Yesterday we examined how polecat really means "chicken cat"; today, let's look at the word polemarch and why it's completely different. It would appear that two words, pole and march, are combined (in this military title). While there is a portmanteau, it is a bit odder than expected: polemarch turns out to combine the Ancient Greek words polemos, meaning "war", and arkhos, meaning "leader" (so the portmanteau is of polem and arch). Polemos is of unknown, Pre-Greek origin, but arkhos is reasonably well documented. It is from the verb arkhein, meaning "to be the first", and that in turn is from Proto-Indo-European hergh, meaning "begin". You can see here how the definition shifted from "start" to "lead", and in all honesty, that's not that surprising. So, there you have it: polemarch means "beginning war".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.