Elemental - elementary
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Do not confuse the two words elemental and elementary. They are NOT synonyms; one is NOT a 'more elegant way' of expressing the other. However, the two do share an etymological root as well as their first seven letters.
- Etymological note: both elemental and elementary are adjectives broadly meaning 'to do with an element - [in one of its varied meanings]'. The origin of element is in the Latin elementum, "a word of which the etymology and primary meaning are uncertain, but which was employed as translation of Greek ÏƒÏ„Î¿Î¹Ï‡Îµá¿–Î¿Î½ in the various senses" (OED).
- Elemental refers primarily to the medieval scientific theory of the 'four elements', according to which all physical matter was composed of varying proportions of air, earth, fire and water. Hence the primary meaning of elemental is 'to do with the Four Elements'. This meaning is plainly obsolete, and of interest primarily to historians and students of literature; but it gave rise to a wider meaning that still survives: 'to do with the fundamental forces, or powers, of nature': an "elemental storm" is one of extraordinary strength and violence. This is used figuratively of emotions and the like, as when Byron's poetry is described as having an "elemental grandeur", or some actor as falling into an "elemental rage". (The adjective has been used to refer to individual 'elements', such as fire, and the sky.)
- Between about 1870 and 1930, there was a spiritualist and occultist tendency (associated with Mme Blavatsky (1831â€“1891)) which taught the existence of invisible spirits or forces which could produce physical manifestations. These were known as elementals (as a noun). This usage is not recommended to modern students, except within quotation marks in the course of a study of Theosophy or similar 'ocult' philosophy, etc.
- Elementary, which until the eighteenth century - but NOT NOW - was largely interchangesable with 'elemental', refers to the meaning of 'element' as 'a basic constituent', 'a simple part [of a more complex whole]'.
- In Chemistry, it means 'composed of only one element [of the 118, 94 occurring naturally]';
- in Physics, an elementary particle is 'one of the constituents of an atom which cannot [yet] be broken down any further [such as electron, photon and quark]'.
- More generally, 'elementary' tends to mean 'simple', 'for beginners', 'rudimentary'. Elementary education is the same as Primary Education, in which children are given the elements of learning ('the Three Rs'). There are many textbooks for beginners which have the word Elementary in the title.