Odd Words: Capa

Capa

We have reached page 40 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. It was odd. There were a lot of words that I didn’t know, but none were all that compelling. I settled on the first word of the page: capa.

Turtles!

You may recall a few days ago, we had two odd words that related to different edible parts of the turtle. Well, today we got another turtle word: “carapace.” It is “the tough upper part of a turtle’s shell.

That’s fine; I can definitely see a need for such a word. But it makes me wonder if the editors of the dictionary didn’t have a special fondness for turtles.

Technical Words

The reason it was hard to find a good word was that this page was filled with technical words — those associated with some kind of specialized endeavor. That’s even true of the chosen word today, “capa.” And it is true of “carapace” too.

Statistics

One such word, which I assume comes to us from statistics, is “capitation.” It is “a method of assessment or enumeration on the basis of individuals.” It’s kind of odd that the word was a mystery to me, because I’m pretty up on statistics. What’s more “per capita” is something that pretty much everyone knows. But whereas “per capita” is a word for outsiders looking in, “capitation” is a word for those who practice the art.

Sailing

One area that is always good for arcane words is sailing. And today, we had “caravel,” which is “a small, two or three-masted vessel, used by the Spanish and Portuguese during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Interestingly, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he brought two caravels with him: the Niña and the Pinta. The Santa Maria was a carrack, a larger boat — which the big man himself used.

Chemistry

Another word of this type is “capilarity,” which is “the action by which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid is raised or lowered, depending on surface tension and the forces of cohesion and adhesion.” Unfortunately, I knew that word. Normally, I wouldn’t. But the work I did for my MS degree was all about permafrost. (It was titled something like “Trace Gas Emissions From Permafrost in the Warmer World,” which was actually kind of a hot topic for a while — and one I still see people writing about.)

The way that water resides in soil is fascinating. Soil is filled with capillaries, where the water resides (assuming it is wet). The capilarity causes a lot of interesting effects in permafrost. It isn’t as simple as heating a bowl of water; you have to take a lot of things into account. I miss working on that kind of stuff!

Do Not Chase the Capa

Although today’s word is technical, I think it is interesting: capa.

Ca·pa  noun  \kā’-pə\

1. the red cloak carried by a bullfighter.

Date: Late 18th century.

Origin: from Latin (via Spanish), cappa.

Example: The capeador calmly trots his horse up to the bull, and, when within a few feet, jeeringly waves his capa before its very nose. –Otis Mygatt, The Real Bull-Fight — An Englishman’s View of Bull-Fighting