Andrew Rowland dropped a line a few days ago and I finally got around to answering him today. The question is so interesting, I thought it might be worth sharing.
“It’s really a question about to words, or part words that are used in many other words. I was wondering about the words para, as in paranormal, parachute etc. and also tele, as in telephone and television. Are there any meanings to these words, and if so, what are they?“
These lexical items are sort of semi-prefixes. We borrowed a lot of them from Greek and Latin and they “sort of” have meanings though they are not always exact. Tele- is pretty straightforward, it means “distance” or “at a distance”. Tele-phone is a Greek compound meaning “distant sound” or “sound at a distance” and tele-vision means pretty much what it looks like “vision at a distance” or distant seeing. Tele-scope is “distant watching”.
Para- is a bit more difficult to put your finger on. It can means “beside” as parathyroid, parachute or “beyond” as in paranormal, or perhaps 4 or 5 other things. The trick to keep in mind is that these two prefixes are Greek, and can only be combined with other Greek, maybe Latin (paranormal) words. You can’t add them to regulary English words, like para-table or tele-car.