Friday, February 27, 2009


coxa \ˈkäk-sə\ noun: the basal segment of a limb of various arthropods, such as insects (plural coxae \-ˌsē, -ˌsī\)

Etymology: Latin, hip

You'll have noticed a theme to the words of the past few days. Tomorrow we'll take a last look at arthropod anatomy with a visually evocative term.


fovea \ˈfō-vē-ə\ noun: 1. a small fossa or anatomical pit, groove or depression, 2. a small rodless area of the retina that affords acute vision (plural foveae \-vē-ˌē, -vē-ˌī\)

Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, pit

Arachnid enthusiast Craig Zammiello informs us that many spider species possess a fovea on the dorsal side of the cephalothorax.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


rostrum \ˈräs-trəm\ noun: 1 [Latin Rostra, plural, a platform for speakers in the Roman Forum decorated with the beaks of captured ships, from plural of rostrum] a. an ancient Roman platform for public orators, b. a stage for public speaking, c. a raised platform on a stage, 2. the curved end of a ship's prow, especially the beak of a war galley, 3. a bodily part or process suggesting a bird's bill (as a beak, snout or proboscis of any of various insects or arachnids) or the often spinelike anterior median prolongation of the carapace of a crustacean (as a crayfish or lobster)

Etymology: Latin, beak, ship's beak, from rodere to gnaw

Rostrum can mean so many different things that you could use it three times in a sentence without being redundant.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


clypeus \ˈkli-pē-əs\ noun: a plate on the anterior median aspect of an insect's head (plural clypei \-pē-ˌī, -pē-ˌē\)

Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, round shield

I know what you’re thinking: “Clypeus? Clypeus? Tell us something we don’t know!” What can I say? They can’t all be five-dollar words.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


philtrum \ˈfil-trəm\ noun: 1. the midline groove that runs from the top of the lip to the nose, 2. a philter

Etymology: Latin philtrum love philter, from Greek philtron love philter, dimple in upper lip (from the ancient Greeks’ view that the philtrum was an erogenous part of the body)

I’m incapable of growing hair on my philtrum, so I could never sport a moustache in the style of Charlie Chapman or Adolf Hitler.

Monday, February 23, 2009


philter \ˈfil-tər\ noun: 1. a potion credited with magical power, 2. a potion, drug or charm held to have the power to arouse sexual passion

Etymology: Middle French philtre, from Latin philtrum, from Greek philtron

Proper use of a swept audio filter in certain genres of popular music can cause positive excitation in a listener, although filter does not share an etymological root with philter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


febrile \ˈfe-ˌbrī(-ə)l also ˈfē-\ adjective: marked or caused by fever; feverish

Etymology: Medieval Latin febrilis, from Latin febris fever

This is a common word to anyone working in the medical profession.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


cucurbit \kyü-ˈkər-bət\ noun: 1. a vessel or flask for distillation forming the lower part of an alembic, 2. a plant of the gourd family

Etymology: Middle English cucurbite, from Anglo-French, from Latin cucurbita gourd

This is a tough word to incorporate into one's conversational vocabulary. If you find a way, let me know.

Friday, February 20, 2009


vituperate \vī-ˈtü-pə-ˌrāt, və-, -ˈtyü-\ transitive verb: to abuse or censure severely or abusively; berate
intransitive verb: to use harsh condemnatory language

Etymology: Latin vituperatus, past participle of vituperare, from vitium fault + parare to make, prepare

Take away the -tu- and the -ate and what do you get? Viper. Appropriate, wouldn’t you say?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


cognize \käg-ˈnīz, ˈkäg-ˌ\ transitive verb: know, understand

Etymology: back-formation from cognizance, from Middle English conisaunce, from Anglo-French conissance, from conoistre to know, from Latin cognoscere

It’s a visual cliché to depict the brain as a machine. Cognize reinforces that image with its initial syllable cog-, suggesting the fanciful definition “to set one’s cogs in motion.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


sententious \sen-ˈten(t)-shəs\ adjective: 1 a. given to or abounding in aphoristic expression, b. given to or abounding in excessive moralizing, 2. terse, aphoristic or moralistic in expression; pithy, epigrammatic

Etymology: Middle English, full of meaning, from Latin sententiosus, from sententia sentence, maxim

I can picture a snake slowly whispering this word.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


meretricious \ˌmer-ə-ˈtri-shəs\ adjective: 1. of or relating to a prostitute, having the nature of prostitution {meretricious relationships}, 2 a. tawdrily and falsely attractive {the paradise they found was a piece of meretricious trash — Carolyn See}, b. superficially significant; pretentious {scholarly names to provide fig-leaves of respectability for meretricious but stylish books — Times Literary Supplement}

Etymology: Latin meretricius, from meretric-, meretrix prostitute, from merēre to earn

Meretricious reminds me of matronly. Maybe it’s the shared initial m and internal tr.

