The Final Re-bar Bee IV
Bill Long 4/18/08
Plectridia, Winteraceae, Rhizanthous, Yashmak, Arrisways, Dumka, Sfogato, Lippizaner etc.
1. Let's continue to explain these words from the Bee. No poet, even of great renown, could weave all of them together in one poem. I wonder what we can do in one essay. Plectridia is a neuter nominative plural; its singular form is plectridium. A "plectrum" is something with which to strum a guitar or harp, but when we move to plectridium/plectridia we focus not so much on the venue of the plectrum's use as its shape. A plectridium is a rod-shaped cell of an endospore that contains a spore at one end, imparting a drumstick shape to the cell. Here is a picture of a plectridium, even though the article describing it is in Dutch. So, a plectridium is a this drumstick-shaped cell. By the way, an endospore is a "dormant, tough and non-reproductive structure produced by a small number of bacteria from the Firmiculte phylum..." You see how words open worlds? We could possibly take a journey here that would never bring us back to word #2.
2. But before we err in our ways, let's look at arrisways. An arris is a sharp edge formed by the angular contact of two plane or curved surfaces, such as the edges of a prism, or the raised edges that separate the flutings of a Doric column. Thus, something arrisways (or arriswise) is "so as to present a sharp edge, diagonally, ridge-wise." The term is also used in heraldry to denote "one angle projecting towards the spectator." Be sure to distinguish this word from arras, which is Shakespeare's tapestry.
3. Let's leap over to yashmak, a "double veil concealing the part of the face below the eyes, worn by Muslim women in public." It is two veils in one--one which covers the head and one which covers the face. It is derived from the Turkish verb yashmak, meaning "to cover, to hide." Other words for the such a veil worn by women are niqab and burqa, though the latter is most frequently spelled burka. Fun, indeed, when you have to translate/transliterate Arabic terms into English. But more and more of these terms will come in, and one should be attentive both to the original spelling and the predominant ways of bringing the word to English.
4. A dumka, from the Czech word meaning "plaintive song or elegy" is "an alternatively melancholy and gay piece of music found chiefly in the work of Slavonic composers." Here is a YouTube video of the Azerbaijan born opera singer Muslim Magomaev performing in a 1969 conert in Kiev a Ukranian folk song named Dumka (Thought). Life is always enriched when you can see, hear or touch the things that you are supposed to be able to spell. The fact that I was weak on my Azeri opera singers and Ukranian folk songs is a sort of reproach to me.
5. While on musical/artistic terms, let's pause on sfogato. We probably have heard of sforzando, a gerund construction built off the Italian verb sforzare (to force), which is a musical direction to emphasize or render louder a note so marked. But sfogato is derived from sfogare, which means to "vent" or "let off steam." It is a directive to perform the indicated passage of music in a light, easy manner. Hm. How does this relate to the Italian verb?
Let's conclude this essay with a few terms from the natural world.
6. As this article tells us, winteraceae are a mostly southern-hemisphere family of flowering plants, consisting of 120 species of trees and shrubs in nine genera. This colorful web site describes some of the variety and richness of New Caledonian flora. Many groups of its plants appear to be remnants of the late Cretaceous or early Tertiary Gondwanan (other good words!) flora of Australasia. Several pictures of primitive flowering Winteraceae are included, including Zygogynum pancheri, Z. baillonii and others. The richness of the world opens to you if you know your words. I think the official pronounciation of the last syllable of this word is still "EE." The pronunciation of compositae fools spellers all the time; I am sure that winteraceae likewise tripped someone.
7. A rhizanth is a plant of the class Rhizantheae, which produces (apparently) only a root and flowers. Thus, something rhizanthous is a plant flowering apparently from the root. I wonder if a person apparently without a neck can be called "breastous" or something like that--flowering straight from the breast...
8. A scolecodont, a word from paleontology, is "the jaw of an annelid worm, found as a microfossil in some rocks." The word is derived from the Greek skoleks, meaning "worm" and odont, meaning "tooth." The word originated in English in 1933 because of the need for a term to describe this common phenomenon (you could have fooled me). "Annelid worm jaws...are actually common paleontologic objects." Here is a great little picture of such a scolecodont, and here are tons of them for your viewing pleasure.
Concluding with Bavardage
I will have one more essay to go to do "justice" to all the great Re-bar words, but let's close with bavardage, foolishness. Derived from the French word bavarder, to chatter, it is "idle talk, prattle, chattering." The word came into English in 1835: "Replying only by monosyllables to the gay bavardage of the Knight." Though the Century lists the word as "rare," I think that spending a lot of time with people in our day ought to encourage someone to resurrect it....
One more valedictory essay will bring these expositions to a close.