegas thanks for dropping by and your gracious comment. Appreciate it!

@ Feline Prophet ( cool Name) I am grateful for Shalini's FB post and glad you're enjoying what you read. Thanks!

Feline Prophet on February 06, 2011:

Shalini's post on FB led me here - and I'm so glad it did! I'm off to read more of your hubs too! :)

StayInVegas on February 05, 2011:

Found on FB. Excellent! I'm prob not the 1st to say that.

Shalini Kagal from India on February 05, 2011:

Excellent! Will come back for A to D. Shared on FB :)

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on February 05, 2011:

Effortlessly endearing ebullience. Enchanting!

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on February 05, 2011:

Egads! Edifying erudition explaining E! Exemplary! Enough excessive exclamations. Entertaining education. Exit and egress.

Related Articles