Social Question

ragingloli's avatar

Why is "biography" pronounced "bi-ography", and not "bio-graphy"?

Asked by ragingloli (51728points) December 29th, 2022

Something that came to mind when watching an episode of Startalk.

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8 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

It’s strictly done to confuse non-native speakers. No other reason.

tinyfaery's avatar

English is dumb

jca2's avatar

Two more with weird pronounciations: clandestine and hegemony.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

The o’s in cooperate actually are uncooperative.

LadyMarissa's avatar

Blame it on the Greeks or possibly the Germans 1680s, “the histories of individual lives, as a branch of literature,” probably from Medieval Latin biographia, from later Greek biographia “description of life” (which was not in classical Greek, bios alone being the word there for it), from Greek bios “life”. The meaning “a history of some one person’s life” is from 1791. The meaning “life course of any living being” is by 1854. No one-word verb form has become common; biographise/biographize (1800), biography (1844), biograph (1849) have been tried.

It was shortened to biog in 1942 & further shortened to bio in 1961.


word-forming element meaning “process of writing or recording” or “a writing, recording, or description” (in modern use especially in forming names of descriptive sciences), from French or German “graphie”, from Greek“graphia” “description of,” used in abstract nouns from “graphein” “write, express by written characters,” earlier “to draw, represent by lines drawn,” originally “to scrape, scratch” (on clay tablets with a stylus), from PIE root *gerbh- “to scratch, carve”

Jeruba's avatar

We do have that weird thing with some words where we shift the stressed syllable when we add syllables:

bi OG raphy
bio GRAPH ical

DEM onstrate
de MON strative
demon STRA(y) tion

VI olate
Vio LA(y) tion

COL ony
co LON ial
coloni ZA(y) tion


I’m guessing we can thank Latin for that, with its penults and antipenults. Offhand I can’t think of a word that has a shift of that kind and doesn’t stem from Latin roots.

Probably @Demosthenes can give us a definitive answer.

English is not at all dumb, though, and it doesn’t owe us any apologies. It just wants to be understood, you know?

LostInParadise's avatar

Isn’t it the same way with “geography”? And what about all the “ologies” – biology, psychology, geology, etc.?

jca2's avatar

I’m hearing a song, @LostInParadise: “Psycho killer, psycho low-gee.” hahaha

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