EVEN MORE WORDS
Anadiplosis (Devices V)
Paronomasia et al
Symploce et al.
Legal Words I
Legal Words II
Legal Words III
Bill Long 5/26/05
Still on the Points
OK. So the words we have studied which express some kind of sharp or pointed character are acuminate, aculeate, lanceolate, spindle-shaped, cigar-shaped, fusiform. Whereas the first three simply stress the pointed nature of the shape, the last three tend to emphasize the fact that both ends taper. Or so it seems.
More "Pointed" Words
We also have subulate, cuspidate, hastate and mucronate. We also have leaves that might be apiculate and other objects that could be spicate. Then, if you include bristles, and bristles are known to be sharp, you have an object that is setaceous. We have acerose, too. And then, you have ensiform. Let's walk through some of these terms. Let's start in reverse order.
Something that is ensiform is "sword-shaped." The Latin word behind it is ensis, which refers either to the physical object or may refer, as the OLD tells us, to the sword of the (constellation) Orion. It usually refers to leaves or antennae of insects, but there is also an ensiform cartilage, which is appended to the sternum. It appears that Linneaus was the first to use the term to describe something in nature. Be sure that when you use acerose that you do not mistake it for acerate. Acerate is a salt of aceric acid, which exists in the juice of the maple tree, according to an 1847 quotation. I am in no position to deny it. But acerose means "straight, slender, rigid, and sharp-pointed," like pine needles. It makes you wonder whether the word acerose belongs with pine needles or is a word that can be freed up from this context and used profitably elsewhere.
Setaceous, derived from the Latin saeta, is defined as "having the form or character of a bristle." Its chief use is in Zoology and Botany, and writers since the 17th century could speak of "setaceous prickles" or a "stiff setaceous Tail [of an insect, that] terebrates the Rib of the Leaf." [Terebrate, another great word, comes from the Latin terebrare, meaning to "pierce" or "bore through."]. Yet it can also be usen "jocularly" to mean "bristly" or "unshaven," as in this 1787 quotation: "My father's broad, setaceous visage alternately displayed specimens of all the various colours." I wonder if setaceous differs from some of the other "pointed" words I mention in that it refers only to a bristle or hair, while the other words seem to describe the entire phenomenon.
I don't think I really need to define spicate, but I will. Spicate is usually applied to plants or flowers whose efflorescence is in the form of a spike. You can use the term spiculate to express the same thought. The Century, however, gives us also an ornithological definition: "spurred, calcarate; spiciferous." I looked up calcarate and, sure enough, they have a nice picture of the calcarate foot of a pheasant. Next time you happen to catch one, check out the feet. The picture emphasizes the spurs or sharp notches just above the "toes." It seems like that is what they are talking about. Let's dispatch of apiculate right away. It is a word from Botany and defined as "tipped with a short and abrupt point: applied to a leaf or any other part which is suddently terminated by a distinct point or apiculus."
Finishing the Sharp Words
Moving through the list above, we next come to mucronate. I first learned this word when I was looking up lanceolate in the Century. It directed me to mucronate, which is ultimately derived from the Latin mucro, meaning sharp point, which is defined as "narrowed to a point; ending in a tip." Mucronulate is the diminutive, so it means to end in a very small tip. Examples given are a shell, feather or leaf, and the picture is of a feather but, for the life of me, I don't know why it should be mucronate rather than lanceolate or, for that matter, fusiform. Oh, and then there is one other thing I shouldn't forget. Even though one of the definitions of lanceolate had both ends tapering, the dictionaries assure us that lanceolate can also refer to something where only one end tapers. You need to know this to know the following word: oblanceolate. The "ob" in front of this word and others (such as obovate) means "upside down," and so an oblanceolate sword would be where the tapered end would be at the bottom. In Botany it would mean that the tapered end would be next to the leafstalk.
Speaking of things that might be tapered only at one end, I would like to leap over to subulate, which is defined as "awl-shaped." Sure enough, the Century has an entry for "awl-shaped," defined appropriately as "having the shape of an awl" (I am not kidding you). But then it gives us two pictures of an awl, a brad awl and a sewing awl, and you see right away what subulate means: it tapers only at one end.
Returning, then to the other two words: hastate and cuspidate. A hasta, in Latin, is a spear and something that is hastate, then, is "spear-shaped." The earliest attestation calls hastate "javellin-shaped," and a mid-19th century quotation talks about "Lingual teeth..elongate, subulate or hastate." A primer on the art of fencing talks about the hastate weapons as the pike, partisan...and poleaxe. Another quotation talks about "Leaves...Hastate or Halberd-shaped." Rushing quickly to look up halberd, we discover that it was, not unexpectedly, a military weapon of the 15-16th centuries which was a kind of combination of spear and battle axe, with a sharp-edged blade ending in a point. Hastate leaves are "triangular with sharp basal lobes spreading away from the base of the petiole."
Finally, cuspidate is derived from cusp, and a cusp is a point. Usually this word is associated with tracery in medieval architecture, but the OED tells us that it has a botanical meaning: "Ending in a rigid point or spine." John Hunter, in his 1771 The natural history of the human teeth, was the first to divide the teeth into the incisores, the cuspidati ("vulgarly called canine"); the bicuspides; and the molares. I hope your mind is sharper as you sink your teeth into these words.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long