The Mother of All Lists: Mater, Matr

Hit the mother lode and learn these words derived from the Latin root māter and the Greek root metèr, both meaning "mother."

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definitions & notes only words
  1. alma mater
    a school you graduated from
    In the spring of 1940, at the end of a busy school day, Katherine was surprised to find Dr. Davis, the president of her alma mater, waiting outside her classroom.Hidden Figures
    alma (nourish) + māter (mother)
    Originally this phrase referred to ancient Roman goddesses such as Ceres and Cybele, who embodied both agricultural and biological fertility. Over the course of the 18th century, it came to denote a person’s university — that is, where you were "nurtured" as a student.
  2. madrigal
    an unaccompanied partsong for several voices
    Mr. Gardiner said both the madrigals and operas still speak directly to audiences more than four centuries later thanks to an emotional range that was unparalleled at the time.New York Times (Jul 24, 2017)
    māter (origin, mother ) + al (of, belonging to)
    A madrigal is a short love poem or a simple song usually sung by two to eight voices unaccompanied by instruments. Madregal is thought to come from a 14th-century Venetian dialect and to ultimately derive from Late Latin matricalis, "maternal, natural, primitive."
  3. material
    the substance that goes into the makeup of a physical object
    “This edge,” said Giacomo Paradisi, touching the steel with the handle of a spoon, “will cut through any material in the world. Look.”The Subtle Knife
    māter (origin, mother) + ial (of, relating to)
    Material is loaded with meanings. As a noun, it can refer to "the substance from which something is made." This meaning relates to māter in the sense of "origin": material is the substance that creates or forms something.
  4. maternity
    the state of being pregnant
    Judy Chicago’s Birth Project: Born Again Exhibition features textile and needlepoint pieces, created by Chicago and her collaborators in the 1980s, that explore maternity, motherhood, femaleness and gender.
    māter (womb, mother) + -ity (quality of being)
    Maternity can refer to "the state of being pregnant," but these days it's commonly used as a synonym for "the state of being a mother; motherhood." The word is also used as an attributive adjective in phrases like "maternity clothes" or "maternity leave."
  5. matriarch
    a female head of a family or tribe
    My grandmother still lives in the same home in the Bronx, presiding as ever as the family matriarch.The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
    mātri- (Latin: mother) + -arch (Greek: ruler)
    The English word matriarch is formed from a combination of Greek and Latin roots. This word was first used in 17th-century Europe and was abstracted from patriarch — which, as you may have guessed, means “a man who heads a family or tribe.”
  6. matricide
    the murder of one's own mother
    He read up on matricide, the crime of killing one's mother, political prisoners, "lying in state", coffins and arrangements for a pauper's funeral.BBC (Nov 23, 2016)
    mātri- (mother) + -cida (killer)
    Matricide is a noun that describes both the act of killing one's mother and the person who kills his or her mother. Both meanings came into use between the 1590s and 1630s. In the Old English, the equivalent word was moðorslaga, or "mother-slayer."
  7. matriculate
    enroll as a student
    I spent last summer studying at Harvard University, and in September I'll matriculate at Yale University.Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho
    mātrīc- (register, list) + -ula (forming nouns)
    Matriculate is both a noun and a verb — so if you're a matriculate, you have matriculated. In Latin, matricula referred to a public register and derived from matricis, "list" or "source or womb." In the 16th century, matricis came to mean “a place where something is developed,” which in turn led to the modern meaning of matriculate.
  8. matrimony
    state of being a married couple voluntarily joined for life
    The writing is by turns confident and questioning, as the speaker considers the promise of matrimony — lifelong contentment and security — and its realities.Washington Post (Jul 27, 2018)
    mātri- (mother) + -monium (action, state, condition)
    Both matrimony and marriage come from the 12th-century French matremonie, "property inherited from one's mother," which in turn derives from Latin matrimonium ("wedlock, marriage"). Remember that matrimony joins not only two people but also their property!
  9. matrix
    an enclosure within which something originates or develops
    “Employees who think they’re sharing unimportant information don’t realize that they’re adding to a broad matrix of knowledge,’’ Mr. Campbell said.
    mātrīc-, mātrīx (breeding female animal)
    māter (mother) + -trīx (after nūtrīx, wet-nurse)
    The etymology of matrix is contested, but one thing is clear: the root mātri- is in there! How did we get from the idea of "an animal that breeds" to "an enclosure in which something develops" or "a computer-simulated reality"? The meanings of matrix have evolved, but they all relate to the idea of something that encompasses something else.
  10. matron
    a married woman who is staid and dignified
    “She sounds like magic,” the town matrons sighed, and then Xan shot them a poisonous look, at which they started mumbling about the weather.The Girl Who Drank the Moon
    mātri- (mother) + -ōna (after patrōnus, patron)
    The root form of this word originally meant "married woman," but by the 14th century, it could also refer to an elderly lady, a female patron, or a midwife. The sense of a "female manager (as of a school or hospital)" was first recorded in the 1550s. In the U.S., a "matron of honor" is a wedding attendant who is already married.
  11. matronymic
    a name derived from your mother's name
    The name Abraham he received from his grandfather, but it was early dropped, and he was always known by his matronymic Albert.Stevens, John Austin
    mātr- (mother) + -onymic (Latin and Greek)
    Matronymic is formed by analogy from patronymic, meaning "derived from or like a father's name." Both words are a hybrid of Greek and Latin. The root nym, meaning "name," is also found in words like pseudonym, homonym, and anonymous.
  12. matter
    that which has mass and occupies space
    The end game is to map the boundaries that separate life from non-living matter.Nature (Nov 7, 2018)
    māter (mother) + -ia (ending for abstract nouns)
    Like material, matter has a range of meanings. Its relation to māter comes from its simplest definition: "physical material or substance": a mother's womb is where formation and development occur, and matter is that which forms or composes a physical object or substance.
  13. metropolis
    a large and densely populated urban area
    The volcano is considered a danger to cities nearby, including the metropolis Naples.New York Times (May 30, 2018)
    mētropolis (Latin) and metrόpolis (Greek)
    Metropolis derives from Latin and Greek words meaning a "capital city," as well as a "see of a bishop." In Greek, mátr- (mother) + pόlis (city) referred to the "mother city of a colony."
  14. mother
    a woman who has given birth to a child
    “Whatever you do, Dimple, I am your mother. I will always support you. I am always proud of you. Okay?”When Dimple Met Rishi
    mōdēr (Germanic: mother)
    Other words on this list derive from the Greek and Latin words for "mother," but the English-speaking world gets the spelling and pronunciation of "mother" from its Germanic roots. One theory posits that and (baby-talk syllables) were added to the kinship-term suffix -ter to bring this important word together.
Created on November 15, 2018 (updated June 14, 2019)

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