before vowels ophi-, word-forming element meaning "a snake, serpent," from Greek ophio-, combining form of ophis "serpent, a snake," probably from PIE *egwhi- (source also of Sanskrit ahi-, Avestan aži- "snake," and perhaps the first element of a Germanic word for "lizard," i.e. Old High German egi-dehsa). Hence ophiolatry "serpent-worship" (1862), and the 2c. sect of the Ophitæ, who revered the serpent as the symbol of divine wisdom. 

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