How come it's lip and not leip? The English word eclipsis is derived from the Latin eclīpticus, of an eclipse, which is in turn from Greek ekleiptikos, from ekleipein, to fail to appear; Ancient Greek noun ἔκλειψις (ékleipsis). Derived words like ecliptic

The word lipogram (from Ancient Greek: λειπογράμματος, leipográmmatos, "leaving out a letter") has a similar problem. Probably there are more examples of this.

These words are easily associated with the completely unrelated root lip, λίπος (lípos), meaning fat.

Did the ancient Romans have any problem pronouncing -ei-? Couldn't they have sticked to 'ecleipsis'?


1 Answer 1


It seems that, during the time when most of these borrowings happened, Ancient Greek ει was pronounced something like /eː/ before vowels and /iː/ elsewhere. As a result, we see it transcribed with Latin ē before vowels (Αἰνείας > Aenēas) and ī in other contexts (Νεῖλος > Nīlus).

Later, ει became /i/ in all contexts, which is its pronunciation in Modern Greek. So these borrowings (basically by pure coincidence) happened at just the right intermediate stage for us to see this change in action!

(In earlier Greek, the pronunciation of ει was thought to be /eː/ in all contexts, which is why you get ει /eː/ rather than η /ɛː/ when you lengthen ε /e/. It stems from a merger of earlier /ej/ and /eː/, which were sometimes called the "genuine" diphthong and the "spurious" diphthong, since the second one was never a diphthong at all.)

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    One of the things I learned from Randy Trask's Historical Linguistics about Greek /i/ (at any point in the history of Greek) is that some other vowel was changing into it. Of course the spelling rarely changed.
    – jlawler
    Apr 9, 2023 at 23:18

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