Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Synonym for “Ladybug,” Then?

Saturday is word-of-the-week day. While previous words of the week have been obscure insults — kakopygian and pismire, for example — or words that express something more often associated with more common terms — grandgore and tiffin, this week’s actually beats out qualtagh for sheer uselessness.
ucalegon (yoo-KAL-e-gahn) — noun: a neighbor whose house is on fire.
Great, huh? But also totally useless because having to explain to someone that he or she had become a ucalegon would only result in further burning of personal effects and loss of life. Though I keep misreading it as UCLAegon, I liked this word enough that it actually beat out the amazing pair of uxoravalent and uxorovalent, which, respectively, mean “able to have sex with one’s wife only” and “able to have sex with only people who are not one’s wife.” (“What a different a letter makes,” Depraved and Insulting English notes.)

Similar to a previous word of the week, jehu, this one traces its roots all the way back to a very old and very dead man who may never have actually existed. According to classical texts, Ucalegon was a Trojan elder and one of Priam’s friends, who sad, fiery end is mention in the Aeneid. Why he got his name associated with “neighbor whose house is on fire” over the rest of the population of Troy is beyond me, but it exists nonetheless. (This site suggests he was Aeneas’s neighbor, so perhaps that’s why.) Also, some icing for your neighbor’s burning cake: Translated from the Greek, Ucalegon’s name means “doesn’t worry.

Like everyone else you spoke two words or picked up an urn or took off a toga in classical literature, Ucalegon got a celestial body named after him, 55701 Ukalegon. And I found the below illustration of the term on this site, where the artist has drawn up ABCs based on words from Depraved and Insulting English. So there’s that.

Despite references to the sack of Troy, I have the odd compulsion to associate this word of the week with that nursery rhyme about the ladybug whose house burns down. Which, if you think about it, is a damn strange nursery rhyme.

Previous words of the week:

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