Odd Words: Bahuvrihi

Bahuvrihi - Much RiceHow uninspiring was page 20 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Over a quarter of it was given over to bacteria related words: bactericide, bacteriology, bacteriolysis, bacteriophage, bacterioscopy, bacteriostasis, bacteriostat, bacteroid, and bacteroides. I won’t insult your intelligence by defining any of them for you. But it does rather make me wish I had become a bacteriologist. I’m really not that interested in bacteria, and maybe it is best to go into a field that you don’t much care about. Lay bare the meaning of life — or lack thereof.

More Grammar: Bahuvrihi

The word I’ve picked for today is one that relates to my chosen profession: bahuvrihi. But I didn’t pick it because I was terribly interested in it. It’s just that the two other words I found more interesting didn’t have as much information available. The first was “baculine.” That is an adjective that relates to the cane or rod used to beat people — usually children — as punishment. I’ve always found that kind of fascinating given that I was not beaten as a child. A raised eyebrow was generally enough to get me hiding under the bed. But if not, yelling certainly worked.

The second word was “bagatelle.” That one would have been fun because the book provides three different definitions: an unimportant triffle; a short, light piece of music; and a game that is like billiards played on an oblong board. This is indicative of specialized words. They lose much of their power when they are thusly ghettoized. Poor bagatelle!

So we are left with a little linguistics: bahuvrihi.

Ba·hu·vri·hi  noun  \bä-hu-‘vrē-hē\

1. a compound noun or adjective comprising two parts, the first, which is adjectival, describing the second, which is substantival, as fairminded, redeye.

Date: circa 19th century.

Origin: from the Sanskrit word bahuvrīhi, which is itself a bahuvrihi — literally: muchrice.

Example: In general, and as others have mentioned, it is possible to reconstruct a couple of macro-patterns for IE names, namely two-part bahuvrihi compounds, and derivational or compositional patronymic formulae.Gordiep