I’m trying to get Frankly Curious moving again. To help in that, I thought I would get back to my reading through The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. When I last wrote about it, I did the word “caducity.” That brings us to page 37 and the word “callet.”
Is It Hot in Here?!
Roughly half of page 37 is dedicated to “cal—” words: those that come from the Latin calor, which means “heat.” It’s where we get words like “calorie.” But the dictionary doesn’t waste any space on words found on cereal boxes. One word I don’t recall seeing before is “calefacient.” It means: “a medicinal substance producing a feeling of warmth.” On the other side of the page was “calorimeter.” I think you already know what that word means.
When looking at these words in this context, it’s easy to see them in an SAT sort of way. If you were forced to, you could grab hold of “cal—” and figure it was something having to do with heat. And in context, it is always going to be clear. “The doctor used a calorimeter to measure my temperature after they gave me a calefacient.” Kind of boring, really.
There were some other interesting words, both known and unknown. One known, but interesting, word, was “caldera.” You can’t have studied much earth science at all and have missed it. It is “a large crater formed by the collapse of the center of the cone of a volcano.”
Two words were completely new to me. And they related to turtles! The first is “calipash,” which is “an edible greenish-colored gelatinous substance lying beneath the upper shell of a turtle.” The second is “calipee,” which is “an edible, yellowish colored gelatinous substance attached to the lower shell of a turtle. Geez, biologists and cooks!
Another interesting word is “callipygian.” It means: “having well-formed buttocks.” Greek-based words tend to upset my sense of what is right in language. This one comes from the Greek word kallipūgos, which is a word that describes a famous statue of Venus, the goddess of love and all that. It is combined with pūgē, which means “buttocks.” So “Venus-like buttocks.” I won’t forget that one!
But okay, onto our word for today: callet:
1. a prostitute.
2. a shrwish, sharp-tongued woman.
Date: Late Middle English (early 17th century).
Origin: I don’t know. It is a regional word, however. It’s hard to keep track of them.
Example: I don’t really have one. The word is obscure. And it is also a common name. And it is more popular in French than in English. But how about something like, “That callet will never be tamed.” That has a good Shakespearean feel to it.
There is something offensive about the word: that it more or less equates a sharp-tongued woman with a prostitute. But what do you expect from such an old word?