The word utopia just made me respect sixteenth-century humanist writers a lot more. Utopia as we know it can be traced back to Thomas More's seminal novel of that name about an island where everything is perfect. To create the word, More made a sort of pun: the stem is topos, meaning "place" in Ancient Greek, and the prefix sort of looks like eu, the word for "good", but it actually traces to ou, which meant "not". This implies that the perfect place cannot actually exist, and is quite a clever and amusing way of coining a term. Ou derives from a Proto-Indo-European word that roughly sounded like hoyu and could be defined as "never". Topos has a much more mysterious background; etymologists can't trace it any further, due to the wide semantic range of the word, which also could be defined as "region", "space, or "part of speech".
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.