2005 National Spelling Bee XV
Bill Long 1/31/07
Still on Round 3
Here are the rest of the words from Round 3 that I want to note: voltammetry, neurolytic, laterigrade, tectogene, poliosis, petrel, tussocked, plexure, vellication and transilience. Let's go in no particular order, though I want to see how words open up ways for us.
1. Transilience, derivied from Latin words meaning "jump" (salire) and "across" (trans) means "an abrupt transition" or "leaping from one thing to another." It has a special significance in mineralogy as an abrupt transition from one mineral or rock to another. I would like to claim it for educated humanistic speech. Instead of talking about a "random" mind (the word "random" is presently overused), why not emphasize the mind's transilience? The only problem is that if you were diagnosed with a "transilient mind," you might have to pay the doctor extra.
2. Plexure, like transilience, is pleasant to pronounce and easy to spell, yet I would like to pause on it for a second. Its meaning is "a plaiting or interweaving" but the OED says that it is now "obsolete," having been replaced, I suppose, by plexus. But plexure is a word like texture, and emphasizes the interwovenness of things. I simply love the following sentence, from 1866, in which the author describes the way that opposing enemy troops interweave: "Ha, how they coil and clasp!/ They plicate, constrict and gasp,/ In plexure horribly writhen! Knotting closer and madder." Maybe a person should say to groups of friends, "I hope you never lose your plexure." There are lots of imaginative ways to use it. But, if you want to know a secret, why I really chose to write on this word is because of another word appearing in the first sentence where plexure appeared (1661): "The next work...is to take them [sc. locks of wool] out of their natural curls, plexures, and contortuplications." Contortuplication. Say it again. Contortuplication. Though the OED quotes the word, it only lists contortuplicate, the verb. Contortuplicate means "twisted back upon itself." We can understand the word, because "pli" is the word for "fold" (recall the word replicatile from the previous essay?) and "contort" means to "twist." But make sure you don't confused contortuplicate with contortuosity, which is lacking the "pli" and therefore only means "intricate twistedness." Like my brain.
3. Voltammetry, which doesn't appear in the OED, means "the detection of minute quantities of chemicals by measuring the currents generated in electrolytic solutions when known voltages are applied." This is really an unfair word, since the Unabridged has both voltameter and voltammeter and only lists voltammetry in the new word section. It was, predictably, missed, but it was predictably spelled (voltametry) by the one who missed it. Suffice it to say that the study of voltammetry (and especially polarography, whose definition is really long) was pioneered by Jaroslave Heyrovsky in the 1920s and he eventually won a Nobel Prize for it. I wish I knew more...
4. Neurolytic has to do with "loosening" or "destroying" (Greek verb is luein) of the "nerves." In fact it means "relating to neurolysis." Thanks. Neurolysis is the "breaking down of nerve substance (as from disease or exhaustion)." What is interesting to me is that neurolysis was an important pain management tool in the early 20th century, but was discontinued with the advent of new analgesics and safer techniques of pain management. Yet, as one web site says, "recent neurodestructive techniques of pain management such as cryoablation.... resulted in a surge of interest in this method of pain relief." Cryoablation, for your information, is the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze a particular organ before treating it. It is increasingly being used as a treatment technique for prostate cancer.
5. Tectogene is, like voltammetry, a very rare word that was missed by an unfortunate speller. Just think of it. There were tons of really easy words in this round, and then a poor kid get clobbered with tectogene. They ought to do a little more to try to equalize words in rounds. Save this one for when you have the four Indian-American finalists. Derived from the Greek tektainein, which means "to frame or build," a tectogene is "a long narrow fold of the earth's crust that is postulated as an early phase in the process of the formation of a mountain range or an island arc." This "downwarping crust" is also known as "sial" but you can get confused real quickly with "sial"-words since the root also means "saliva." Actually, the geologic "sial," is a combination of silicium and aluminum. We only have time to say here that the Greek word for saliva is sialon while the Latin is spuere--to spit. Thus, something inducing the flow of saliva is a sialagogue. Let's return to the world of tectogene. The term was coined by Erich Haarmann in 1926 and co-opted by Harry Hess in 1938 to mean the "downfolded portion of an orogene." Oops, got another word. Orogenesis means "mountain-making," but the word refers to the production of mountain structure and not that of mountain topography. That's enough on this collection of words for now.
6. A petrel is a sea bird. I only cite this word because of its fascinating origin. It seems to walk on the sea, and its name means "little Peter." It received its name because it reminded someone of the Apostle Peter's attempt to walk on the sea in Matt. 14:29 when Jesus bid him walk to him on the sea. This etymological explanation only goes back to 1703, though the person mentioning it (Dampier) says that the term was in common use among seamen at that time.
7. We finish with tussocked, which means "having or covered with tussock grass." A tussock is a tuft of grass. In a marsh it is a bog covered with and bound together by the roots of low vegetation. So, those floating bogs, I suppose, are tussocks. Learn something new every word when you study words.