Monday, February 16, 2009


opprobrium \ə-ˈprō-brē-əm\ noun: 1. something that brings disgrace, 2. public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious

Etymology: Latin, from opprobrare to reproach, from ob in the way of + probrum reproach

Opprobrium is a shapely word, what with all of its o’s and p’s.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


bilious \ˈbil-yəs\ adjective: 1 a. of or relating to bile, b. marked by or suffering from liver dysfunction and especially excessive secretion of bile, c. appearing as if affected by a bilious disorder, 2. of or indicative of a peevish ill-natured disposition, 3. sickeningly unpleasant {with clapboards painted red and bilious yellow — Sinclair Lewis}

Etymology: Middle French bilieux, from Latin biliosus, from bilis

Bilious literally feels like a silly word, tickling the mouth as it's spoken. (Try it.) That makes it a great word to describe a peevish man.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


cupidity \kyu-ˈpi-də-tē\ noun: 1. inordinate desire for wealth; avarice, greed, 2. strong desire; lust

Etymology: Middle English cupidite, from Anglo-French cupidité, from Latin cupiditat-, cupiditas desire, from cupidus desirous, from cupere to desire

When a yellow dandelion head turns into white fuzz, it’s called a clock. That’s right: a dandelion clock.

Friday, February 13, 2009


dégagé \ˌdā-ˌgä-ˈzhā\ adjective: 1. free of constraint; nonchalant, 2. being free and easy {clothes with a dégagé look}, 3. extended with toe pointed in preparation for a ballet step

Etymology: French, from past participle of dégager to put at ease, from Old French desgagier to redeem a pledge, free, from des- de- + gage pledge, reward

Thanks to Will Boehlke for using the word dégagé in his post yesterday in A Suitable Wardrobe. It’s never a bad thing when you have to look up a new word in the dictionary.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


ungulate \ˈəŋ-gyə-lət, ˈən-, -ˌlāt\ adjective: having hooves

Etymology: Late Latin ungulatus, from Latin ungula hoof, from unguis nail, hoof

Ungulate is also a noun meaning “a hoofed animal.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


ululate \ˈəl-yə-ˌlāt, ˈyül-\ intransitive verb: howl, wail

Etymology: Latin ululatus, past participle of ululare, of imitative origin

The Italian word urlare means “to scream or howl.” Harper Collins Sansoni Italian Unabridged Dictionary helpfully offers this example: “Ha erlato come un ossesso” (“She screamed like one possessed”). Handy expression.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


glossolalia \ˌglä-sə-ˈlā-lē-ə\ noun: ecstatic usually unintelligible utterance usually accompanying religious excitation

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek glōss-, glōsso-, from glōssa tongue, language + lalia chatter, from lalein to chat

This is the same thing as “speaking in tongues,” which is itself a pretty funny phrase if you imagine tongues to be not languages, but, well, honest-to-goodness tongues.

Monday, February 9, 2009


coprolalia \ˌkä-prə-ˈlā-lē-ə\ noun: obsessive or uncontrollable use of obscene language

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek kopr-, kopro-, from kopros dung, feces + lalia chatter, from lalein to chat

This term gives credence to that old threat: "I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap if you keep up that language!"

Sunday, February 8, 2009


logorrhea \ˌlo⋅-gə-ˈrē-ə, ˌlä-\ noun: excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness

Etymology: New Latin, from Greek logos speech, word, reason + -rrhoia, from rhoia, from rhein to flow

We all know someone afflicted with this terrible malady. Sadly there is often no cure.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


logophobia \ˌlō -gō-ˈfō-bē-ə\ noun: fear of words

Etymology: Greek logos speech, word, reason + phobos fear, flight, from phebesthai to flee

Today’s word comes from The Phobia List. The site states, “All the phobia names on this list have been found in some reference book.”

Friday, February 6, 2009


ecdysiast \ek-ˈdi-zē-ˌast, -zē-əst\ noun: stripteaser

Etymology: Greek ekdysīs

This just might be the best word in the English language. Honestly, how do you top ecdysiast?

Thursday, February 5, 2009


deglutition \ˌdē-glü-ˈti-shən, ˌde-glü-\ noun: the act or process of swallowing

Etymology: French déglutition, from Latin deglutire to swallow down, from de- + glutire, gluttire to swallow

Do you chew and swallow your food or do you engage in mastication and deglutition? It’s an important distinction at the dinner table.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


tendentious \ten-ˈden(t)-shəs\ adjective: marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view; biased

Etymology: Medieval Latin tendentia, from Latin tendent-, tendens, present participle of tendere

And here I thought tendentious meant “having ten teeth.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


crepitate \ˈkre-pə-ˌtāt\ intransitive verb: to make a crackling sound; crackle

Etymology: Latin crepitatus, past participle of crepitare to crackle, frequentative of crepare to rattle, crack

Who crepitates? People? Insects? Inanimate objects? All of the above? Do you crepitate?

Monday, February 2, 2009


stridulate \ˈstri-jə-ˌlāt\ intransitive verb: to make a shrill creaking noise by rubbing together special bodily structures (used especially of male insects like crickets or grasshoppers)

Etymology: back-formation from stridulation, from French, high-pitched sound, from Latin stridulus shrill

It would be fantastic if bioengineers could fit humans with leg stridulators like crickets have. I wouldn’t get them, but it would be exciting to know I could.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


vespertilian \ˌves-pər-ˈti-lē-ən, -ˈtil-yən\ adjective: of, relating to, or resembling a bat

Etymology: Latin vespertilio bat, from vesper evening, evening star

Vespertilian creatures are vespertine. What would you call a matutinal creature? A matutin? Doesn’t have quite the same poetry.