Unfortunately, I don’t own any Latin or Greek dictionaries or etymological texts, but I tried to research this topic on the internet. Here is what I found:

Perseus: words ending in “iasis” in L&S mostly have short -ăsis

Long ā:

  • ănăthȳmĭāsis

Short ă:

  • ĕlĕphantĭăsis, mydrĭăsis, phthīrĭăsis, hypŏcŏrĭăsis, sătyrĭăsis, sīrĭăsis, plătycŏrĭăsis, stĕnŏcŏrĭăsis, trĭchĭăsis

Oddly, all of them are transcribed with a short “a” in Latin except for “anathymiasis”.

“Short a” is also implied by the antepenultimate stress in the usual pronunciations of English words with this ending (e.g. English “satyriasis” = /sætəˈraɪəsɪs/), so this doesn't seem to be just a Lewis and Short thing.

OED: but they're from Greek words with -ᾱσις?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has a entry that, if I’m reading it correctly, says that the vowel was long in Greek:

-asis, suffix

Etymology: < Latin -ăsis, Greek -ᾱσις.

Forming names of diseases, really nouns of state or process from verbs in -άειν (contracted -ᾶν); as from ϕθείρ louse, ϕθειρᾶν to be lousy, ϕθειρίᾱσις phthiˈriăsis; so elephantiasis, psoriasis, and many modern words, more or less analogical, as allantiasis, arseniasis, etc.

There is also the following note in the OED about a historical pronunciation of “myiasis” (not in Lewis and Short) with penult stress:

N.E.D. (1908) gives the pronunciation as (məiˌiˌēi·sis) /maɪɪˈeɪsɪs/.

The length of the alpha in some of the above words in Greek seems to be supported by some Ionic spellings with η listed in LSJ on Perseus: “μυ^δ-ίησις” (for mydriasis) and “σα^τυ^ρί-ησις” (for satyriasis). (Wikipedia tells me that “Proto-Greek ā > Ionic ē; in Doric, Aeolic, ā remains; in Attic, ā after e, i, r, but ē elsewhere.”)


  • What is the Greek etymology of this apparent suffix -ιασις? I think that I recognize the last part as the nominalizing suffix -σις from PIE *-tis. But I'm confused by the -ια-. The OED says verbs were a step in the derivation of these words, and gives as examples psoriasis (ψωρίασις) and phthiriasis (ϕθειρίασις). But the corresponding verbs are apparently ψωριᾶν and ϕθειρᾶν: one has an iota before the ᾶν and the other doesn't. Why does ϕθειρᾶν turn into "ϕθειριασις" instead of "ϕθειρασις" (if the OED's explanation is right)?

  • Was the alpha long in Greek? I found a few pages through Google Books that seem to say that in general, Greek nouns ending in ασις could have short /a/ or long /aː/, with a rule for choosing between them based on the conjugation of the verb from which they are derived (long when derived from verbs in -αω; short elsewise) (Introduction to Greek Prosody, Peter Wilson; Practical rules for Greek accents & quantity, by Philipp Buttmann). Unfortunately, the citation forms used by the OED for ϕθειρᾶν and ψωριᾶν don't end in -αω, and I don't know how to conjugate verbs in Greek so I can't tell if they have this ending in other forms.

  • Why are most of these words pronounced with "ă" in Latin, except for "ănăthȳmĭāsis", according to Lewis and Short?

I'm really stumped. I did come up with one tentative hypothesis, which is that these words were late borrowings that were stressed on the antepenult after the Greek (like certain nouns in -ia were stressed on the penult after Greek in Romance languages; e.g. Spanish filosofía < Gr. φιλοσοφία). If that's the case, maybe it would be better for L&S to say that they belong to a period of Latin after vowel length began to be lost, rather than transcribing the "a" with a breve? But I'm not confident about this. I'd really appreciate an explanation if anyone knows of one.

  • 1
    I think you've basically got it. Greek verbs in -άω have infinitives in -ᾶν. For φθειρίᾱσις, I assume it's analogical, in other words the suffix compound -ίᾱσις got reanalyzed as a single suffix indicating diseases. (I wonder what L&S's evidence for the Latin vowel length is -- these aren't words that are likely either to appear in verse or to be inherited into Romance.) – TKR Jul 12 '17 at 16:25

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