Pandemic Ending

July 26, 2021

Rosing Up Again! by Lloyd Bishop

In recent posts, we discussed two ancient Greek roots of the word “pandemic”: “pan-” (“all, every, entire”), and “demos” (“people”). Now let’s examine the “-icending of “pandemic” … and in that spirit, here’s to completely ending the Covid pandemic!

The suffix “-ic” comes from Greek “ikos” (Latin form “icus”; early English form “ick” or “ik”), meaning “pertaining to, related to.”  

Even though its roots are ancient, “pandemic” is relatively recent, inspired by an earlier word: “epidemic,” from Greek “epi” (“among, upon”) and “demos” (“people”). An “epidemic disease” spreads quickly and widely “among people,” but a “pandemic disease” is much broader, affecting an entire country or even the world, as we all know too well. These words started as adjectives, and later became common as nouns.

According to Etymonline (see source note below), several hundred years ago, English nouns for many subjects of study ended in “-ic”: “arithmetic, logic, magic, music, rhetoric.” Words for academic subjects that emerged later often ended in “-ics” (inspired by the original Greek “ikos”), like “mathematics, linguistics, economics, politics,” and “academics” itself.  

Interestingly, the earlier “-ic” subjects continue mostly as non-count nouns (no plural form), while the later “-ics” subjects tend to be either non-count or plural. For example:

  • Logic is a useful tool (non-count) — not “logics” 
  • Politics is a hot topic (non-count) — not “my politic”
  • My politics are different from yours (plural) — but not countable with numbers: not “two politics”

Such “-ics” subjects often have “-ic” adjective forms:

— athletics (N), athletic (ADJ)

— aerobics (N), aerobic (ADJ)

— genetics (N), genetic (ADJ)

— robotics (N), robotic (ADJ)

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Other “-ic” words more likely to countable may act as both nouns (with final “s” for plurals) and adjectives:

— an epic (N), many epics, an epic (ADJ) journey 

— a romantic (person-N), a couple of romantics, a romantic (ADJ) comedy  

— a plastic (N), various plastics, a plastic (ADJ) toy

— an acrylic (N), several acrylics, acrylic (ADJ) paint

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Some “-ic” words are adjectives only, not nouns, like: 

— energetic 

— manic 

— tragic 

— toxic 

— sonic 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Do you know these words’ noun forms? Test yourself by filling in the missing letters below:

— energ_  

— mani_  

— trag_ _ _  

— toxi_  

— so_ _ _  

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Occasionally, an “-ic” word works well as a noun or a verb

— panic (recall the Greek god Pan’s glee in spreading needless fear!)

— picnic

— traffic

— mimic

— frolic

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

When used in “-ed” or “-ing” forms, “-ic” verbs add a “k” to avoid being pronounced like “ice” (as in “iced tea” or “icing on a cake”): “panicked, picnicking, trafficked, mimicking, frolicked.” 

But wait — some “-ic” endings in this last group do NOT come from our Greek root. Take a look at the etymology of “picnic,” “traffic,” and “frolic” (think fun!) on your own.

SOURCE for information in this post: Etymonline, the Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com: “pandemic,” “epidemic,” “-ic,” “-ics,” “picnic,” “traffic,” “mimic,” “frolic” and related entries).


A version of this article appeared as a post on NYU’s English Language Institute blog on July 23, 2021.