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I have started compiling a list of Latin/Greek prefixes/suffixes for the biological taxonomy. However, when searching for parts of words (or whole words even), google often times returns 0 results. For example: searching "latin zal prefix/meaning" or "latin zalm prefix/meaning" or "latin etymology zalmoxidae", I get no results. What must I learn in order to be able to understand these taxonomic names? Like I said, I already have 4,000+ affixes parsed out, but there's still many remaining which google doesn't find any results for. Is there a way I can learn the grammar somehow, and figure it out from there?

Here are the first 200 results of the 4k of what I have copied from that GitHub link for reference:

a- L. wanting, without; prefix that negates; absence of a trait (acephalic)
a- Gr. not, without, or
an- Gr. not, without, or
ab- L. off; away from or opposite (aboral, abnormal; aberrant)
abiesL. fir (Abies concolor, white fir)
-able L. worthy, capable of
-ible L. worthy, capable of
-uble L. worthy, capable of
-ble L. worthy, capable of
abyssGr. bottomless (abyssal)
acanthosGr. with thorns, prickly
acarusL. mites, ticks (Acarina)
accipiterL. hawk (Accipiter goshawks)
-aceousL. having the nature of
acerL. maple (Acer genus of maples)
acervusL. heaped together
acetabulumL. cup-shaped
achlyo- Gr. dark, misty (Achlyodes genus of bat skippers)
achthoGr. burdensome, weighty
aciculaL. a small pin, needle
acido- Gr. point, dart
acinusL. grape, berry (acinus, cluster of cells)
acinetGr. fixed, attached (Acinetobacter sp. of bacteria)
acipenserL. sturgeon, a fish
acmoGr. high, point
acontoGr. spear or javelin
acousticGr. to hear
acremono- Gr. branch, bough (Acremonium sp. mold)
acrido- Gr. grasshopper (Acrididae)
acro- Gr. head, high, summit, extremity (acrobat, acromegaly)
actaGr. sea shore dweller
actino- Gr. beam, ray (Actinomyces)
aculusL. small needle, stinging
-acusL. of, belonging to
acutusL. pointed, sharp (acute)
ad-L. towards (adductor, adoral)
-ad pertaining to, nature of
-adeL. pertaining to, nature of,
ata pertaining to, nature of
-ataGr. pertaining to, nature of
-adaSpanish. pertaining to, nature of
-ade pertaining to, nature of
adelosGr. concealed, obscure, unknown (adelopod)
adenoGr. gland (adenoids)
adetosGr. free, unconnected
adipatusL. fat (adipose tissue)
adventitiousL. extraordinary
aechmo- Gr. spear (Aechmophorus, a genus of grebes with long beaks)
aedesGr. unpleasant (Aedes sp.)
aegialo- Gr. seashore
aegithoGr. hedge sparrow
aeloGr. changing
aeluro- Gr. cat (aelurophile, cat lover)
aepy- Gr. tall, high (Aepyornis, genus of elephant birds of Madagascar)
aero- Gr. air, atmosphere (aerodynamic)
aesalonL. a kind of hawk
aestivusL. summer (estivation)
aethero- Gr. high atmosphere (ether)
aetioGr. causing (etiology)
aἔtosGr. eagle (aetosaur, eagle lizard)
af- L. to (affinity, agglutinate)
ag- L. to (affinity, agglutinate)
agapeGr. love (Agapornis, genus of lovebirds)
agapetosGr. beloved, worthy of love
agaricumL. fungus (agaric)
-ageL. condition, state of (bondage)
agilisL. quick, numble (agile)
aggregatusL. clustered (aggregated)
-ago L. having characteristics of (lanugo)
-igo L. having characteristics of (lanugo)
-ugo L. having characteristics of (lanugo)
agri- Gr. field (agriculture)
agro- Gr. field (agriculture)
agriosGr. wild
alaL. wing (alulua, aileron)
albusL. white (albumen)
alcIcelandic. Auks, a bird family
alectroGr. chicken (Alectrosaurus)
aleuronGr. flour-like
-algiaGr. pain (analgesic)
alienusL. strange, foreign (alien)
alimentumL. food (alimentary)
-alisL. having a quality of
allanto- Gr. sausage (allantoid)
allelo- Gr. alternate, reciprocal
allo- Gr. other, strange (allopatric)
alopeco- Gr. bald, mange (alopecia)
alsius- L. cold, chilly
alsus L. cold, chilly
alterL. the other (alternative)
altusL. high (altitude)
alumnus L. pupil, foster child
alumna L. pupil, foster child
alveusL. cavity, sac (alveolus)
alyposGr. painless, harmless
ambi- L. around, both sides (ambivalent, ambidextrous)
amblysGr. dull, blunt (amblyopia)
ambuloL. to walk (ambulatory)
ambyco- Gr. a cup
amicusL. friend (amicable)
ammosGr. sand (ammotherapy)
amnionGr. membrane around fetus
amnosGr. lamb
amoebaGr. change (amoeba)
amorL. love (amorous, enamor)
amorphosGr. without form
ampelos- Gr. vine (Ampelosaurus vine lizard)
amphiGr. both sides, everywhere (amphibian, amphibole)
amphisL. on or at both ends
amplusL. large (amplify)
ampullaL. bottle, flask (ampule)
amputo, amputatusL. cut away
amygdalusL. almond (amygdala)
amylumL. starch (amalyase)
an- Gr. not, without (anarchy)
ana- Gr. back, again, up, return, throughout (anatomy, anabolism)
anaisthetosGr. insensible, without feeling (anesthesia)
anatGr. a duck (Anatidae)
anatomiaL. dissect, cut up (anatomical)
anatomeGr. dissect, cut up (anatomical)
anchi- Gr. near (Anchiornis, “nearly modern”)
anchylo- Gr. hooked, bent (anchylosis, bent joint)
anchoGr. to choke, lace up (anchor)
andro- Gr. male, man (androgen)
anecto- Gr. tolerable, patient
anemos- Gr. wind (anenometer)
angio- Gr. vessel, capsule (angina, angioma, angiogram)
anguillaL. an eel, a serpent
animaL. breath of life, soul (animation)
annulusL. small ring (annulus)
anomalosGr. irregular (anomaly)
anophelesGr. hurtful, useless (Anopheles genus of mosquitoes)
anorectosGr. without appetite
anserL. goose-like (merganser)
ante- L. before, foremost
anti- L. before, foremost
antennaL. a sail-yard (antenna)
anteriorL. before, in front
anthosGr. flower (anther)
anthroposGr. man, human (anthropology, misanthropic)
anti-, anta- Gr. opposed to, against
antrumL. cave, hole, cavity
anusL. rectal opening
-anusL. belonging to (americanus)
anxiusL. uneasy (anxiety)
aorteGr. pipe, artery (aorta)
apisL. bee (apiary)
aphelesGr. smooth, even (Bulbophyllum apheles orchid)
aphidoGr. abundant (Aphididae)
aphrosGr. sea foam (Aphrophora genus of spittlebugs)
aplysiaGr. unwashed, filthy
apo- Gr. away from (aposition)
appendicusL. addition (appendix)
aquaL. water (aquarium, aquatic)
arabilisL. tillable (arable)
arachnoGr. spider (arachnid)
arborL. tree (arboreal)
arc, arcusL. a bow, curved
arcaL. a box, chest (ark)
arch-, arche-, archi-, archo-  Gr. first cause, beginning, primitive (archeology)
archi- Gr. chief, leader (monarch)
arctoGr. the north, bear (arctic)
A compound word is usually made from two (or more) parts that would naturally be separate words, and combines their meaning into one new word.
-ardFrench, -hardGerman. habitual, one who, that which (drunkard)
arenaL. sand, living in sand
areolatusL. containing spaces
argosGr. bright, white (argon gas)
argynnisGr. a name of Aphrodite
argyrosGr. silver (Argentina)
ari- Gr. very intensely
aridusL. dry (semiarid)
-arionGr. [diminutive]
aristaL. an awn, bristle (aristate)
aristosGr. best, most noble (aristocrat)
-ariumL. location, place (aquarium)
-ariusL. pertaining to, agent of
armaL. weapons (armament, disarm)
armusL. shoulder
aromaGr. spice, spicy (aromatic)
arrhenGr. male (arrhenotoky)
arthro- Gr. joint (Arthropoda, arthritis, Triarthus sp.)
artiGr. at this time
articulusL. small joint (articulated)
arvumL. field (arviculture)
asco- Gr. bag, bladder (ascospore)
ascarisGr. intestinal worm (Ascaris)
asilusL. a gad fly (Asilidae)
asioL. a horned owl (Asio owl genus)
aspido- Gr. a shield-bearer (Aspidontus sp.)
astacusGr. lobster, crayfish (Astacus sp.)
aster, astro- Gr. star (astronomy)
-astesGr. agent of, one who
asturL. hawk (Astur genus of hawks)
atavusL. ancestor (atavism)
atelesGr. imperfect (ateliosis)
aterL. deep black (atrament)
atherGr. spiny, spike (atheroid)
atmosGr. vapor (atmosphere)
atomL. indivisible, uncut
atractoGr. spindle (Atractocarpus sp.)

