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A Grammatical Dictionary of Botanical Latin

cyt-, cyto- (Eng. prefixes in compounds); -cyte (Eng. noun ending in compound words): in Gk. comp., a cell, cell-, -cell; relating to the cell (from kytos, 'receptable') [Stearn 1983 and 1995].

NOTE: the rendering of this English ending in Latinized Greek compounds is difficult to determine from the multitude of readily available information. The following notes are presented to demonstrate the complexity of the problem.

NOTE: the ending, or suffix ‘-cyte,’ in English usually indicates a mature cell, as opposed to an immature or embryonic cell, whose name ends in ‘-blast’(Wikipedia).

I: as a prefix (initial element) there seems to be no apparent problem: generally cyt- before the next element in a compound word if the element begins with a vowel, and cyto- if it begins with a consonant. However, in early sources the prefix cyti-, cytio- has been regularly used for the same compounds with Greek elements:

e.g. cytioplasma,-atis (s.n.III) (obsol.) >> cytoplasma,-atis (s.n.III): cytoplasm.

The prefix cyti-, cytio- may have originaed from Braun (1855): see II.A.iv. below.

II: as a suffix (terminal element) there is some confusion as to the declension and gender of a noun ending in -cyte.

A: the etymology noted for this word element is uniformly considered to be based on some classical Greek noun:

i) almost universally the Greek noun is said to be:

kytos,-eos (s.n.III) [not -eOs,] the hollow of, e.g. a shield, the hold of a ship; any hollow vessel, receptacle, a vase, jar, pot, urn; the body, trunk, a stomach, the chest, the womb (after Liddell & Scott).

Note that this is a neuter noun (not masculine, for second declension Gk. words ending in -os are readily Latinized into -us, as are Gk. neuters in -on Latinized into -um).

How should ‘kytos,-eos’ be Latinized?

Stearn (1983 and 1995) does not tackle this issue, but only renders the prefix cyto-for which there is no apparent problem. However, elsewhere in his glossary the word Coenocyte is rendered coenocytum,-i (s.n.II). If the -os ending of the Gk. noun is Latinized to -on to satisfy the Gk. gender, this might be a possibility. One option, then, seems to be:

-cyte: in Gk. comp. -cytum,-i (s.n.II), abl. sg. -cyto

[Coenocytum,-i (s.n.II), abl. sg. coencyto].

ii) parallel with the suggestion that -cytum,-i (s.n.II) is the proper Latin ending derives from medical terminology, that is, of the cyton:

cyton. “A virtually extinct term for: (1) A neuron's body, exclusive of the processes—axons, axon terminals, and dendrites departing therefrom. (2) A cell.” (from Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc., and other contemporary medical dictionaries). This is the same as -cytum, only it retains the Greek -on ending of a second declension neuter Greek noun. Presumably:

-cyte: in Gk. comp. -cyton,-i (s.n.II), abl. sg. cyto

[Coenocyton,-i (s.n.II), abl. sg. coenocyto].

iii) consultation with present day general dictionaries and glossaries reveals that the noun-form at the basis of -cyte is a Neo Latin element ‘cyta’ (Webster’s Third International, the American Heritage Dictionary and numerous medical dictionaries presented on the internet). ‘Cyta,’ then, is given as the NL equivalent for -cyte. Another possibility for a Latin noun suffix might be:

cyte: in Gk. comp. -cyta,-ae (s.f.I)

[Coenocyta,-ae (s.f.I)].

However, this formulation looks like a singular feminine noun of the first declension. Perhaps the basis for this formulation is from some code of nomenclature.

Another possibility may be that the -a ending actually represents the neuter plural of a second declension Latin noun (e.g. coenocytum, nom. & acc. pl. coenocyta), which seems like an error.

NOTE the -e in the English ending (-cyte) does NOT represent the Gk. eta (long E): perhaps the ‘e’ has to do with the ‘length’ of the English ‘y.’]

iv) Cash (1965), in her mycological glossary, renders planocyte as planocytium,-ii (s.n.II), and also coenocyte as coenocytium,-ii (s.n.II), hence, another possibility for a Latin noun suffix might be:

cyte: in Gk. comp. -cytium,-ii (s.n.II), abl. sg. cytio

[Coenocytium,-ii (s.n.II), abl. sg. coenocytio).

A question might be asked: where did the -i- come from in -cytum or -cyton or even -cytia affixes?

A problem that would need to be solved to find a Latinized terminal ending in a compound word made up of Greek elements is to determine what the stem of the original Greek neuter noun, kytos,-eos, might be. The genitive singular is kyteos, which seems to be related to other Greek (neuter) nouns with their genitive singular in -ous. The stem seems to be kyt- (not kyte-, perhaps Latinized by some as kyti- + -um).

It is more likely that the -ium ending is the Greek diminutive suffix used for nouns: -ion or -ium (s.n.II), hence -cytium might mean ‘small cavity or receptacle’ [kyt- + -ion]. The gender of the original noun from which the stem kyt- or cyt- was taken would be irrelevant as the noun suffix requires the neuter gender.

Cash’s choice of ending does not follow many present day suggestions for Latinization of the English -cyte, or cyton.

