While the expression ‘it’s Ancient Greek to me’ is used to mean something incomprehensible, the truth is that Ancient Greek is both accessible and still very much alive in Modern English. Today’s word, star, is a great example. If you were to get in a time machine and travel back to to Ancient Greece you would be able to share many words that are virtually unchanged. You could point to the night sky and say ‘a star’ which is so close to the Ancient Greek aster (αστερ) they would understand it immediately. You could perform this time travel trick over a huge expanse of land and time with similar results: the Old English steorra, from Proto-Germanic *sterron, *sternon (and for other Proto-Germanic derivatives see also Old Saxon sterro, Old Norse stjarna, Old Frisian stera, Dutch ster, Old High German sterro, German Stern, Gothic stairno), the Proto Indo-European *ster- (see also Sanskrit tar-, Hittite shittar, Latin stella, Breton sterenn, Welsh seren). Some words play such a powerful role on the imagination and and culture that they pass down from generation to generation like valuable treasure. Today star has dozens of metaphorical and poetic uses, from Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers to soccer stars and five star restaurants. We wish upon stars, celebrities are known as stars, and we still treat the word with the highest metaphorical value: a star is distant, beautiful and inspiring.
Image courtesy NASA, in the public domain.