Homo

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There are two words in classical languages that seem alike, and give rise to problems for would-be careful users of English. One is from Latin and the other from Greek.

  • The Latin word is homo (sometimes homin- ). This is a noun which means 'man', both as the male and as the general name for our species, 'human-kind'. This is the word used in biology and related subjects to name our species 'Homo Sapiens'. You may see it used about academic (and other) discussions, where the Latin phrase ad hominem is used about personal attacks. (Literally it means 'to the man'.)
  • The ancient Greek word is homos (in its own alphabet, 'ὁμός'). This is an adjective meaning 'same'. It is often contrasted with 'ἒτερος, heteros, which means 'other'. There is a similar adjective homoios, which means 'similar'. These are both used as prefixes to make English words - 'homosexual', for example (~ 'sexually attracted to persons of the same sex' - not, n.b., 'sexually attracted to a male), and 'homeopathic' (~ 'curing by the principle that like helps to cure like').

Note two niceties of language, one etymological, the other phonetic.

    • Etymologically, notice that homosexuals can be male or female. (This word comes from the Greek, not the Latin.) Men who are attracted to men and women who are attracted to women are both homosexual. In each case, the person concerned is attracted to a person of the same sex - not necessarily to a man. Women who are attracted to men are heterosexual, as are men who are attracted to women.
    • The phonetic note is this: those that have been educated in the classical languages (a decreasing number), and those who would like it to be thought that they have (most pedants, and many academics) prefer all these words to be pronounced with a short '-o-' in the first syllable, like that in 'got' IPA: /ɒ/ (for example, IPA: /hɒm əʊ(or ə)ˈsɛks juː əl/). Such academics frown on a pronunciation with a long '-o-', as in 'home'