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synthetikos

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synthetikos

Postby humanengr » Wed May 28, 2014 4:31 am

American Heritage Dictionary shows the etymology of 'synthetic' as
Greek sunthetikos, skilled in putting together…

Would a better reading be "put together with skill"?
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Re: synthetikos

Postby Qimmik » Wed May 28, 2014 2:18 pm

The American Heritage dictionary gives the meaning of the Greek word reported in the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek dictionary:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dsunqetiko%2Fs

But this is apparently based on just one attestation of the Greek word in ancient Greek literature. It seems to have been a word without many attestations, although it is a compound word that is based on elements--a prefix, verbal root and suffix--each of which is very common in Greek, and the meaning is very transparent to anyone who knows some Greek.

Based on the elements out of which it is compounded, it means something like "pertaining to putting together." In fact, the English words "compound" or "compose," or, better yet, the participles "compounding" or "composing," are very close to the meaning of the Greek. In the attestation listed in LSJ, it seems to refer to a certain "compounding" person, i.e., one who is skillful at compounding or composing or putting things together.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the English word "synthetic" is necessarily limited by the meaning of the ancient Greek word from which it is derived.
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Re: synthetikos

Postby humanengr » Thu May 29, 2014 3:21 am

Thanks for the thorough response.

I was struck by the apparent use of a participial adjective for a thing also as a noun for the maker of the thing.

Is that less rare in Greek than in English? Maybe I'm just overlooking other examples in the latter.
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Re: synthetikos

Postby Qimmik » Thu May 29, 2014 10:07 am

I wouldn't describe synthetikos as a participial adjective. Its basic meaning is "pertaining to" or "characterized by putting together." In the LSJ quotation from Lucian, it seems to mean something like "a putting-together sort of person," i.e., one who is good at putting together. In the citation from Plato it means "constructive" and in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, it means "relating to composition."

You should be aware that between Plato (cir. 400 BCE) and Lucian (cir.150 CE), there are about five and a half centuries (although Lucian attempts to write 5th-4th century BCE Attic prose). Dionysius is cir. 25 CE. So these are authors from different periods. But the basic meaning "pertaining to or characterized by putting together" is quite transparent, and a Greek readers over the whole time-span would probably not have any difficulty in figuring out what each of these authors meant to say, even though they use the word differently.
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