Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grimm's Law and Greek Vocabulary

Have you ever heard of Grimm's Law? I'd never heard of it until I read Mastering New Testament Greek: Essential Tools for Students by Thomas A. Robinson. The page about Grimm's Law is on page 147 if you own it or have it handy (the seminary bookstores should have it, and I know the sem library in Saint Louis has it). In a nutshell, and I can't quite do it justice, there is sometimes a shift in pronunciation for a Greek word into its English counterpart (I hesitate to call it a cognate, though that might be an accurate description). The following examples are right out of the book (below the fold):

Shift examples:
Greek letter Gamma turns into English K
Greek letter Kappa turns into English H
Greek letter Chi turns into English G
Greek letter Pi turns into English F
Greek letter Delta turns into English T

Word examples:
Greek root "char" (chi alpha rho) into the English word "grace." See how the chi turned into a hard G sound?
Greek root "pyr" (pi upsilon rho) into the English word "fire." Pi turns into an F sound. Ever hear of a funeral pyre?
Greek root "pod" (pi omicron delta) into the English word "foot." Again, Pi turns into F, and delta turns into T.

This doesn't work for all words from Greek into English, but it might occur more often than you think. You can apply Grimm's Law to a word when the English word is derived from that ancient Greek root.


You're trying to memorize vocabulary words. Like I've said previously, the more "handles" you have to grab a hold of, the better. Let's say you're trying to memorize thura (theta upsilon rho alpha), a feminine noun for "door." Grimm's Law works with this word, theta turns into D.

How will you know whether or not you can apply Grimm's Law to a Greek word? Well, you won't know for sure. You can either A) test it out (when you have the whole chart) on a word you think it might work OR you can look up the Greek words in Mastering New Testament Greek and it will tell you if Grimm's Law applies to that word.

But more likely, you look up a word in Mastering New Testament Greek because you're looking for a handle to grab on to for that word, and then you see that the word follows Grimm's Law.

At any rate, this is another tool in your toolbox to help memorize (AND RETAIN) your vocabulary.

On a semi-related note, I'm continuing to work on the Voelz Vocab Guide. It's complete through Chapter 8, and I've typed up the transliterated Greek words through Chapter 15. So we need to start plugging in the URLs for Chapter 9. It's really easy. Here is the online Greek dictionary we use. The first word in Chapter 9 is "agros" so you click on alpha, then find agros and click on it. Then you just copy the URL (which happens to be http://www.greek-dictionary.net/agros) and then paste it into the Voelz Vocab Guide. It's that easy. If you read this blog, I challenge you to just add one URL to the vocab guide per day. That's right, just one URL per day.