The Universe: Cosmos

The ancients believed that the universe, or the cosmos, was composed of five basic elements: earth, air, fire, water, and sky. (When advances in technology revealed more elements that were much smaller, these classical five were reclassified as states of matter--solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.) The ancient words for these elements show up in our language today, through Greek and Latin roots for earth (terra, geo), water (hydor, aqua), fire (ignis, pyr), and words from the sky including air (aer, ventus, aither), star (astron), and sun (sol).

Find words from cosmos here, then check out lists from other Greek and Latin word-forming elements: cosmos, terra, geo, hydor, aqua, ignis, pyr, aer, ventus, aither, astron, sol

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. cosmos
    everything that exists anywhere
    Is the cosmos filled with chatty alien civilizations, or is the Earth a lonely spark of life in a sterile universe?Scientific American (Jul 20, 2015)
    kosmos (universe)
    With its "s" ending, the word looks like a plural noun, but as the structure of the example sentence shows, it is singular. Because it covers everything, a plural form is not often needed. But a cosmos can also be a plant in the sunflower family. With more than 30 different species, cosmoses seem like they can exist anywhere in the cosmos, but they are most often found in North America, South America, and Africa.
  2. cosmic
    pertaining to or characteristic of the universe
    Even the universe, this cosmic garden that surrounds us and awes us…this monument to Creation was once the size of an apple seed.Forbes (Aug 11, 2015)
    kosmos (universe) + ic (suffix forming adjectives)
    The example sentence describes the universe as something that used to be very small. But its current cosmic size awes us because it is "inconceivably extended in space or time."
  3. cosmology
    metaphysical study of the origin and nature of the universe
    Intelligent design cosmology purports to answer the first question by declaring that we are, in fact, located at an exalted place.Slate (Apr 14, 2015)
    kosmos (universe) + logy (suffix meaning "science")
    A metaphysical ("highly abstract" or "without material form or substance") study focuses on philosophical questions of being and knowing. This can describe a religious approach to cosmology that supports intelligent design, while a scientific approach would focus more on the evolution and structure of the universe.
  4. cosmogony
    the branch of astrophysics that studies the origin and evolution and structure of the universe
    The cosmogony of the present day sets no outer limit to the solar system, and some astronomers advocate the existence of many trans-Neptunian planets.Todd, David Peck
    kosmos (universe) + gonos (birth)
    This example sentence comes from an astronomy book that was published in 1922. Since then, the cosmogony of our solar system has both included and excluded the trans-Neptunian planet of Pluto. This is in contrast to religious cosmogonies that advocate the timeless, unchanging existence of a divine Creator.
  5. cosmogenic
    pertaining to the branch of astronomy dealing with the origin and history and structure and dynamics of the universe
    In considering the cosmogenic arrangements of our globe, our attention is called in a special degree to the moon.Chambers, Robert
    kosmos (universe) + genus (birth) + ic (suffix forming adjectives)
    The adjective is synonymous with the nearly identical "cosmogonic" ("gonos" is Greek while "genus" is Latin). In considering how something looks, our ears might prefer the more pleasant sound of "cosmogenic" and our eyes might hope that it is photogenic.
  6. cosmography
    the science that maps the general features of the universe
    The comet is the deus ex machina; whenever one comes to a difficult question in cosmography, a comet is lugged in.Riou, Edouard
    kosmos (universe) + graphy (suffix forming names of descriptive sciences)
    This example sentence mixes ideas of science and religion to emphasize that cosmography is filled with many unanswerable questions. "Deus ex machina" translates into "god from the machine" and comes from the ancient Greek practice of resolving difficult conflicts in their plays with the sudden appearance of a god (an actor suspended over the stage).
  7. cosmopolitan
    of worldwide scope or applicability
    Layered together, the diverse elements create an inviting, decidedly cosmopolitan air.Architectural Digest (Aug 4, 2015)
    kosmos (universe) + polites (citizen) + an (suffix forming adjectives)
    The example sentence describes home furnishings inspired by things found in England, France, and Japan. As diverse elements of a collection named after a Manhattan neighborhood, they have both a cosmopolitan and metropolitan air ("metropolis" means "mother city, capital city" and as citizens traveled to more metropolises, they coined the wider adjective of "cosmopolitan").
  8. cosmopolite
    a sophisticated person who has travelled in many countries
    Thus far we may all be cosmopolites; though nations be divided, let men be united.Beste, Henry Digby
    kosmos (universe) + polites (citizen)
    Because "cosmopolitan" can also be a synonymous noun, this word is now rarely seen. But the example sentence uses it as a near rhyme to emphasize the image of united cosmopolites.
  9. cosmetic
    serving an esthetic rather than a useful purpose
    Another risk is that their involvement could lead to cosmetic changes to the prison industry that shift attention away from the primary problems.The Guardian (Jul 17, 2015)
    kosmein (to arrange, order) + ic (suffix forming adjectives)
    The idea of orderly arrangement was first applied to armies and governments. On a smaller scale, it applied to a woman's dress and decorations, and on a larger scale, it applied to everything that exists anywhere. Here, the adjective is used in a negative way to suggest that the involvement of big business in prisons would lead to a focus on pretty profits rather than on useful changes that would improve the criminal justice system.
  10. cosmetology
    the practice of beautifying the face and hair and skin
    In some states it is a legal requirement that you have a cosmetology licence in order to engage in hair braiding.Forbes (Jan 27, 2015)
    kosmein (to arrange, order) + logy (suffix meaning "branch of knowledge")
    The suffix "logy" refers to both knowledge and science. In Latin, "scientia" means "knowledge" but in English, the two are not synonymous. Their difference is shown by the example sentence's tone towards cosmetology: although it seems to be objectively stating a fact, it was introduced with the adjective "trivial" and is used to mock the country's many requirements and regulations.
  11. cosmetician
    someone who sells or applies cosmetics
    Cosmeticians probably won't agree, but scientists say eyelashes have an optimal length: a third of the width of the eye.Scientific American (Feb 25, 2015)
    kosmein (to arrange, order) + ic (suffix forming adjectives) + an (suffix forming nouns)
    This example sentence contrasts the views of cosmeticians and scientists. The structure of the sentence and its source are clues to the article's position. Another clue is the use of "cosmetician" instead of the more expert-sounding "cosmetologist."
  12. cosmonaut
    a person trained to travel in a spacecraft
    After the famous “handshake in space,” the Soviet cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts worked on joint experiments.Time (Jul 17, 2015)
    kosmos (universe) + nautes (sailor)
    Their roots suggest that a cosmonaut sails through the universe while an astronaut sails through the stars. But they are actually doing the same thing. Aside from their etymologies, the two's only difference is in their geographical origins: as the example sentence shows, space travelers who trained in the Soviet Union were called cosmonauts while those from the U.S. are called astronauts.

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