Can You Translate These “Ologies”?

Monday, December 133 min read

Let’s talk about “ologies” — those that are actual scientific fields of study (such as geology and archaeology) as well as those made up to suit our needs (like when we claim to be taking a course in “beer-ology” in college).

While commonly known as “ologies,” the original suffix is “-logy,” which denotes a subject of study or interest. It comes from the Latin -logia, which means “a branch of knowledge or science.” The suffix is a combining form; it needs another part to make a complete word. Many of the Greek and Latin words that are often combined with “-logy” end in “o,” so the pronunciation and spelling of “-ology” developed.

For example, “mythology”comes from the stem word mythos, from the Greek for “lore.” The breakdown of the word combines “mytho-” and “-logy.” “Geology” also has an “o” at the end of the stem word. Geo, meaning “earth,” pairs with “-logy” to form “the study of earth.” In each of these words, “-o” functions as a stem vowel. It gives the reader a hint on how to pronounce the word.

While “-ologies” are perhaps most commonly recognized in the sciences, they can be found across all areas of expertise. Read on to learn about the etymology behind some intriguing “-ologies.”


The word “psychopathology” was first used in 1847 in Germany to mean “the science of mental disorders.” At the turn of the 20th century, psychoanalysts like Freud believed that talk therapy could treat any problems related to a patient’s mental health. These problems, which could include a change in sleep and eating habits, anxiety, or anger, were called “psychopathologies.” More commonly known today as “psychology,” a wide range of professionals, from psychologists to social workers, study how to treat disorders of the mind. “Psycho-” takes its meaning from the Greek word psykhe, meaning “of the mind,” while “-pathology” comes from the French word pathologie, which translates to “the science of diseases.”


Pronounced leh-pə-dahp-tə-RAH-lə-jee (with the schwa, or “ə” pronounced as “uh”), this word can be a real head scratcher. If “-ology” means the study of, then what is a lepidopter? More commonly known as butterflies and moths, “Lepidoptera” is an order of insect that has four wings and starts out life as a caterpillar. This is a branch of zoology, or the “study of animals” another “-ology” that comes from the Greek word zoion, meaning animal.


With so many letters, it makes sense that there are actually two prefixes here, which might help with the pronunciation. “Oto-” comes from the Greek word ous, which means ear. The second prefix “laryng-” means relating to the larynx. The two prefixes, when combined, tell us that a doctor who studies otolaryngology may also be known as a ear, nose, and throat doctor.


Pronounced rent-jə-NAHL-ə-jee, its synonym, “radiology,” is likely more recognizable. Both of these words concern using x-rays for medical use. While radiology comes from the Latin word for emitting light (radiationem), roentgenology has a more contemporary history. In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, a German physicist, discovered x-rays. He used the mathematical symbol “x” because he wasn’t sure what type of rays they were. His discovery led to a new type of scientific study, so it was only fair that it be named after him.


Anyone who has ever gone looking for Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster or the Yeti has some experience with cryptozoology. “Crypto-,” which comes from the Greek word kryptos for “hidden,” combines with “zoo-,” from the Greek word for animal (zoion), and “-ology.” These hidden animals are actually mythical creatures, so “cryptozoology” is the study of all the folklore creatures and tall tales that go bump in the night.
Featured image credit: seb_ra/ iStock

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