Saturday, October 18, 2008

Studying Xena's Hygiene Habits

Oh, the letter “X.” Perhaps unfairly, it’s become the sleaziest member of the Roman alphabet, mostly as a result of its associations with pornographic films and the alcohol content of liquor. It’s an oddball letter, I always thought, doing the job that other letters could do — usually “c-k-s” or “z” or “h,” depending on who’s doing the pronunciation — and often lending the words in which it appears the air of alien planets, ancient Greece and pharmaceuticals. I guess it follows, then, that I had a hard time picking this letters word of the week, what with so many of them being so wonderfully strange. Among the skipped over this week: xystus (a gym, essentially), xanthodontous (having yellow teeth), xyster (a tool for scraping bones clean) and xanthippe (a bad-tempered wife, allegedly from Socrates’ infamously unpleasant wife, Xanthippe).
xenodocheionology (ZEE-no-do-ka-NOL-a-jee) — noun: 1. the study of hotels and inns. 2. a love of hotels or inns.
I found this one in Peter Bowler’s Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird and Wondrous Words, though Googling the word to find out more about it took me to the Blog Etymologica, which offers a xenodocheionological joke, of which, I’m sure, there are many. “What exactly is xenodocheionology? It’s a love of hotels. And how would you describe a xenodocheionologist? I suppose you could call him an ‘inn-thusiast.’” Terrible, I know, but helpful in remembering what the word means.

The Etymologica blogger, Sean Incogonito, goes on to explain that the term comes from the old Greek term xenodochium, then meaning “guest house,” now meaning “hotel” or sometimes specifically “the guest house of a monastery.” Mr. Incognito cites the unabridged Webster’s etymology of the term as a joining of xenos, “stranger” and the verb dechesthai, “to receive.”

Previous words of the week:

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