Boustrophedon and Other Beasts

Boustrophedon and Other Beasts


Is there a word for the idea that there is a word for everything? If there is, it would surely be in Roget’s Thesaurus. That begs the question as to why there is only one word for thesaurus? There is a word for every single part of the human body, including the philtrum, which is the little, fluted indentation above one’s upper lip which comes from the Greek, meaning love charm. In Jewish mythology, each baby in the womb is taught by an Angel all the wisdom of the world, who then lightly taps the infant’s upper lip, to silence it from telling all the secrets in the universe to the rest of mankind. Agastopia is an admiration for a certain part of the body, and I am sure the philtrum graces many lists. Limerance is another word for infatuation, while anagapesis is the act of falling out of love, and finishing a relationship. There is a word for the fear of finishing anything, finfugal, and there is another word for the fear of failure, which is kakorrhaphiophobia. Accismus is a rhetorical term for coyness: a form of irony in which a person feigns a lack of interest in something that he or she actually desires. Not easy to slip that one into the conversation.

If you like words, particularly learning new ones, you might be a logophile, or ‘lover of words,’ but if your love of words becomes an obsession or a passion, it could lead to epeolatry, or the worship of words. Sesquipedalian is the unnecessary use of long words, and that is quite a long word. Supercalifragilisticexpialidociously is an even longer word and it is quindecasyllabic, meaning it has fifteen syllables. The overuse of words is bloviate, leading to a nasty case of logorrhoea, while pauciloquent means using very few words. Many feel that the increasingly common use of the embattled word literally to mean ‘in effect’ or ‘virtually’ is a case of verbicide, or the willful distortion or depreciation of the original meaning of a word. There are some words that only seem to appear in lexicons or dictionaries, and the late Alan Coren remarked once that the mythical bird, the roc, is an animal that only ever appears in crossword puzzles, or on the Scrabble board. If you placed MUZJIBS on a triple-word-score you would probably win the game, but if any of your competitors query the word, tell them that they were Russian peasants at the time of the Czar.

The correct word for the universal hash-tag sign #, is actually an octothorpe, and the division sign ÷ is an obelus. We all know what yesterday was, but did we know that nudiustarian means two days before, or the day before yesterday. The use of nudiustarian in a sentence is best illustrated by McTavish, who was always coming home from the pub in the wee sma’ hours of the morning. Eventually he found this note from his wife. ‘The day before yesterday you came home yesterday morning. Yesterday you came home this morning. So if today you come home tomorrow morning you will find that I left you yesterday.’

Boustrophedon is an unusual and rarely-used word. It stems from the manner in which a man with an ox would plough a field, as written in ancient manuscripts in Greece, with lines 2 and 4 read right–to–left. The word comes from the Greek, ox and to turn, because the hand of the writer goes back and forth, so that the resulting inscription resembles the path of an ox that draws a plough across a field and turns at the end of each row to return in the opposite direction. It could be used to describe the motion of the print head on certain types of dot matrix printers which moves in opposite directions on alternate lines, although the printed text does not come out in boustrophedon format.

Phobias throw up the most unusual words. It seems that a Greek word for almost anything with the suffix -phobia will describe a particular fear of almost anything on the planet, and beyond. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, hylophobia is the fear of trees, pogonophobia is the fear of beards, while chloephobia is the fear of newspapers. Animals provide a rich list of rational fears, including spiders, snakes, birds, cats, dogs and horses, but there are some very specific ones, including lutraphobia, which is a fear of otters. Phobias are one of the most common of mental illnesses, certainly in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that eight percent of US adults have some type of phobia. Women are more likely to experience phobias than men. Typical symptoms of phobias can include nausea, trembling, rapid heartbeat, feelings of unreality, and being preoccupied with the fear object. Some declared phobias are almost beyond belief, with such bizarre fixations as koumpounophobia, which is the fear of buttons. There is even a fear of belly buttons, omphalophobia, and other parts of the human body have curious abreactions, like chirophobia, which is to do with hands, and genuphobia, which involves knees. If this article used too many long words, there is a word for that, too: hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, the fear of long words. Finally, the ultimate fear must be that of phobias, or phobophobia.

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