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Pulchritudinous, Polyphiloprogenitive, and More

10 long words you can't live without


Definition:

physically beautiful

About the word:

If the meaning of this word seems counterintuitive, it's probably because the word's Latin ancestor pulcher ("beautiful") is unfamiliar, and pulchritudinous sounds more disgusting than enchanting.

But Richard Burton used it to describe his first impression of Elizabeth Taylor: "... the most astonishingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen."

Definition:

contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation; also: lack of will to move, exert, or change: inertia

About the word:

In Greek, omphalos means "navel"; skepsis means "examination."

Less than a century old, omphaloskepsis is usually considered humorous. For example, in his 2005 autobiography, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh reminisced about his absorption in "the time-honored pursuits of adolescents in any era - school, social life, the opposite sex, omphaloskepsis - ...."

Definition:

an abnormal desire to pull out one's hair

About the word:

Mania means "excessive or unreasonable enthusiasm"; trich means "hair"; tillo (from tillein) means "to pluck or pull."

Trichotillomania, classified as an impulse-control disorder, is estimated to afflict 2-4% of the population.

Definition:

fond of, associated with, or benefited by ants

About the word:

Myrmeco- means "ant"; philous means "loving" or "having an affinity for."

Scientists use myrmecophilous to describe the positive relationships between ants and such species as butterflies, crickets, beetles, and mites that help ants flourish.

In 2010, Pulitzer Prize-winning entomologist E.O. Wilson published Anthill: A Novel, which includes an absorbing narrative presented from the ants' perspective ... and which reveals that the author himself is myrmecophilous.

Definition:

of, relating to, involving, or inducing psychotic alteration of behavior and personality

About the word:

This word - from psychotic + mimetic (meaning "imitative") - first appeared in 1956, as mind-altering drugs began catching on with the public.

The word's unpleasant association with psychosis inspired Dr. Humphry Osmond to coin the synonymous psychedelic. That shifted the emphasis to examining how the agent might help enlarge the vision or explore the mind.

Definition:

transplantation of an organ, tissue, or cells between two different species

About the word:

The Latin xeno- comes from the Greek word xenos, meaning "stranger" or "guest."

Cross-species transplants were (unsuccessfully) attempted in the 17th century.

In the late 20th century, scientists transplanted primates' hearts, kidneys, and livers into humans with some success. Pigs have replaced primates as the prime candidates for xenotransplantation to humans, but the process remains experimental and controversial.

Definition:

extremely prolific; tending to produce offspring, or characterized by love of offspring

About the word:

The Duggars, Octomom, and Mother Goose's old woman who lived in a shoe: all were polyphiloprogenitive. Poly means "many"; philo means "loving"; genitive comes from a word that translates literally as "of generation."

Definition:

a shift to bourgeois values and practices

About the word:

Embourgeoisement almost always refers to a shift by the working class, not the upper class.

The word was coined during the first half of the 20th century, when scholars noticed workers adopting the outlook and behavior of the middle class. For example, the new bourgeois might have a declining interest in class consciousness and an increased interest in seeing gradual, not revolutionary, changes in society.

Definition:

evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement : equivocation

About the word:

The Latin ancestors of tergiversation (tergum, meaning "back"; vertere, meaning "to turn") together translate roughly as "to turn one's back." Since the 16th century, tergiversation has described the reversal or desertion of a position or cause.

Nowadays, it turns up in diplomatic or political discussions. As the late word maven William Safire explained of the related verb, tergiversate, in 2004, "When engaged in by a politician you oppose, the verb tergiversate, pronounced with a soft g, is a choice favored by pedants, meaning 'to switch sides like an apostate.'"

Consanguineous

Definition:

of the same blood or origin; specifically : descended from the same ancestor

About the word:

The Latin sanguin- means "blood"; con- means "together."

Consanguineous is sometimes used to describe marriages or intimate relationships, such as when geneticists discuss birth defects in the offspring of consanguineous unions (i.e., unions between close relatives).

Despite the word's origins in sanguin-, nowadays, we understand that ancestral contributions are not transmitted through blood but through genes contained in chromosomes.




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