"Why is it "poeta" and not "poeeta" in Latin?" This question occurs in the Harvard University Catalogue of 1872-73, but I haven't been able to find the answer. The reason I would expect "pœeta" is because it comes from Greek ποιητής poiētēs, and Greek οι is usually taken into Latin as œ.

I looked it up in Lewis and Short and Elementary Lewis using the Perseus Online Latin Dictionary, but the relevant sound changes were not explained there. Unfortunately, I do not own a Latin etymological dictionary.

At first, I had an idea it might be due to some kind of aversion to "double ee," but there are words with æe like præemino and haliæetus (that last one is another loan from Greek ἁλιαίετος haliaietos).

1 Answer 1


Greek is a language of many respectable dialects. In more than a few dialects, there is no iota in ποιέω /poieô/ "do, make", the word from which the word ποιητής /poiêtês/ "poet" is derived in Greek. And Greek spelling was not always the same as in the classical age. That is most probably why the borrowed form in Latin does not contain an i.

The word was borrowed early in Latin, so say Ernout–Meillet (s.v.), probably before Attic-Ionic had come to dominate Rome's dealings with Greek nations. Magna Graecia (southern Italy and Sicily) was mostly colonised by cities that did not speak Attic or Ionic dialects, but Doric or Aeolic. In Aeolic, at least, forms of the verb without i were used, so say Liddell–Scott–Jones (s.v.). They even say such forms were used in Attic too (ποῶ), at least in drama, though they are never found before -οι, -ου, or -ω in inscriptions. Meillet suggests poeta may have been borrowed from a Doric form without i.

Other examples borrowed not from Attic or Koinê:

  • silanus from Doric σιλανός, where standard is σιληνός
  • Tragedies uniformly use Doric for the choral passages; might that be the case for the references? (Thinking aloud, here, since I haven't looked it up myself.)
    – cmw
    Mar 6, 2016 at 2:38
  • @C.M.Weimer: I don't know: LSJ call it Attic, and I would call the typical choral passages in Attic plays "Doric"? Then again, I believe they are somewhat of a mixture, like Attic grammar with some Doric words and sounds thrown is, or am I underestimating their doricity?
    – Cerberus
    Mar 6, 2016 at 2:40
  • @Cerberus I wouldn't go so far as to call it Attic with Greek forms, but the syntax of Attic and Doric isn't so great anyway. It is regarded as an artificial type of Doric, though, which makes sense since it's written by Athenians (i.e. of the tragedies we have).
    – cmw
    Mar 6, 2016 at 2:43
  • @sumelic: I would guess there are a few more borrowings from Doric or Aeolic, but I can't think of any off the tops of my heads. And their should be various Ionic borrowings.
    – Cerberus
    Mar 6, 2016 at 2:45
  • @sumelic In fact, most of the early borrowings from Greek are Doric or Aeolic. Attic stuff didn't really pick up until Cicero's coinages. Edited: Looks like Cerberus beat me to it.
    – cmw
    Mar 6, 2016 at 2:46

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