circum-

around, about

Quick Summary

The prefix circum- which means “around” and the Latin root word circ which mean “ring” both are influential in making up English words. For instance, the prefix circum- gave rise to the words circumference and circumstances, whereas the root circ gave rise to circle and circulation. Clearly a circumference is the bearing “around” a circle, whereas a circle itself is in the form of a “ring.”

Round and Round in Circles

The prefix circum- which means “around” and the Latin root word circ which mean “ring” both are influential in “rounding” out one’s knowledge of English vocabulary. Let’s take these related morphemes today for a quick spin.

The prefix circum-, which means “around,” is featured in several commonly used English words. For example, circumstances are those things in life that are standing “around” you at any given time. When Ferdinand Magellan attempted to circumnavigate the globe, he tried to sail “around” it—the expedition he began made it all the way, but Ferdinand himself did not fully complete the circumnavigation. Anyone who has taken math has learned how to measure the circumference of a circle, or the distance that is carried “around” the circle. And if you try to circumvent a huge problem that you don’t want to face? You come or go “around” it!

Now on to the root word circ which means “ring,” which is related to circum-; one does, after all, go “around” a “ring.” A circle, of course, is in the shape of a “ring.” A circus in ancient Rome was a racetrack for chariots, which itself was in the shape of a “ring.” The most famous of these circuses was the Circus Maximus, or very great “ring.”

When blood circulates in your body, or aquarium water circulates through a filtering system, it forms a loop or “ring,” returning to the same place again and again. Thus the human circulatory system pertains to the blood flowing to and from the heart in a “ring”-like loop. An electrical circuit creates a flow of electricity, following a path which is like a “ring” in shape. And of course circuitry is simply a system or set of circuits which is running your computer or iPod or smartphone right now.

I think that we’ve gone “around” enough with the prefix circum-, and have “rounded” out our “ring” that illustrates the Latin root circ. We wouldn’t want, after all, to get dizzy!

  1. circumstances: those events which stand ‘around’ you
  2. circumnavigate: to sail ‘around’
  3. circumference: a bearing or carrying ‘around’ a circle
  4. circumvent: go or come ‘around’
  5. circle: a figure in the shape of a ‘ring’
  6. circus: Roman track in the shape of a ‘ring’
  7. Circus Maximus: the biggest Roman ‘ring’ or chariot-racing track of all
  8. circulate: to move around in a loop or ‘ring’
  9. circulatory: of moving about in a ‘ring’
  10. circuit: path in the shape of a ‘ring’
  11. circuitry: system of ‘ring’-shaped paths

Usage

  • circumvent

    If you circumvent something, such as a rule or restriction, you try to get around it in a clever and perhaps dishonest way.

  • circumlocution

    Circumlocution is a way of saying or writing something that uses too many words, especially in order to avoid stating the true meaning clearly.

  • circumscribe

    If one's powers or rights are circumscribed, they are limited or restricted.

  • circumspect

    If you are circumspect, you are cautious and you think carefully about something before you say or do it.

  • circumstantial

    That which is circumstantial is not an essential or primary part of something; rather, it is merely incidental and perhaps insignificant to the situation at hand.

  • circumference

    the size of something as given by the distance around it

  • circumferential

    lying around or just outside the edges or outskirts

  • circumscription

    the act of circumscribing

  • circumstances

    your overall circumstances or condition in life (including everything that happens to you)

  • circumvention

    the act of evading by going around

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