Entries linking to omicron
fifteenth letter of the alphabet, from a character that in Phoenician was called 'ain (literally "eye") and represented "a very peculiar and to us unpronounceable guttural" [Century Dictionary]. The Greeks also lacked the sound, so when they adopted the Phoenician letters they arbitrarily changed O's value to a vowel. (Thus there is no grounds for the belief that the form of the letter represents the shape of the mouth in pronouncing it.) The Greeks later added a special character for "long" O (omega), and the original became "little o" (omicron).
In Middle English and later colloquial use, o or o' can be an abbreviation of on or of, and is still literary in some words (o'clock, Jack-o'-lantern, tam-o'-shanter, cat-o'-nine-tails, will-o'-the-wisp, etc.).
O' the common prefix in Irish surnames is from Irish ó, ua (Old Irish au, ui) "descendant."
The "connective" -o- is the usual connecting vowel in compounds taken or formed from Greek, where it often is the vowel in the stem. "[I]t is affixed, not only to terms of Greek origin, but also to those derived from Latin (Latin compounds of which would have been formed with the L. connecting or reduced thematic vowel, -i), especially when compounds are wanted with a sense that Latin composition, even if possible, would not warrant, but which would be authorized by the principles of Greek composition." [OED]
As "zero" in Arabic numerals it is attested from c. 1600, from the similarity of shape. Similarly the O blood type (1926) was originally "zero," denoting the absence of A and B agglutinogens.
As a gauge of track in model railroads, by 1905. For o as an interjection of fear, surprise, joy, etc., see oh.
The use of the colloquial or slang -o suffix in wino, ammo, combo, kiddo, the names of the Marx Brothers, etc., "is widespread in English-speaking countries but nowhere more so than in Australia" [OED].
word-forming element meaning "small in size or extent, microscopic; magnifying;" in science indicating a unit one millionth of the unit it is prefixed to; from Latinized form of mikros, Attic form of Greek smikros "small, little, petty, trivial, slight," perhaps from PIE *smika, from root *smik- "small" (source also of Old High German smahi "littleness"), but Beekes thinks it a Pre-Greek word.
final letter of the Greek alphabet, c. 1400, from Medieval Greek omega, from classical Greek o mega "big 'o' " (in contrast to o micron "little 'o' "); so called because the vowel was long in ancient Greek. From o + megas "great, large, vast, big, high, tall; mighty, important" (from PIE root *meg- "great"). Used figuratively for "the last, the final" of anything (as in Revelation i.8) from 1520s.
updated on August 23, 2019