The Seattle Spelling Bee VIII (3/3)
Bill Long 3/7/08
At the Re-bar
Now we are moving toward the end of Round 3, with excellently-selected words by our host Josh. Speller 16 (or 17) had inspissation, eccyclema, grilse. She actually is a reading teacher, as I recall, and a quite good speller, but had the misfortune not to have heard of the first two words--which she got wrong. The word inspissation originally comes from spiss (derived from the Latin spissus), which means "thick, dense, compact, close." From 1567: "The male [plant] is of more spisse or tough branches." Thus, if you think "thick" whenever you think "spiss," you will see that something spissated is "thickened," and inspissation is "increased consistence, as a fluid substance." Or, I could almost make up another Billphorism here. "Said the triple-scooped milkshake to its single-scopped friend: 'I'm spissed.'"
The double "c" in eccyclema (Pronounced ex e CLAY mah) is pronounced like an "x." A similar word which always trips people up is saccicolous (pronounced sax e COLE us) because people want to put an "x" where the double "c" is. I wrote about ecclyclema a while back. Derived from the Greek "ek" (out) and "kuklein" (to wheel or roll), it is a device used to "roll out" a dead body or other thing that couldn't properly be displayed on stage--in the classic Greek theater. Here are my comments on it when I wrote about it previously. Finally, grilse, not an easy word, is "the name given to a young salmon on its first return to the river from the sea, and retained during the same year." A 1495 law of Henry VII had this to say: "The greate Salmon by it self without medeling of any Grilles...and that all small fisshe called Grilles should be packe by theym self only without any medlyng." Aren't you glad that someone decided to standardize spelling (to an extent) of the English language? As if to confirm my earlier observation that every word in English is easy for someone, I found this web site on fly fishing:
"At the mention of grilse, the first picture that comes to mind is of sparklingly bright, energetic small salmon showing at the heads and tails of pools as they charge upstream the like torpedoes, hell bent on reaching every part of the river system. Those that are hooked usually do their utmost to struggle free with more vigor, energy and aerobatics than many a larger fish and for this reason they are highly prized as a sporting quarry.
What are grilse? Grilse are the first salmon of any generation of smolts to return as adults, having spent one winter at sea, growing from a few ounces to small adults of several pound's weight. They first appear at the end of May and continue to arrive throughout the remainder of the angling season."
Grilse are easy; so is its spelling.
Here are the remaining words in Round 3, that generally knocked out the spellers: cornupete, pogamoggan, isepiptesis, indicia. Only the last is easy, so let's dispose of it quickly. It is the plural of indicium. We use the word indicia in law all the time as a sort of shorthand for "evidence" or "indication." The Latin root means "sign" or "mark." From 1625: "Other sufficient Indicia, or evidences besides..." Or, from 1685: "A ridiculous Garb is the most certain indicium of a foolish person."
In cornupete we indeed have a rare word, one that, according to my searches, only appears in French periodicals and mostly those from about 100 years ago. It looked to me at first like an art-historical or archaeological term (like callipygian, bathykolpian, etc.), and indeed it is. The Century defines it as: "goring or pushing with the horns: said of a horned animal, as a bull, represented with its head lowered as if about to attack with the horns." It also appears on ancient coins. Perfect. Now we see exactly what is meant. But apparently English-language scholars didn't seem to find a need for the word, even though it appears in the Century and Unabridged. It is absent from the OED. By the way, there are all kinds of interesting words formed off the verb "cornute" (to "horn" or "cuckold"), but I will await another occasion to gore those.
Pogamoggan is difficult because they don't teach Algonquian in the schools anymore. It is a kind of club, typically of a single piece of hardwood with a ball-shaped head and especially used as a weapon by some North American Indians. I couldn't find a picture of a pogamoggan online; I think I will just have to wait until I go to a Native American museum and ask for one. A 1997 description is the best I can do for here: "The weapon...was a Weckquaesgeek pogamoggan. It consisted of a flexible length of fruitwood, to the nether end of which a five-pound ball of granite had been affixed."
Concluding with Isepiptesis
Isepiptesis is listed as "rare" in the OED. Indeed, it is. The OED also gives isopiptesis as an acceptable alternative spelling, but the Unabridged only has the former. The word was coined by Alexander Theodor von Middendorff (1815-1894) a Russian zoologist and explorer of Baltic-German origin. After traveling to the Taimyr Peninsula in the mid-1840s and publishing his findings in Reise in den aussersten Norden und Osten Sibiriens (Travels in the extreme north and east of Siberia), he decided to study bird migration in Russia. This resulted in his 1855 work Die isepiptesen Russlands." This doesn't help us much yet, but it does put the word in historical context. He defined it as a "line (either imaginary or on a map) connecting points where migrating birds reach at the same time." The Greek word isos means "equal" or "same" and epiptesis means "flying down upon." Thus we can see the origin of the term. But, I would have to hasten to add, the word can be pronounced quite easily by a native German speaker but it is really difficult for an English speaker, unless you have lots of practice.
The word first came into English in the 1875 Britannica: "His [Middendorff's] chief object has been to trace what he has termed the isepipteses (a plural)...Assuming that the advance is directly across isepiptesial lines (now we are getting ridiculous!)..the whole course of the migration is thus most accurately made known." Thankfully, by the mid-20th century the term seems to have faded away, and there are only a handful of "good" Google results for it. Today it is known as the isochronal line. Yet, it is fodder for spelling bees, and all of us will be ready for it next time...
One more essay will conclude my treatment of this bee.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long