Will you ever be happy you tuned in for page 46 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Never has then been a page with so many words about the brain and wax. Somehow, that seems appropriate. But I picked a word that had to do with neither: cervelat.
First up are all the brain words. These are words based on the Latin word for brain: cerebrum. But it’s likely you know most of these words: “cerebral” and “cebebrum.” We humans really like talking about our brains.
I’ve long thought that we over-estimate the importance of our particular way of thinking. And I’m not talking about ignorant people. The whole Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program is based on the idea that lifeforms would start sending out radio ways to the universe. I’ve come to find this a very big assumption. Other intelligent species might well do very different things. Hell, we may do very different things in a few centuries. (I hope so.)
There was one word that was totally new to me: cerebrotonia. Our dictionary defines it: “the personality pattern usually associated with the ectomorphie body type, characterized by sensitivity and concern and involvement with intellectual matters.” Now I don’t know what all this body type business is all about. But the ectomorphic type is “having a thin body build, roughly characterized by the relative prominence of structures developed from the embryonic ectoderm.”
Before discussing wax words, let me draw your attention to an article I wrote three years ago, Fun Horror Films With Wax. In it, I discuss four films. It’s something I will likely move to Psychotronic Review eventually.
But back to the words. There were a lot of them. These word come from From Latin cera or Greek kēros. So we have “cerecloth,” which is “a wax-coated, waterproof cloth, used as a winding sheet.” Or the closely related “cerement,” which is “a cerecloth used as a shroud for the dead.” Then there is “ceriferous,” which I won’t insult you by defining. And a couple of others even more arcane.
Page 46 also included “cerulean.” It is an adjective “deep blue; resembling the blue of the sky.” This reminds me of the fact that blue is a color that humans developed words for only very late. There aren’t really things in nature that are blue other than the sky and the sea. And these things were so pervasive that they didn’t seem to have any color at all.
This is said to be the reason that Homer described, for example, the sea being red. For a long time, it was thought that Homer was blind. But now we think it was just that people didn’t have much of a color vocabulary for blues at that time.
One word tickled me, “chad.” It is defined as “the paper removed when holes are perforated in a card or tape.” That’s a word I — and I dare say most people — wouldn’t have known. Except, of course, because of the 2000 presidential election and the Florida recount. You know, the more I look at the past, the more I see the Republican Party as being a pox on our culture. The party really is postmodern in the sense of not believing in a shared reality. The only thing they believe in is power. And I’ve become more and more convinced that this is how great empires fall.
Now that I’ve depressed you, let’s talk about food. Well, cervelats anyway.
1. a smoked sausage made of pork and beef.
Date: early 17th century.
Origin: earlier form of French cervelas via Italian cervellata.
Example: Take white bread cut in slices of the thickness of a knife blade, remove the crust and let it cook in the oven or in a testa, and have rich broth, in which has been cooked beef, capons, and cervelat sausages. –Ken Albala and Lisa Cooperman, Cooking in Europe, 1250-1650.