PANdemics and Other PANs

The coronavirus disease outbreak of late-2019 was declared a pandemic in March 2020. Since then, few English speakers or learners are unaware of the word pandemic, a clue to whose meaning is in that innocent little pan- at the beginning. Here we explore a few other words that share the same pan-.


pan- (combining form)

pan- is a combining form meaning “all”. It comes from the Greek pan = all.

Common pan-words

pandemic (noun): a disease that exists over a whole country or the world (from Greek pan all + dēmos people)
At the time of writing Antarctica is the only continent that has not been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

pandemonium (noun): wild and noisy disorder; chaos; uproar (from Greek pan all + daimōn demon)
Pandemonium erupted in the courtroom when the judge read out the verdict.

panchromatic (adjective): [said of photographic film] containing or using all colours (from Greek pan all + chrôma colour)
Many people remember pre-war films as black-and-white, but surprisingly the first panchromatic movie, The Headless Horseman, was shot in 1922.

Pandora’s box (noun): according to Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman. She was created by the Gods, and her name meant “All Gifts” (from Greek pan all + dōron gift) because each God gave her a divine gift (beauty, grace, fine clothes, jewellery etc). The Gods created Pandora as a punishment for mankind because the human Prometheus had stolen fire from the Gods. They gave Pandora a box full of evils and told her never to open it under any circumstances. But the curious Pandora could not resist opening her “Pandora’s box”. As she opened it, the evils came rushing out to infect the world (disease, war, vice, the need to work etc). In horror, Pandora quickly shut the box. But it was too late and the only thing trapped inside was hope.

Today, “Pandora’s box” is an idiom. If you open a Pandora’s box you create all sorts of problems that you had not anticipated.

panorama (noun): a complete view of the whole area surrounding an observer (from Greek pan all + horama view)
panoramic (adjective)
The camera on this phone has a panoramic setting so you can take a photo all around you.

pantheon (noun): a temple dedicated to all the gods; all the gods of a people or religion; a group of respected or important persons (from Greek pan all + theion holy, theos god)
Judging by his latest movie, he seems destined to join the pantheon of American filmmakers.

Regional pan-

We sometimes apply pan- to continents or regions of the world, for example:

pan-African (adjective): relating to all people of African birth or descent

pan-American (adjective): relating to, representing, or involving all the countries of North and South America.

pan-Arab (adjective): relating to all of the Arab states

Please note that for convenience, Greek origins are simplified.

See also:

By Josef Essberger for EnglishClub May 2020
Josef started teaching English as a foreign language in 1991 and founded EnglishClub for learners and teachers in 1997.


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