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Interesting words are not just obscure curiosities. They are easily found all around us, if we would but notice. In order to demonstrate this, I from time to time present a theme of unfamiliar words I recently came across in everyday reading.

I've resolved that this will become a regular feature, starting this week. And readers are invited, when they happen across such a word, to send me the cite. No special hunting required; just keep your eyes and ears alert.

judder – to shake violently (esp. of the mechanism in cars, cameras, etc.)

At the Battle of Waterloo:
    The northern gates were juddering. The French … were straining and heaving at the two gates which were held shut by a wooden locking bar slotted into twin iron brackets. The gates were old and rickety, and every heave creaked them further apart.
    – Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Waterloo
 
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Following up on judder, shall we have further violent shaking today? Perhaps from the massive geothermal forces pent up underground, boiling beneath the natural beauty in the US's Yellowstone National Park?
    . . .There are volcanoes, and then there are supervolcanoes. The latter have no agreed-on definition but some scientists use it [sic] to describe explosions of exceptional violence and volume. The U.S. Geological Survey applies the term to any eruption ejecting more than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of pumice and ash in a single event—more than 50 times the size of the infamous Krakatau eruption of 1883.
    . . .Volcanoes form mountains; supervolcanoes erase them. Volcanoes kill plants and animals for miles around; supervolcanoes threaten whole species with extinction by changing the climate across the entire planet.
    National Geographic magazine, August 2009 (ellipses omitted)

More from this article:
    . . .No supervolcano has erupted in recorded human history, but the DNA of our own species may pay witness to such a catastrophe around 74,000 years ago, when a supervolcano called Toba erupted in Indonesia. The ensuing volcanic winter may have reduced the entire human population to a few thousand individuals—a close shave for the human race.
    . . .In Yellowstone, the most recent [super-eruption], 640,000 years ago, was a thousand times the size of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. An eruption 2.1 million years ago was more than twice as strong, leaving a hole in the ground the size of Rhode Island.

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Supervolcanoes?

Superheroes, superstars, supermodels, supersize it...

No one without a superlative.


RJA
 
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Like the girl who knocked on the old man's door. He asked what she wanted. She said, "I'm here for supersex."
"OK," he said. "I'll take the soup."


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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The Yellowstone Caldera lies within Yellowstone Park, and two other calderas from the same hotspot lie to the northwest of it.

It is truly awe inspiring to drive through the park and think about the immense heat and destructive power that lies beneath the ground you are traversing.

Lake Taupo in New Zealand is another caldera on the site of an ancient supervolcano. You can pick up volcanic pumice all along its shoreline, and the pumice rocks are floating all over the lake. Tres Cool!

Wordmatic
 
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costive – suffering from constipation (also, causing constipation; also, figuratively, 1. slow; sluggish; 2. stingy)
[Latin constipatus – which gave us both "costive" and "constipated" – is an apt description. The stipare part (akin to "stiff") means "to cram or pack", and com- means "together". Hence con-stipated means "crammed together".]

In another of Cornwell's historical novels, Lady Grace speaks of her husband.
    " … he takes laudanum every night because he insists he cannot sleep. … " She shuddered . "And the drug makes him costive, which makes him even more had-tempered."
    – Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Trafalgar: Richard Sharpe & the Battle of Trafalgar
Bonus word:
laudanum
– an opium solution, formerly used as a narcotic painkiller
 
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Having taught respiratory nursing for a number of years, and palpation of the costovertebral angle, I was surprised that costive isn't related to "rib." Costal, in costovertebral angle, comes from the Latin word meaning "rib."

Interesting that two words that look so close in etymology are so different.
 
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Costal, in costovertebral angle, comes from the Latin word meaning "rib."