Better than finding the derivational meaning of the word, where can I find where any particular word was first coined? Then I can easily find the deeper meaning.

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  • 4
    Why not just get a good dictionary? In general, any Latin or Ancient Greek word (or even words loaned from other languages) can be used in taxonomic names.
    – Draconis
    Dec 29, 2021 at 16:24

2 Answers 2

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Not every medical word will have a Latin or Greek root. Often times scientists coin nonsense or use non-Latin/Greek words or even personal names.

For best practices without having to actually learn Latin and Greek, I'd suggest a course or textbook on Greek and Latin roots. Most universities teach a course on the subject, and textbooks abound. The textbooks are of varying quality, I used to teach with the Tamara Green book, though I also have familiarity and remember liking the Ayers book as well. With a textbook in hand, you can then just use a regular dictionary (American Heritage or if you can get a subscription, the Oxford English Dictionary) and supplement it with Etymonline/Wikipedia/Wiktionary to find out more unusual coinages.

To illustrate all that, you could have combed through all the resources (if you didn't know Latin and Greek) to try to find some root with zalm in it. But Wikipedia saves the day! Under Zalmoxidae you'll find:

Zalmoxis is the name of a Thracian god.

Once you find that out, you'll remember from your textbook that -idae is a suffix meaning "descendant from", so the word breaks down into zalmox- and -idae, "the children/descendants of Zalmoxis." Why did they chose a Thracian god to be the ancestor of these particular spiders? It's purely on the whims of capricious scientists who name them. Usually you'll find it in some old tome or article that distinguishes them as a new species for the first time, but you'll find that often it has nothing to do with Greek or Latin at all.

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The simplest answer is to actually learn Ancient Greek and/or Latin to the extent that you'll start recognizing how words break down, and then get a good dictionary. (Some famous public-domain ones include Liddell-Scott-Jones and Lewis and Short.) For the most part, the "grammar" of these is standard Latin/Ancient Greek morphology, just a bit fonder of compounding. And the best way to learn this is to actually study the languages in question.

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