Most of us are familiar with the prefix “ecos.” It conjures up images of Earth, and forms the basis of words such as ecology, economics and ecosystem — which all share the same Greek root, ecos, derived from “oikos,” meaning “house or household.”
The Indo-European root is “woikos,” which gives us the Latin form, “vicus,” a cluster of houses, and words such as village and vicinity. At its core, both in Greek and Latin, “ecos” means home and community — where we live.
The words ecology and economy differ in their suffixes. The Greek root “-logy” is from legein: to gather, count, say or speak. Logos and its Latin counterpart, legere, give us a broad spectrum of terms, from ledger to legend to logic to diligent.
In modern times, the suffix “-ology” means: study of. Ecology is a science devoted to understanding the complex, changing dynamics of Earth.
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Economy is derived from the Greek oikonomia: oikos plus nomos.
Nomos is from another Greek word, nemein, meaning: to distribute.
In Greek, economos meant stewardship, thrift, or good household management, and was the agent of economia, the wise use and distribution of resources. In recent times, some aspects of economics appear to have involved uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources. But that was never part of the original meaning of the word.
Ecosystem is a term that includes all resources, both living and nonliving, that make up our environment: plants, animals, microbes, soil, rocks, water, weather and climate.
The concept of economy makes sense if it includes ecology, and managing our resources wisely as part of the ecosystem.
The “eco” words themselves remind us to be good stewards of our natural resources and develop sustainable long-term goals for our home, Earth.
The United States initiated Earth Day on April 22, 1970. It is now celebrated in many countries all over the world. Just as we designate days to celebrate our mothers and fathers, our veterans, our religious holidays, our laborers and our ancestors, we also have a day to celebrate Earth. Like all the other special days on the calendar, Earth Day invites us to use our imagination to create meaningful ways to honor our home and community.
If we want to focus on the backyard ecosystem, we could fill a water dish for wildlife, hang a bird feeder, make a compost pile or plant something that attracts pollinators such as butterflies or bees.
If we want to emphasize economy, we may find ways to conserve water, recycle and reuse materials, or donate funds to organizations that directly benefit Earth.
If we want to understand ecology, we may attend classes or field trips that help us better comprehend how all the parts of the environment are interconnected.
If we want to make a difference in healing Earth, we can pick up litter, become a volunteer naturalist or reduce our pollution footprint — perhaps by driving less or switching to nontoxic products.
As Earth Day approaches, consider what the day means to you and how you will celebrate it, not just for a day, but for a lifetime.
Michele Roest’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian.