Odd Words: Chrysalis

ChrysalisSorry for missing yesterday. I took the day off and went to the fair. And then I was really tired and didn’t feel like writing. But I’m back at it with page 52 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Much like page 51, this page has a lot of space dedicated to two roots. I picked something different, however: chrysalis.

Two Big Roots

The first column on page 52 was made up almost entirely of two roots. The first is chroma–, which comes from the Greek chrōmatikós. So we get words like “chromogen,” which is “a substance, as a microorganism, which produces pigmented compounds when oxidized.”

The other root is chrono–, which is from the Greek word khronos — time. Most of the words have something to do with measuring time. Or the opposite, like with “chronopher,” which is “an electrical apparatus used to broadcast time signals.”


About a quarter of page 52 was made up of “church” words and phrases — mostly phrases. I’ll just list them out because they are kind of interesting, even if kind of familiar:

  • Church invisible: “the whole of Christianity both in heaven and on Earth.” So let’s see, that’s all of the Christians on Earth plus zero. Got it!
  • Church Militant: “those Christians constantly active in the fight against evil.” I’d say about half of them. The second half are the ones they are fighting.
  • Church visible: the whole body of Christian believers on Earth.” So the same as church invisible.

There’s also “churchwarden,” which is “a tobacco pipe with a long stem.” Interesting that I didn’t know that one.

Other Words

One word caught my eye for personal reasons. I know it, of course: “chronic.” It means “perpetual; unceasing.” The reason it struck me was that I’ve been dealing with problems with my blood pressure. I normally have what is considered normal blood pressure: 120/80. But recently, I’ve had roughly 150/100 during the day. Then it reduces to 120/85 at night.

Yesterday, I took my father to the fair. It was a very pleasant day, as I plan to discuss later today. When I got home, I took my blood pressure: 112/80. Great. Then I went to work, and something went wrong. I decided to check my blood pressure: 161/105.

I may end up on disability if I don’t watch out. Of course, with the Republicans in charge of Washington for the next year and a half, at least, there may be none — so I can just work myself to death.


Today’s word is a specialized biologist word. But it is still the kind of word that a lot of people know and one that is useful: chrysalis. Note that the definition below is very limited; the word applies to a lot of different insects.

Chrys·a·lis  noun  \kris’-əlis\

1. the pupa of a butterfly.

Date: early 17th century.

Origin: from Greek khrusos, which means “gold” since some pupae are golden.

Example: This year, in addition to the Painted Ladies, two Monarch butterflies were released into the Butterfly House, as well as a chrysalis and some caterpillars. –Kirsten Barnhart, Master Gardeners Hold Butterfly Release Party

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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.

4 thoughts on “Odd Words: Chrysalis

  1. The definitions of those church words made me smile. It’s odd, but unsurprising, that Robert Reich recently posted a guide to staying sane right now, and one of his instructions was “go to a county fair.” You’re both smart fellows, and this is good advice. I’d also suggest minor-league baseball.

    I recently learned the term “church key.” It’s for one of those common bottle/can openers that has a flattened opener on one side and a pointed opener on the other. Back when beer came in tough metal cans (like Robert Shaw crushes in his fist in “Jaws”), you could use the pointy side to poke two holes in a can lid, or the flat side for a bottle. No idea why they’re called “church keys.” Or why they still have a pointed side. Maybe they’re useful for recipes involving condensed milk? (Manual can openers with a handle you spin around almost always have a pointy top still.)

    • I really want to go to minor league games. Unfortunately, I don’t have any teams close by. We used to get the San Jose Giants (A-Advanced) games on cable. But they went away. I really enjoyed watching those.

      Yeah, church keys! I don’t know if they still do, but Spam cans used to have them.

      • Fun Bay Area baseball thing: Toni Stone. She was the first woman to play professional baseball. San Francisco Sea Lions, a Negro League club. Couldn’t hit with power, made her way as a great fielder. Born in Saint Paul.

        Well, according to the Joss Whedon Romney political ad, “SPAM has it’s own key.” But I don’t think that’s true anymore. Apparently SPAM is a major comfort food in Hawaii, no doubt because Naval folks ate a ton of it. I guess when Obama goes back there he always gets a SPAM burger. Which is charming. But let’s face it, Obama is the most charming President ever. If he and George Clooney ever did an appearance together, the universe would implode due to unraveling the Conservation Of Charm principle.

        • It is interesting how black sports have been more open to women. I did a lot of research of the negro leagues when I was writing the first episode of “The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour.” But I’m making a bold extrapolation based on the Harlem Globetrotters.

          Yes, they are two charming dudes. But I know of at least one occasion when they were together. Maybe that’s why we have President Trump.

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