ENTRY: leg-
DEFINITION: To collect; with derivatives meaning “to speak.” Oldest form *le-, becoming *leg- in centum languages.
3. lexicon, logion, –logue, –logy; alexia, analects, anthology, catalog, dialect, dialogue, dyslexia, eclectic, eclogite, eclogue, horologe, lectotype, prolegomenon, from Greek legein, to gather, speak, with o-grade derivative logos, a gathering, speech (see also 6 below for derivatives independently built to logos).

Initially, I was researching the etymology of the suffix -logy.
What connects the Greek legein with the PIE root leg-?

My guess is this: In Ancient Greek, if one wanted to speak to many people, then these people must be gathered together. I doubt my guess, because I am unsure if the sense of collection refers to some historical particularity of speech, such as the collection of certain rhetoric. My doubt is worsened by my former ignorance of early ways of reading, when I asked this question on ELU.

  • It wasn't just in Ancient Greek, cf. Latin legere "collect; gather; read". de Vaan 2002 argues that "The semantic shift probably went from 'gather, collect' (also in * disligere 'to pick out' > 'love') to 'watch out for, care for' (neglegere), 'concentrate on' (intellegere) and finally to 'read'. A similar shift took place in Greek."
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 0:06
  • 1
    And it's not the most interestring semantic shift regardig "to speak". Both Ancient Greek and Russian have a semantic shift where "to rub" means "to speak" (Greek διατριβή vs. Russian peretirat) :)
    – carsten
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 18:24
  • Do you have any idea how much has bern written about the first words of genesis, in the brginning there was logos? Finally it clicks for me, they were hunter gatherers! Maybe.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 22:45
  • 3
    That's not Genesis! It's in the Gospels (Christian bible), not the Hebrew bible.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 9:02
  • yup, Genesis begins "in the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth"
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 9:25

2 Answers 2


The basic meaning of the root *leǵ- was "pick out". Compare e.g., from Latin, se-lect, col-lect: to collect things is to pick them out (legō) and place them together (con-). In Greek, the development seems to have been something like "pick out (information)" > "recount" > "say". If you're telling someone a story, you start by picking out the things you want to tell them. The semantic relationship is possibly a bit clearer if you think about the noun from the same root logos, which means "verbal account": an account is a collection of information that the speaker has picked out for some communicative purpose.

(The reddit thread quoted in your answer is a bit misleading in that in Greek, unlike in Latin, legō hardly ever means "read", while in Latin it doesn't mean "say": the developments in the two languages were not the same, though both senses start from the idea of "picking out".)

  • compare two closely related branches, ignore wildly differing meaning in other branches, rely on totality of sound change, ignore uncertainty of the chronology, ignore comparable roots, omit internal derivation. Well done. Next step: deny extra IE comparisons. Now on to read the second sentence.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 0:32
  • Nothing more to add, after all, except an anecdota: The Finnish Kalevala tells of a hero who amongst other tasks, travels the lands to seek spells. So metal.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 0:36
  • @vectory I'm afraid your objections are almost as mysterious to me as the allusion to the Kalevala. What "wildly differing meaning in other branches", and how could this be relevant to a semantic development within Greek? What does "totality of sound change" mean and what does it have to do with my answer, which doesn't mention sound change? What uncertain chronology? What comparable roots? Etc.
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 19:40
  • Oh, I just happened to read about the Kalevala a day before. These things always work their way into relevance for. The acquisition of first hand witnes accounts--re-porting so to speak--has of course always been critical, as far as tradition goes back. The specific finnish language material might be entirely besides the point, sure, I don't know.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 4:55
  • »What "wildly differing meaning in other branches"«? Tocharian "look, see", Iranian "forrest" (possibly); Now, had wholly ignored Albanian, as is usual, because it's too uncertain, but lets take a peek: "to read" is surely from areal influence, "to choose" might be in line with "to look" and show an older meaning in line with Toch. in an uncertain chronology, "to gather; fasten; collect; convene; (intransitive) to fuster, pus up" is right there, but maybe areal, and *ledh could go to *les along with Ger. lesen, w.r.t. letzen, lieren, lösen, Los, leren cp. to lose and draw lots.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 8, 2020 at 5:14

I quote from https://redd.it/6k9usb that answers this question.

razlem. 61 points 3 years ago.

The semantic shift isn't that big: reading something = gathering information. Even in English you have "I reckon" being interchangeable with "I gather".

AllanBz comments on How did 'putare' evolve to include all these meanings?

A similar thing happened with Greek logos, thought, word, etc. Lego originally meant "gather." It is cognate with legere and legio (legion), a "levy," and collect (which is also used metaphorically, to recollect is to remember). A similar metaphorical construction is used today with gather: "I gather she will not join us tonight."

  • There's the nativevspeaker instinct bias. Of course it's a huge semantic shift. Otherwise you wouldn't have had to ask. Don't let yourself be willified. It's s good question that has to be asked.
    – vectory
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 22:48
  • @vectory Thanks for your support! I hope your answer, if revised, can be restored?
    – user5306
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 15:09

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