I know this StackExchange is dedicated to Latin, but since one for Greek/Ancient Greek is currently under proposal, I was advised to post my question here after having posted it on Linguistics. I am hoping to get some direction, especially given I am not the only person interested in this problem.

I am currently in the process of translating a text from one language into another, and the original uses a compound noun that can either be translated into English as "fly-eating" (losing the original's charm) or a fancy quasi-medical term involving "-phagia". I have tried searching for rules regarding Ancient Greek compound nouns' formation but could not unearth a definite algorithm.

The word for "fly" would be myia and -phagia could be appended at the end to signify "eating". I would appreciate it if someone with better knowledge of Ancient Greek could help me combine the two together, and I would love to see some scholarly articles on this topic. Surely there are some rules that medical scientists and jurisprudents follow when giving names to new terms?

sumelic and I think that a "linking O" should be used (resulting in "my(i)ophagy"), however, we also realise that might get the resulting word linked with terms like "myophagy" (muscle-eating) and "myopia" that are in no way related to flies. 'tis quite a conundrum.

Update: the fly-related part of the question has been answered over at Linguistics. However, I am still looking for resources and (ideally) an algorithm for properly constructing such nouns. The rules do not seem as straightforward as they are in, say, German. There are at least a few words that seem to fall out of the "linking O" set: genealogy (γενεά + λόγος), koretomia (κόρη + τέμνω) - to name a few (I haven't found too many though).

Is there a rule for avoiding homographs? Like in the case with my(i)o-?

  • 1
    I think you posted at the right place!
    – ktm5124
    Nov 24 '17 at 7:17

LSJ lists μυιοειδής ('like a fly'), μυιοθήρας ('fly-hunter'), μυιοκέφαλον (a complaint in the eyes, in which the uvea protrudes like a fly's head), and a few other compounds that have both the iota and an omicron as the connecting vowel; so I think myiophagy is perfectly reasonable.

Update: As to the suggestion of myiaphagy on the analogy of genealogy: For what it's worth, the alpha in genealogy is original to the ancient word (γενεαλογία), whereas none of the ancient μυι- compounds that I saw use an alpha as a connecting vowel; all use omicron. I believe it has something to do with the length of the alpha in the root word (short alpha in μυῖα vs. long alpha in γενεά).

Update 2: As to resources about guidelines ('alogrithms') for constructing words, I like Oscar Nybakken's Greek and Latin in scientific terminology (Ames: Iowa State College Press, 1959). Even though it's concerned with scientific vocabulary, the info in it has wider applicability. In grad school, I taught a course on bioscientific vocabulary from Latin and Greek several times. Since I'm by no means a science person, I approached this as another language class, where the terminology has vocabulary that is combined according to rules for syntax; Nybakken's book was very helpful for this approach.

  • I really like your take on the γενεά challenge, and you are most likely right. I have not been successful in finding too many similar words to analyse though. I've looked at Buck’s “Comparative grammar of Greek and Latin” and Hoblyn's "A Dictionary of Terms Used in Medicine and the Collateral Sciences", but most compounds come from nouns ending in -ός, with obvious results.
    – Pyromonk
    Nov 24 '17 at 23:28
  • I seriously doubt that the length of the alpha has anything to do with it. The term "connecting vowel" is misleading. The general pattern is: stem of first component (substituting -o for -a) with second component. (This needs more explanation, but I'm being called to supper just now.)
    – varro
    Nov 25 '17 at 0:33
  • @varro. I agree that 'connecting vowel' isn't a very accurate term; however, that's how modern books on 'word building' that I've seen describe such vowels (as does the original question). I would definitely be interested in other explanations for the retention of a in genealogy; it seems to me that the fact that the alpha is long in the root word is precisely the sort of thing that would account for this, since, as you say, the usual pattern is to use o instead of a, as in the other myi- compounds that I found.
    – cnread
    Nov 25 '17 at 1:47

I'd go for "myiaphagy", on the basis that "genealogy" serves as a precedent.

  • What about words like trypophobia though? At the end of his post, @sumelic references genealogy as well. I personally think rules might be different depending on whether the first word ends in a vowel or a diphthong, as languages sometimes treat those differently when it comes to augmentations/diminutions.
    – Pyromonk
    Nov 24 '17 at 22:13
  • What of it? In general, the combining forms of first-declension nouns ("a" stems) use a thematic form (with a thematic vowel -o-). So, I agree with the OP's statement above, that: "linking O" (though I think that that term is misleading) should be used (resulting in "my(i)ophagy"). I would agree, barring other considerations, that myiophagy" is the natural choice. But, as the OP stated, there are possible confusions involved in that choice. I was merely pointing out that a form like "myiaphagy" avoids the possible confusion and can justified on precedent.
    – varro
    Nov 25 '17 at 0:24
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    Myiophagy's potential for confusion is easily overstated; after all, it has the i to differentiate the root from the my of myopia and myophagy. (The fact those words seem to have the same root has much more potential for confusion.) On the other hand, because bioscientific terms not uncommonly consist of subcompounds that might have their own prefixes/suffixes, myiaphagy has real potential for confusion. Aphagy is an actual condition, and if I saw myiaphagy, with an a instead of the expected o, I'd assume this word means inability to feed in flies, due to loss of functional mouthparts.
    – cnread
    Nov 25 '17 at 6:57

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