English costive < Old French costeve, past participle of costever 'to constipate' < Latin constipo, contipare, 'to crowd together'. English costal, as well as English coast, < Middle English cost < Anglo-Norman coste < Latin costa 'rib, side'. Two different words, both ultimately from Latin, via French. The loss of the -n- in the Old French verb is a known change.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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mecca; Mecca – a place which attracts many people of a particular group or with a particular interest
[from the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims]
    The Burgess Shale is Mecca for paleontologists. The Burgess fossils tell nothing less than the story of the Cambrian explosion—evolution's Big Bang—when relatively simple organisms rapidly diversified into the sorts of animals that live today.
    Smithsonian magazine, August 2009 (ellipses omitted)
 
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quote:
Two different words, both ultimately from Latin, via French. The loss of the -n- in the Old French verb is a known change.
Well then I don't understand how constipate relates to rib.
 
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I came across today's cute, forgotten word in a Mark Twain passage, and his text makes it clear that the word was well-known in his day.

philopena – from an old playfully-flirtatious game, "when a young lady, in cracking almonds, chances to find two kernels in one shell; she shares them with a beau" and they agree to some trivial contest, the winner being entitled to a forfeit or gift. (One typical contest: to win, be the first to call out "philopena" the next time we meet.) The "philopena" can mean the almond, the contest, or the forfeit.

Definitions don't give the flavor of the custom. Here's a 1919 charming explanation from Love Letters Made Easy, by Gabrielle Rosiere. Sounds like a worthwhile read!
    Gifts between young persons are much more freely exchanged than formerly when, aside from special occasions such as holidays, the only opportunity was a wager or the Philopena. They may still be used when the friendship is still so recent that no opportunity presents itself for gifts without seeming overbold. The Philopena is an almond shell which contains two almonds, and a nut is eaten by each party to the transaction and some catch is devised, such as the one who says, "Yes" first to the question, whereupon the other quickly calls "Philopena" and the speaker must pay a penalty. [Alternate version: the "philopena-caller must pay the penalty.] A word to the very clever young girl may be necessary, as, in her eagerness to prove that she is alert, she may deprive the young man of the desired opportunity to make her a present and also prove too clever, which no man really likes.
Mark Twain says that two twins are as alike as the kernels of the philopena almond.
    The chairman was still standing at the front, the twins at his side. The extraordinarily close resemblance of the brothers to each other suggested a witticism to Tom Driscoll, and just as the chairman began a speech he skipped forward and said, with an air of tipsy confidence, to the audience: "Boys, I move that he keeps still and lets this human philopena snip you out a speech." The descriptive aptness of the phrase caught the house, and a mighty burst of laughter followed.
    – Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

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Well then I don't understand how constipate relates to rib.

It doesn't. Constipate and costive are from the same Latin word, constipare. Costal is from a different latin word costa. Costa and constipare are two entirely different words. It's just an accident that they look similar after coming into English via different routes. Different roots, different routes, different meanings. Again, costal and costive are unrelated to one another.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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imperium – supreme power; absolute authority or rule; imperial sovereignty
    Why indulge Russia’s illusions about its "privileged interest" in Eastern Europe, by signalling a desire to abandon missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, when as the Vice President notes Moscow’s current regime lives "in the past" and dreams of reclaiming the Imperium?
    – Wall Street Journal, ‎July 27, 2009
 
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boreal – of northern regions [from Latin Boreas, denoting the god of the north wind]
anadromy – the much-rarer noun form of anadrormous – going upriver to spawn
semelparity – noun form of semelparous – of a species or organism which reproduces only once during its lifetime. [Note: in many such species the individual dies immediately after mating. But contrary to the quote below, "semelparity" does not require such death.]

"Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula has some of the richest salmon runs in the Pacific," says National Geographic magazine, and the salmon's unusual life-cycle is crucial to the region's ecology.
    The Kamchatka Peninsula, rugged and remote, is a vast blade of land stabbing southwestward through cold seas like an obsidian dagger. Its highlands rise to cone-shaped volcanic peaks and to ridges of bare, gray rock. Its gentler slopes are upholstered in boreal greens.

