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Aug 10

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Odd Words: Coelostat

CoelostatAre you ready for page 57 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition?! Well, even if you aren’t, here it is. It is mostly a rant about one word. And then we will get on to today’s word: coelostat.

Little Men

I have never heard the word “cockalorum” before. It is “a conceited or pretentious little man.” I am short, and for most of my life I was painfully thin. And it has always bugged me that small men have special words and phrases to describe them. The best known, of course, is the Napoleon complex. But isn’t that just like a short man to be bugged by such a thing?

Here’s the thing: we don’t have special words for big men who are conceited or aggressive or whatever. And what’s going on is exactly what’s going on with women. The assumption is that it is somehow wrong for a small man or a woman to be strong. So while a large man’s aggressiveness might be seen as him being “a go-getter,” it indicates some kind of pathology in a small man.

Women

The issue is obviously more important socially as it affects women. It tells half the population that they should be demure. Should they demand equality, there are lots of verbal smears that will be used on them. I might hate words like “cockalorum,” but there’s a whole industry devoted to creating words to keep women in their places. In some cases, it works well in that you know pretty much all you need to about a man who uses the word “feminazi.”

On the other side of this is that short men (and women) tend to be ignored. There is a joke I’ve seen a few times in movies and television shows. In it, a woman will say something in a business meeting, and everyone ignores it. Then a man says it and everyone congratulates him on his great idea. (See, for example, Miss Congeniality.) This has happened to me. I suspect I’m not alone among smaller men. And certainly this is something that happens to women commonly.

Small Men Are Less Aggressive

As a result, you would think that small men would exhibit signs of the Napoleon complex. The society certainly pushes them to. But at least one study found that this wasn’t the case. It found that taller men were more likely to lose their temper than short men. (I don’t think we need a study for women.)

Of course, if you think about it, it makes sense. When you find a hyper-aggressive short man, it sticks out. It’s not because he’s short; it is because it is so unusual. I find the whole thing ridiculous and annoying. But as I noted before, isn’t that just like a small man?

Coelostat

I probably should have known this word because I have used the device before. I used to be very involved with astronomy. But I always came at it from the computer end. I didn’t know anything cool like how to look up where a star is in the sky and then how to find it. Anyway, this is a great device, but not so great a word: coelostat.

Coe·lo·stat  noun  \sē’ləstat\

1. a telescope fitted with an adjustable mirror used to reflect the light of a star, etc, into the telescope.

Date: late 19th century.

Origin: from Latin caelum, which means “sky.”

Example: Naturally, Griffith Observatory is hosting a viewing event, featuring telescope viewing from the lawn, sidewalks, and on the coelostat (solar telescope) in the Hall of the Sky (note: personal telescopes aren’t allowed). –Gwynedd Stuart, Where to Watch the Solar Eclipse in LA.

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2 comments

  1. James Fillmore

    It’s so true. But short guy Danny Strong has written the fine scripts for HBO political films “Recount” and “Game Change.” Wallace Shawn is, of course, a super badass. Robert Reich. Maybe it’s the destiny of short guys to show us what’s wrong with our society. People amply rewarded by societal norms are unlikely to criticize them.

    Interesting that the most likeable, intelligent character in “Game Of Thrones” is played by Peter Dinklage.

    Now here’s a thing which blew my mind. The word “cockalorum” suddenly put a song refrain in my head. Turns out it’s a real song, from a real 1978 animated film. I must have seen it as a child, I don’t remember the film at all, but I remembered the song’s chorus. It apparently had James Mason in it!

    Memory is weird. Our brains are almost completely out of our conscious control. We’re just along for the ride.

    1. Frank Moraes

      That is remarkable! Thanks for sharing.

      There is something to be said for being short. There are various ways that one can get some taste of what it is to be oppressed. Being short is minor, of course. Given what I’ve become as a white man, it’s hard to imagine what it is like to be black in this country. It’s an indication of my privilege that I think I would deal with it really badly — and probably violently. I don’t deal well with the little that I am treated as a representative of a group.

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