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Aug 08

Odd Words: Clepsydra

ClepsydraAll I can say is “Happy, happy! Joy, joy!” as we do page 55 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. It’s actually a pretty good page. And the word is odd indeed: clepsydra.

Civil Rights?!

The first entry on page 55 was “civil rights.” That’s interesting. The dictionary was published in 1972. I’m surprised they felt that need to define it. After all, it had been in all the papers! Today, I understand, that many people don’t understand what civil rights means. They think it means protecting the heads of “thugs” as they are put into the backs of police cars. But the definition is the same as it was then: “a citizen’s right to personal liberty as established by the US Constitution.” (Actually: there is nothing about needing to be a citizen in the Constitution.)

Clubs

There are two different words that have the exact same definition: “having the shape of a club.” They are: “clavate” and “claviform.” It’s odd to have two words that are so similar. What is even the point? I know: foolish me for looking for rationality in the English language. But still.

Other Words

There were a lot of good words that I already knew like “clairvoyance” and “clandestine.” But there were also good ones that I didn’t know. Even though it is easy enough to figure out, I like “cleptobiosis.” It is “a mode of existence in which one species steals food from another.” This is the mode of existence of the rich in the middle third of North America.

A really delightful word is “claque.” It is “a group of persons hired to applaud a theatrical performance.” That’s what I need. I need to hire a group of people to follow me around and laugh when I make a joke, applaud when I cross the street without incident, and otherwise murmur “Oh, very insightful” whenever I say something that isn’t funny.

And it seems appropriate to end with “climacteric,” which is “a period in life leading to decreased sexual activity in men and to menopause in women.” Although it appears to me that men have more profound changes than simply a reduced sex drive. Feel free to school me on this.

Clepsydra

Today’s word actually just means “water clock.” But for some reason, the dictionary wanted to describe it. So ladies and gentlemen, here is “clepsydra.”

Clep·sy·dra  noun  \klep’-sidrə\

1. an apparatus for measuring the passage of time by the regulated flow of water.

Date: late Middle English.

Origin: from Latin via Greek klepsudra, based on kleptein, which means “steal water.”

Example: The device above is known as a clepsydra (Greek for “water-thief”), which is a gourd with one hole in the top and one-to-many holes in the bottom. –Ethan Siegel, Yes, New York Times, There Is A Scientific Method

1 comment

  1. Jay McCollough

    My interest in all things Mantodea leads me to offer a good candidate for an odd word: ootheca (plural oothecae). Check it out.

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