Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Queen of Sea Cows

Apologies, foremost. After a two week delay, the barely begun series on strange and therefore fun words is back on track. Blame Philadelphia. And then forgetfulness. In that order.

I think I’ve gotten a good one for this a week — the kind of word that you’ll soon be effortlessly slipping into friendly conversation, inter-office communiques, and letters to dear mother.
kakopygian (kak-o-PY-jee-an) — adjective: possessing an ugly set of buttocks
More often spelled “cacopygian,” I’m noticing, but Depraved and Insulting English spells it with the “k,” which I enjoy because it makes the word look all the more unpleasant. And the sound? Terrible. You start with the phlegm bubble that is “kak” and then it goes downhill from there, into something that sounds like the adjectival form of “pigeon.” The “butt” component of this week’s word comes from the Greek pyge, which is a good root to know and which is translated by verbanauts variously as “ass,” “rump,” “buttocks,” and “tail,” with each result relating directly to how proper he or she might be. That root gives us other fun words as well, including dasypygal (“having hairy buttocks”), steatopygous (“having fat buttocks”), callipygian (“having attractive buttocks”), and even a piscine genus Pygopristis, (meaning “saw-rumped”). A different edition of Depraved and Insulting English even offers unipygic, which, meaning “having only one ass cheek,” would seem to be the most useful of all.

If you’re not up to your ears in asses yet, there’s a speech credited to Leon Chesley posted here that focuses on the verbal possibilities the pyge root offers us. And if you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on the matter of butts, then read an old column I wrote for the Nexus so long ago on the subject of people using the word “ass” as a substitute for “self” — a linguistic trend that has some odd implications.

That’s all I have to say on the matter. I’m just glad I got through an entire post about fanny words without making a horrible pun.

The end.


Past words of the week:

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