    [T]he hatchery lies about a hundred miles … from the sea. Each little salmon must descend the Bystraya River to enter the expanse of the Pacific, finding its preferred food abundant but facing predation. If it survives, it will grow large, fat, and strong. That's the advantage of anadromy (a sea-run life history): The ocean years allow fast growth.

    Approaching sexual maturity, the fish will head homeward to spawn. Unlike an Atlantic salmon or most other species of vertebrate, a Pacific salmon breeds once and then dies. Scientists call the phenomenon semelparity. For the rest of us: big-bang reproduction.

    [N]utrients are continually lost from the [rivers'] upper reaches by the same gravitational pull that takes water, silt, and other material downstream. So why don't these rivers gradually lose productivity? The reason is upstream migration. The fish themselves nutrients accumulated during the years at sea, and surrender those precious loads to the ecosystem as their bodies decay.
    National Geographic, August, 2009 (ellipses omitted)

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Interesting taxonomy (from Wikipedia):

* potamodromous fish migrate within fresh water only (Greek: Potamos is river and dromos is 'a running').

* oceanodromous fish migrate within salt water only (Greek: 'Oceanos' is ocean).

* diadromous fish travel between salt and fresh water (Greek: 'Dia' is between).
* anadromous fish live in the ocean mostly, and breed in fresh water (Greek: 'Ana' is up; The noun is "anadromy")
* catadromous fish live in fresh water, and breed in the ocean (Greek: 'Cata' is down)
* amphidromous fish move between fresh and salt water during their life cycle, but not to breed (Greek: 'Amphi' is both)

In case the indents do not line up, the three major groups are potamo-, oceano- and dia-.
Under dia- comes ana-, cata- and amphi-.


"Dromos" means "a running", but also the course along which to run, as in "syndrome," a set of symptoms that go together.

Likewise aerodrome, velodrome.


RJA
 
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And a seahorse is hippodromous? Confused
 
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hippodromous

The Greek for seahorse is hippokampos < hippos 'horse' + [kampos[/i] 'sea monster'; the Greek for stadium for horse-races is hippodromos, with the dromos meaning running.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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A learned response to me foolishness! More seriously, what about dromedary?

Also, what about the part of the brain called hippocampus? We have sea monsters in our skulls?
 
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Hippocampus: a college for the morbidly obese.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Asa - Yes, the one-humped version was in fact bred for speed...

Proofreader - Is that why they called them hippies?


RJA
 
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what about the part of the brain called hippocampus?

It was named in the 17th century because it looks like a seahorse, sort of.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Here is a great picture of the hippocampus, which is a major part of the brain responsible for long-term memory.
 
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Brain anatomy is great etymological fun, as most of the Latin and Greek names are just descriptions of how the structure appears. Among my favorites are the sella turcica ("turkish saddle"), the bony structure in which lies the optic chiasm (from the Greek letter Chi (I've got to learn how input Greek letters...)), the substantia nigra ("black stuff"), and the tapetum lucidum ("bright tapestry").

There are also lots of fun eponymous names, like the crypts of Virchow and the aqueduct of Sylvius.
 
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Here is a great picture of the hippocampus

It looks like a seahorse in cross-section.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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quote:

There are also lots of fun eponymous names, like the crypts of Virchow and the aqueduct of Sylvius.

So how come the one we're so often concerned with is simply Broca's Area? Sounds awfully dull!
 
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As the seat of will, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a personal favorite.


RJA
 
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Of all the specialties in medicine, I think neurology is the most complex. Wordcrafter, you really need to do a theme on neurological words.

While Asa, we've all heard of Broca's area of the brain (discovered by the French surgeon and anthropologist Pierre Paul Broca), I hadn't realized there was a Broca's point (center of the external auditory meatus) and Broca's table (a graduated table of skin-colors). I don't know what the latter is, but it was referred to in the OED.

This conversation has made me wonder...in other languages (dissimilar ones, like Chinese or Arabic) do they have Broca's area or other similar anatomical features? Or are they named completely differently?
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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I'm kinda fond of the corpus callosum myself. BTW, I just Googled the term and got several different spellings. Odd.
 
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