Bill Long 6/19/08
I should note, before diving into several word beginning with pyc, that a few words also terminate or have a second part in pyc. The most familiar, I suppose, is callipygian, which means "beautiful buttocks." I am sure that is a word you want to add to your collection. On the CBS Evening News story on the Natinonal Spelling Bee (featuring yours truly), one of the people interviewed said that her favorite word was steatopygia--fat buttocks. The pyc changes to a pyg, not because it is fat ("piggy"), but to add euphony.
Many of the words in English beginning with pyc are biological words--describing things that have "thick" something or other. For example, a pycnodont has "thick teeth." More precisely, the pycnodus is a genus of fish, characterized by a "persistent notochord, rhomic scales in pleurolepidal rows, paired fins without axial skeletons and effulcrate and branchiostegal rays." So says the Century. Don't you think we could spend a few essays just taking apart all of those words? Well, because you are being good, let's just look at one: effulcrate. It comes from the Latin meaning "out of" and "support" (fulcrum), and means "not subtended by a leaf or bract." Something that subtends is opposite to or "under." I guess I don't get a really clear picture of this little thick-toothed fish, do you? Well, if you don't, here is one. Many of the web pages I found with these creatures describe prehistoric finds from, drum roll...Kansas (where I lived for six years). Next time I am in Fort Hays, maybe I will stop in at the museum and visit a pycnodont.
Then, we have pycnodysostosis, a medical term denoting an inherited autosomal recessive disorder where there is excessive density and fragility of bones. I thought it was lack of density that made bones fragile, but I will hold this in mind until I learn more of this. The term was only introduced in 1963 to describe a "condensing bone disorder." The NY Review of Books had this to say in 1991: "Medical experts now think that Lautrec (the artist) suffered from a very rare bone disorder, pycnodysostosis, the result of his parents consanguinity...The disease prevented the growth of his legs and left him with unusually small hands and feet, an overlarge cranium, receding chin, and slightly fleshy nose and lips." So, maybe he is our "poster boy" for pycnodysostosis.
Leaving Medicine for a Moment
I couldn't believe that there was a word such as pycnometochia, the "use of participles or participial clauses at short intervals." The word only appears in the Century, and only appears in nonsense connections in a Google search. Thus, it is time for a good use of it. "His writing tried to avoid pycnometochic clusters; rather than giving the impression of furious activity, these clusters suggest a rather laborious pace." Several hymns are pycnometochic--the lame man in one of them went "walking and leaping and praising God (repeated endlessly)..." The warden in Shawshank Redemption talked about the inmates being "thick as thieves;" maybe the literary equivalent is pycnometochic.
A little less obscure, I hope, is the term from classical architecture pycnostyle. The term translates the concept from the Roman architectural historian Vitruvius, and means "a building, esp. one of classical or neoclassical design, having a row of columns placed closely together, typically so that the distance between adjacent columns is equal to one and a half times the diameter of the column." I like a quotation from 1948: "The wide intercolumniations of the later Grecian edifices probably came nearer to the primitive model than the old Doric pycnostyle." So, on one side of the room, you have the "less filling" crowd saying "wide intercolumniation!" One the other side, you have the "tastes great" crowd saying "pycnostlye." Suum cuique.
A pycnon is a word from ancient Greek music to denote one of the short ("thick" or "close") intervals in the chromatic or enharmonic scales, usually about equivalent to a quarter-step. The pycnonotus (thick-backed; the word notochord is a common word for the "elastic, cartilaginous band or rod forming the primitive basis of the spinal column, present in all embryonic chordates and persisting in some adult forms") is a bird with a rather "thick" back. Here is a picture of the black-cresed bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus gularis). The OED doesn't have pycnonotus, though it has pycnonotine which means, predictably, "relating to or resembling the bulbuls." There is just so much to learn, isn't there, of the animal and scientific world?
A pycnometer is a container used to measure the relative density of a liquid by measuring its weight when filled with the liquid and comparing it with the weight when filled with water. Thus, the "thickness" of the liquid is being measured. Interestingly enough, the first use of this word in English was in measuring urine: From 1858: "The weight of the urine required to fill the pycnometer is thus ascertained."
We have several pyc's to go, but I wouldn't be picky if I were you; these provide you a pretty full introduction to the range of these terms. Perhaps you will even be able to invent one or two yourself in future days.