Odd Words: Canopic Jar

Canopic JarToday, we tackle page 39 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Unlike yesterday, there were few unknown words on this page. Thus I ended up picking something that isn’t even a word: Canopic Jar.

The Bells!

Page 39 contains two “bell” words, and I can’t say whether I knew them or not. There is “campanulate,” which means “shaped like a bell.” And there is “campanology,” which I think you can figure out. These are words I’ve come across before, but it is hard to say whether I would have known them in the middle of an SAT exam.

There were some other music-related words, although ones I knew well. They were all based on the Latin word canticum, which is their word for a song (more or less). So we get words like “canticle” (hymn or chant), “cantilena” (simple melody), and “cantillate” (intone or chant).

That took up a good 20 percent of the page. It’s good to know that a little Latin will still go a long way in English. After yesterday, I was concerned.

Other Words

There were, of course, other words that I didn’t know. I was particularly struck by “campestral,” which means “pertaining to the countryside.” It sounds so familiar, like it is a word I use every day. But it isn’t. It isn’t even in the online Oxford Dictionary. I don’t know if others have the same feeling about it.

There are a couple of words that relate to the eye. There is “campimeter,” which is “an apparatus for testing the field of vision of the human eye.” Much more interesting is “canthus,” meaning “either of the angles formed by the junction of the upper and lower eyelids.” I always find it interesting when there are words for things I’ve never really thought of as existing. At the same time, I can well imagine that “canthus” is a very useful word in anatomy.

One word I knew, of course, was “cannabis.” But it’s worth highlighting because I get flack from people for using it rather than “marijuana” or “weed” or whatever. The reason I do that is because I want to be precise and objective. In particular, “marijuana” was a word coined to associate cannabis use with Mexicans. I don’t want to be party to such racist distortions.

It seems we can’t go a whole page without some kind of military word. Today it was “cannonade”: “continuous, heavy artillery fire.” That one makes sense, though. The “cannon” construct has always struck me as artificial.

You’ll End up in a Canopic Jar

Enough of that! Today we have: Canopic jar.

Can·no·pic jar  noun  \kanō’-pik\

1. a vase used by the ancient Egyptians to hold the entrails of a deceased person.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: from the Latin name of Canopus, a town in ancient Egypt.

Example: Initially discovered in the Valley of the Queens, all that remains of the mummy is a well-preserved head, a few pieces of bandage, and the Canopic jars that contain his organs. –Josh Davis, Face And Brain Of 3,800-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Recreated, IFL Science!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

7 thoughts on “Odd Words: Canopic Jar

  1. Always seemed strange that the Egyptians went to such lengths to preserve various organs, but discarded their brains. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. (Remember how George W. famously went with his gut rather than his brain?)

    • That is strange. Maybe they attributed certain aspects of personality to certain organs, and the brain didn’t get any. I have no idea, I’m guessing in the dark.

    • On the other hand, we do tend to think a lot more with our lower brains than our upper brains, even though they seem like they are in charge. But I do wonder why the Egyptians would throw out the brains. They are pretty cool looking.

  2. Less cool looking once they’ve been scooped out of your skull through your nostril. More like porridge, I imagine. Which leads me to wonder, does anyone make sausage of brains?

    * quick search *

    Well of course they do, Sillybones, Shouldn’t have peeked, never a good idea with sausage, right? Interesting reference to a (mythical?) sausage recipe containing HUMAN BRAINS and WOLFS MILK. Also, care to try some insect sausage?


    Then there’s a study which found human DNA in two out of three vegetarian sausages:


    • Oh, my Lord, the disgusting things humans make food out of. The list is endless. I’m not even being a vegetarian preacher here, there are also disgusting vegetables. (I regard eggplant with deep suspicion.)

      • Hear, hear! It doesn’t seem like something of this world. In fact, it looks a lot like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    • After all that I think I will not click on the links. But it’s interesting to know! Of course, brains seem pretty disgusting all by themselves. I’m not sure that putting them in sausage form would really make them worse.

      Geez. I’m going to think of that all night!

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