Printable Version
Pronunciation: sim-bee-o-sis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A mutually beneficial relationship between two organisms; the opposite of parasitism, in which one organism benefits at the expense of its host. 2. More broadly, any mutually dependent and mutually beneficial relationship.

Notes: The relationship indicated by this word is a symbiotic one. A member of such a mutually beneficial relationship is either an simbiont or symbiote. The plural of this word is symbioses, usually referring to different kinds of symbiotic relationships. Millions of symbiotic microbes live all over our skin, cleaning up dirt, debris, and oils. Their relationship is called ectosymbiosis because they live on the outside of us. Termites are known to have endosymbiotic bacteria in their intestines that help digest the wood they eat.

In Play: The termite example suggests further uses like this: "I don't know why you say my brother is a parasite just because he is living with us. Since he reduces our food and alcohol intake; you could just as easily see it as symbiosis." Joking aside, this is a very lovely word with a lovely sense: "Theirs is more than just a marriage; it's a symbiosis."

Word History: This word is taken from Greek symbiosis "living together (with)", made up of three parts: sym-, a variant of the preposition syn "together, with" + bio "life, living" + osis "a condition", as distinguished from -itis "an inflammation" in medicine. The preposition syn is found in many words, such as symphony, a group of sounds together, and synthetic, human creations that are "put together". It comes from Proto-Indo-European ksun "with", which shows up in Russian as s(o) "(together) with". Greek bios "life" is found in many English words borrowed from that language, such as biology, the scientific study of life, and biography, the written story of someone's life. It goes back to a PIE word gwei- "to live, alive", which shows up in English as quick, via Old English cwic "living, alive." In Latin the PIE word emerged as vita "life", which English borrowed in vital and viable.

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!