Odd Words: Chemisette

ChemisetteToday we do page 49 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t we do page 49 yesterday?!” Well, we did. But not anymore. If you go back and look, you will see that I changed it to page 50.

You see, as I do this series, I pull out the page I’m working on. The book is falling apart anyway. And it is just more convenient to deal with a single page. But with the discolored pages, it is kind of hard to read and so yesterday, I read the wrong side. So we are doing page 49 today. And the word is: chemisette.

Chemical Reactions

Well over half of page 49 was made up of chemi– and chemo– words. They are such that even if you have never seen them, you can figure out what they mean. So there are words like “chemoreflex,” which is not surprisingly “a reflex brought about by a chemical stimulus.”

I was interested to see that “chemiculture” is another word for “hydroponics.” But then it occurred to me that I don’t actually know what “hydroponics” is. I just know it because people use it to grow cannabis. It is a way of growing things without soil — in rocks, generally. But when I looked it up, I found out that I was right. Sometimes, you don’t need to look up a word.

There are two words related to the atmosphere. First is “chemosphere”: “a stratum of the atmosphere in which the most intense chemical activity takes place.” No one uses the word anymore. It is really just the upper stratosphere — from about 30 km to 50 km. A related word is “chemopause”: “the stratum or boundary lying between the chemosphere and the ionosphere.

There are lots of –pause words. What it actually indicates is where a temperature trend change takes place. For example, as you go up in the lowest part of the atmosphere (troposphere), the temperature gets colder and colder. But at the tropopause, the temperature gets warmer as you go up. Then you are in the stratosphere. At the stratopause (also the chemopause), the temperature again starts going down.

When I was in graduate school, my thesis adviser was the editor of the scientific journal Chemosphere. I published my best work there — the permafrost stuff.

Other Words

Outside of the words related to chemical reactions, the pickings were limited. Some were interesting though. For example, “chela.” It is “a nipper- or pincer-like organ of certain crustaceans. This reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster.” In it, he talks about how lobsters are loners and they have to have their chelas taped shut or they would harm each other. It is but one part of the horror that we put these creatures through.

I hate cigars. It’s nothing about cigars themselves. It’s just that cigars are so linked to jerks. You have reached the pinnacle of vileness when you’ve made the cover of Cigar Aficionado. Anyway, there is a specialized cigar word, “cheroot.” It is “a cigar cut square at each end.”


Today’s word is quite far away from everything else we’ve considered. It’s actually quite interesting — at least to me, since I like women’s fashion.

Chem·i·sette  noun  \shemizet’\

1. a woman’s garment worn over a low-cut bodice.

Date: early 19th century.

Origin: from French — diminutive of chemise.

Example: The standing band was also made with small collars attached and was particularly popular on the chemisette. –Joan L Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840 – 1900.

This entry was posted in Odd Words by Frank Moraes. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

Leave a Reply