Odd Words: Cavitation

CavitationAs the summer grinds on, we do page 44 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Today, we are highlighting the word “cavitation.” I actually know this word, given that it is used in every submarine movie produced over the last couple of decades. But I figured that I was allowed given that I didn’t actually know what the process was.

Similar Words

This page featured two sets of words that were very similar. The first set was comprised of “caudal” and “caudle.” They are “relating to, or situated at or near the tail” and “a warm drink for invalids made from wine, brandy, etc, mixed with bread, gruel, eggs, sugar, and spices.” It’s interesting that “caudle” sounds a lot like what we used to ingest to deal with hangovers in grad school.

The second set are anagrams: “cavate” and “caveat.” They mean “hollowed out so as to form a cave” and “a legal notice to a court to suspend proceedings temporarily.” I know the word “caveat,” of course. It’s one of my favorites, in fact. But I wasn’t aware of this definition for it. Of course, words like “cavate” make me think that The New York Times was just making up words to cover for errors they had previously published.

Latin Dogs

It isn’t hard to figure out what “cave canem” means: “beware of the dog.” But I wonder how useful this is. I can’t imagine anyone putting it on a sign. What for? To warn very educated trespassers? But more than that, under what circumstances would this phrase come up? I can’t image it other than some case like this one where we are talking about it as a curious construction. “Can you believe what they put in this dictionary…?”

Other Words

This page featured something quite unusual: a phrase that I didn’t know before or after I read about it in the dictionary: “cavore lievo.” If anyone can help me, I’d appreciate it. According to the dictionary, it is “a kind of sculpture in relief in which the highest points are beneath the level of the original surface.” I understand all the words, but I can’t form a visual representation of it.

Typography is always interesting to me. And today we got “cedilla”: “a mark placed under a letter, usually indicating a sibilant pronunciation.” Some sources say it is limited to the letter “c.” I don’t know, but that was the letter that flashed in my mind after reading the definition. For example, there is “façade.”

I know the words “celibacy” and “celibate,” of course. But according to the dictionary, these words do not have to do with refraining from sex but rather marriage. For example, of “celibacy,” it notes “the state of being unmarried, especially as the result of a religious vow.” That might come as some relief to certain Catholic priests.


The first time I recall hearing the word “cavitation” was in the movie The Hunt for Red October. I’ve heard it often since then. But other than “something that caused turbulence in the water” I didn’t know what it meant.

Cav·i·ta·tion  noun  \kav-itā’-shən\

1. the formation of partial vacuums in a flowing liquid in areas of very low pressure.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: English — cavity + ation.

Example: A common culprit in damaged water pipes and ship propellers, cavitation is the formation and collapse of gaseous bubbles that form in fluids.Team Develops New Math Equation to Predict Cavitation

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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.

2 thoughts on “Odd Words: Cavitation

  1. Looks like you meant “cavo relievo” (no, I didn’t know that, but Google suggested it – a search for “cavore lievo” gives here, and nowhere else). I’ve not heard of it, but the description sounds like you dig the deepest below a flat surface for the points representing furthest away, just below for points the closest, and leave the original surface as it is surrounding your sculpture. So it’s a bas-relief surrounded by a flat surface higher than any bit of the actual sculpture.

    • I checked the dictionary, and it actually has it listed with a hyphen: cavo-relievo. But it is really hard to read this dictionary! It really is 45 years old, the pages are yellowed, and it was always in a really small font. Add to that that my eyes are not very good anymore and that my brain is failing me to and you have: cavorelievo!

      I’m afraid I still don’t understand, but I appreciate your effort. I think it would be necessary for me to see an example.

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