However, the ending -cytium is extensively used by A. Braun (1855):

Goniocytium = Sporocytium = Sporangium = goniocyte, sporocyte, sporangium.

Braun, however, derived his ‘-cytium,’ not from kytos,-eos, but from a different

Greek word:

- [algae] cellula in genere graece, ut et aliis acceptum est, c y t i s mihi vocatur, unde vocabula composita derivanda {cytioblastus, cytioplasma, cytioderma) (Braun), the cell in general [in the Greek language], as it is also approved by others, is called by me ‘cytis,’ whence compound names are to be derived (cytioblastus, cytioplasma, cytioderma). NOTE THESE ARE PREFIXES.

Braun’s Greek word choice was cytis,-idos (s.f.III), a “small chest, trunk” (Liddell & Scott) [note ‘cytis’ in this passage is not a dative or ablative plural of ‘cytum’ but a nominative singular. Note also it is a Greek feminine noun].

Note also that Braun specifically wrote that the Greek equivalent for the Latin ‘cellula,-ae (s.f.I)’ was the Greek word ‘cytis’ [cytis,-idis (s.f.III), not cytos,-eos (s.n.III)], and cytis was to be used in forming Greek-derived compound words for cellular compound nouns, such as cytioblast, cytioplasma, cytioderm [the modern: cytoblast, cytoplasma and cytoderm].

As to Braun’s suggestion of the suffix for the English word ‘cell,’ he produced the suffix -cytium,-ii (s.n.II), abl. sg. -cytio:

- [algae] ab Algis unicellularibus praeter pseudo - unicellulares, de quibus supra egi, eximendae quoque sunt Algae typice bicellulares, quae cellulas binas heterogeneas, altera thallum, altera goniocytium vel sporocytium efformante, producunt (Braun), to be removed from the unicellular Algae, in addition to the pseudo-unicellular ones about which I have discussed above, also are the Algae that are typically bicellular, which produce [a set of two] heterogeneous [i.e. different] cells, the one creating the thallus, the other the goniocyyte or sporocyte.

Again, one wonders how the stem was formulated to make compounds in cytis,-idos (s.f.III). Ordinarily, one might expect the stem to be cytid-, which could be Latinized or compounded, but this is not the case. The -id- is dropped to make -cytium, which is presumably a stem ‘cyt’ to which the Greek diminutive neuter suffix -ium is added: cyt- + -ium. Since -idium is also a Greek diminutive noun suffix [-idion] again one might presume -cytidium as the proper form for -cell, derived from kytis,-idos (s.f.III).

One must conclude that Braun’s Latin compounding element is artificial, taking cyt- as the initial suffix element, and the diminutive -ium as the second, hence ‘-cytium.’

Jackson (1928) echoed Braun’s derivation in his glossary under Syncyte, “a structure derived from the more or less complete absorption of the cell-walls, which places their lumina in direct contact,” a noun, Jackson wrote, derived from Syncytium, which itself was derived from kutis, or cytis, “a small box,” as used by Braun (1855).

Elsewhere in Jackson, the words and their senses diverge:

Sporocyte (kutos, a hollow), “Goebel’s term for the mother-cell of a spore” as distinct from a “Sporocytium, a simple sporangium containing spores (A. Braun).” Jackson attributes a different etymology for Goniocytium, making it “kutos, a hollow” and rendering it synonymous with Gonidangium, “in a gametophyte, the organ which produces a sexual spore or gonidium.”

As cell nomenclature was forced to develop ever more precise terms for more precise observations and differentiations of cells, it seems that the English word -cyte, meaning “-cell” became incompletely differentiated from compounds in “-cytium” which grew more to represent a structure that was a receptacle for specified cells, as a “sporocytium” would be a vessel containing “sporocytes” but not the sporocyte itself.

Again, as in kytos,-eos (s.n.III), what is the stem of kytis,-idos (s.f.III) to which compound noun elements may be affixed? Using the stem of the Gk. word ‘kytis,-idos’ one might expect the stem to be -cytid-. If Braun suggested ‘-cytium’ as the compounding element for words like cytoplast, then the artificial compounding element seems to be -cyt- + (diminutive Gk.) -ium. His prefixing element is cyti-, cytio- (cytioplast).

Latin words for leucocyte, gonocyte, oocyte, spermatocyte would be leucocytium,-ii (s.n.II), gonocytium,-ii (s.n.III), oocytium,-ii (s.n.II) and spermatocytium,-ii (s.n.II).

Braun, Alexander Karl Heinrich. 1855. Algarum Unicellularium Genera Nova et Minus Cognita Praemissis Observationibus De Algis Unicellularibus In Genere. Lipsiae.

Cash, E. K. 1965. A Mycological English–Latin Glossary. Hafner Publishing Company, New York.

Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1928. A Glossary of Botanic Terms. Ed. 4. Hafner Publishing Co., New York. 1960 printing.

Stearn, W. T. 1983. Botanical Latin. Ed. 3. David & Charles, Newton Abbot, U.K.


A work in progress, presently with preliminary A through R, and S, and with S (in part) through Z essentially completed.
Copyright © P. M. Eckel 2010-2017

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