Wednesday, September 15, 2010


During the last show, the subject of silent initial letters came up. Examples included mnemonic and psychiatry. Then Richard from Traverse City called and asked about the word pneumatic.

Pneumatic comes from a Greek word, πνεuμα (pneuma), that means wind or breath. In ancient Greek, it signified one’s spirit, the life force, breathed into us by the gods.

It evolved into “relating to or operated by means of wind or air; especially containing or operated by air or gas under pressure.” The move to machinery operated by compressed air, such as a pneumatic drill, was a small step.

Other words containing the same root include

  • pneumathemia, the presence of air in the blood; air embolism.
  • pneumatico-hedonistics, the branch of study that deals with spiritual or mental pleasures (as distinguished from those of the body).
  • pneumatics, the branch of physics that deals with the mechanical properties (such as density, elasticity, and pressure) of air and other gases.
  • pneumatism, a belief in the soul, spirit, or life force.
  • pneumatize, to provide with air-filled cavities.
  • pneunatogram, a record of respiratory movements or air flow.
  • pneumatomachy, opposition to the Holy Spirit.
  • pneumatophobia, dread or abhorrence of the spiritual.
  • pneumaturia, the passage of air or gas in the urine.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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