Miscellaneous Words I
Bill Long 3/2/08
I took a break from writing about works for several days; I now simply have to get back to them. This essay wanders through some words discovered in a number of contexts; all of the words have utility today. Let me begin with some random words before moving, in the next essay, to some "form" words.
Vibrissa/e, Morbidezza and Ozone
Vibrissae, with respect to humans, are the hairs in your nose. The word also has to do with the coarse hairs/bristles growing around the mouth or other parts of the face in certain animals. The word, interestingly enough is derived from "vibrate;" the Latin verb vibrare means "to move rapidly to and frow, to brandish, shake, etc." I suppose the nose or whisker hairs can be called vibrissae because they "shake" or "move to and fro rapidly" when air breathes through them or when the facial muscles twitch. Does anyone else have a more likely reason?
I had a harder time with the derivation of morbidezza, however. It is derived from the Italian word meaning "softness, delicacy or nonchalant grace." It is a "lifelike delicacy in flesh tints" in the field of art. The first English use of the term goes back to 1624: "A kinde of Tendernesse, by the Italians termed Morbidezza." Here is a modern use of the word.
"There is a gusto in the colouring of Titian. Not only do his heads seem to think--his bodies seem to feel. This is what the Italians mean by the morbidezza of his flesh colour. It seems sensitive and alive all over; not merely to have the look and texture of flesh, but the feeling in itself."
But here is my confusion on the word morbidezza. Behind it stands the classical Latin morbidus which means "diseased, sick, causing disease, unhealthy." We get our word morbid from it. So, how are morbidezza and morbid related? You would think that since they seem to be derived ultimately from the same word that they should mean the same thing--but they mean the opposite of each other. Any explanation?
Then there is the word ozone. I made my way there by way of ozena, defined in medicine as, originally, an "ulcer of the nose, especially when accompanied by a fetid discharge." Later usage refers to a "chronic disease of the nose" with "a thick secretion that forms dry, extremely fetid crusts..." The word is derived from the Greek ozein, which means "to smell." This background should help us with the word "ozone." I don't use the word much because I don't hang around people who speak much about depletion of the ozone-layer. But I love the word. It was first used (Ozon) in a German publication in 1840, and taken up in English in this 1841 sentence: "I shall...consider the odoriferous principle as an elementary body and call it 'Ozone,' on account of its strong smell." Huh? What has Ozone to do with bad smell? Well, it is derived from the Greek ozein and at first described a bluish toxic gas with a characteristic sharp odor. But, the OED hastens to add, a colloquial meaning of it is "fresh, invigorating air."
So, which is it? When someone is speaking of the depletion of the ozone layer, what is s/he talking about? Getting rid of that noxious blue gas or getting rid of "invigorating" air? And how did the latter definition derive from the former? Already by 1871 we have "ozone" attested in its "pure air" meaning: "Exhilarated by the fresh ozone of the mountains." Help me here..
A friend was talking to me after church today and told me she learned the word hyponychium this week. From whom? Her cosmetologist. Usually those folk aren't known to be on the cutting edge of language mastery, but my friend had to find out what she meant. It is the thickened surface under the end of your fingernail. Of course, my friend's cosmetologist didn't know her Greek (hypo is "under" and onychium is derived from onyx, which means a "nail" or "claw"). I slipped up on onychophoran in one spelling bee, and now I will never again miss any word that is "nail"-related. By the way, the word appears neither in the OED nor the Century. Perhaps it is in the secret lore of cosmetologists. Hasn't this part of the skin traditionally been known as the "quick"?
Speaking of hypo words, I simply had to stop and look at a few that are quite rare but nevertheless alluring. A hypomochlion is the direct taking over of the word from the Greek meaning the fulcrum of a lever (hypo means "under" and mochlos/mochlion means "lever"). From 1729: "A Cylinder...sustain'd at each End with a Hypomochlion, Fulcrum, or Prop, call it what you will." Hypolimnion refers to the lower, cooler layer of water below the thermocline in a stratified lake. A hypomania is a mild form of mania, where the person is a little "below" where s/he ought to be; also referred to as early as 1882 as the "so-called subacute mania of asylum reports." Hyponoia is, according to the Century, a word useful in theology to denote "a supposed hidden meaning or double sense underlying the language of the Bible." More modern references to this phenomenon might call it a typological or allegorical reading of Scripture. Hypokinesis and hyponeuria relate to the same kind of phenomenon: lack of energy or movement.
I need another essay now to do some "form" words as well as a few Latin phrases.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long