The duck-billed platypus is unique for many reasons—being the only mammal with venom, having biofluorescence, etc. But it is also interesting because of its name. “Platypus” literally means “flat foot” and connects with many other interesting “flat” and “foot” words as diverse as an Ancient Greek philosopher and a unit from Warcraft 3.
“Plat-” comes from Ancient Greek “platús”, which originally meant “broad” and came to also mean “flat” by extension. Here are several words that share this origin:
- Plato: His true name was Aristocles (not to be confused with Aristotle), and before he was the smartest guy ever, he was a wrestler. According to Seneca this nickname comes from his broad chest. Brains and brawn, am I right?
- platinum: Interestingly enough, when the Spanish came across platinum they thought it was just bad silver. So their word for silver, “plata” (since it was often made into flat sheets), got the diminutive suffix and became “platina”. It became “platinum” when the names of elements were all regularized.
- plateau: This word comes from French plateau “table-land”. It extended to mean “stage at which no progress is apparent” later on.
- platitude: A dull or flat saying. Something that once had a lot of hutzpah behind it, but through overuse now falls flat. Compare “latitude”, “attitude”, “beatitude”.
- Some other are plate, place, platelet, platen
Ok that’s the first half, but what about “-pus”? Well that comes from Ancient Greek “poús”, meaning “foot”. There are a couple words that directly connect and then some that relate through other forms and earlier ancestors.
- octopus: Literally “eight feet (or tentacles)”
- Oedipus: Before he was out there leching after his mother, he was just a little baby with a terrible prophesy hanging over his head. So his parents tried to have him killed—they had his ankles pierced and bound. But it didn’t work out and Oedipus eventually became his own uncle. Before that, though, when he was found they named him “swollen feet” for the damage done from the piercing. Compare “edema”, meaning swelling.
Another form of “foot” in Ancient Greek is “podos” (this is the genitive case, and it means “of the foot”). And from this term we get many more “foot” words:
- cephalopod: Literally “head foot” These are those sea creatures that have their feet (tentacles) coming straight out of their heads. The octopus is an example.
- podiatry: Care of the feet
- antipodal: The opposite end of the Earth
Finally, the oldest root we know for “foot” is a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word: “*ped-“. These words connect to “platypus” through it:
- pedestrian: Someone on foot
- pedal: Literally “foot thing”
- expedite, expedition: From Latin “ex-” (“out of”) + “pēs, pedis” (“feet”) + “-iō”. In the sense of getting out of a foot hold.
- impede: From Latin “in-” (“into, in”) + “pēs, pedis” (“feet”) + “-iō”. In the sense of getting into a foot hold.
- pedicure: literally “foot care”
- peon: Everyone’s favorite Warcraft 3 unit comes from Spanish “peón”, from Latin “pedōnem”, meaning “footsoldier”. Moar wurk?
- foot: English’s foot word came from “*ped-” through the Germanic branches where “p” became “f”, like “pater” vs “father”, and “d” became “t”, like “decem” vs “ten”