Are you ready for page 57 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition?! Well, even if you aren’t, here it is. It is mostly a rant about one word. And then we will get on to today’s word: coelostat.
I have never heard the word “cockalorum” before. It is “a conceited or pretentious little man.” I am short, and for most of my life I was painfully thin. And it has always bugged me that small men have special words and phrases to describe them. The best known, of course, is the Napoleon complex. But isn’t that just like a short man to be bugged by such a thing?
Here’s the thing: we don’t have special words for big men who are conceited or aggressive or whatever. And what’s going on is exactly what’s going on with women. The assumption is that it is somehow wrong for a small man or a woman to be strong. So while a large man’s aggressiveness might be seen as him being “a go-getter,” it indicates some kind of pathology in a small man.
The issue is obviously more important socially as it affects women. It tells half the population that they should be demure. Should they demand equality, there are lots of verbal smears that will be used on them. I might hate words like “cockalorum,” but there’s a whole industry devoted to creating words to keep women in their places. In some cases, it works well in that you know pretty much all you need to about a man who uses the word “feminazi.”
On the other side of this is that short men (and women) tend to be ignored. There is a joke I’ve seen a few times in movies and television shows. In it, a woman will say something in a business meeting, and everyone ignores it. Then a man says it and everyone congratulates him on his great idea. (See, for example, Miss Congeniality.) This has happened to me. I suspect I’m not alone among smaller men. And certainly this is something that happens to women commonly.
Small Men Are Less Aggressive
As a result, you would think that small men would exhibit signs of the Napoleon complex. The society certainly pushes them to. But at least one study found that this wasn’t the case. It found that taller men were more likely to lose their temper than short men. (I don’t think we need a study for women.)
Of course, if you think about it, it makes sense. When you find a hyper-aggressive short man, it sticks out. It’s not because he’s short; it is because it is so unusual. I find the whole thing ridiculous and annoying. But as I noted before, isn’t that just like a small man?
I probably should have known this word because I have used the device before. I used to be very involved with astronomy. But I always came at it from the computer end. I didn’t know anything cool like how to look up where a star is in the sky and then how to find it. Anyway, this is a great device, but not so great a word: coelostat.
1. a telescope fitted with an adjustable mirror used to reflect the light of a star, etc, into the telescope.
Date: late 19th century.
Origin: from Latin caelum, which means “sky.”
Example: Naturally, Griffith Observatory is hosting a viewing event, featuring telescope viewing from the lawn, sidewalks, and on the coelostat (solar telescope) in the Hall of the Sky (note: personal telescopes aren’t allowed). –Gwynedd Stuart, Where to Watch the Solar Eclipse in LA.