or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, July 01, 2005

Cut It Out

Hey--Jim got a new camera last weekend and now I get to do Friday cat blogging!

Yesterday I was lauding the (to my ears) mellifluous "salpingoöophorectomy", and what slung the word into my head was a cat. Specifically, Mr. Picklesworth, a friend's daughter's cat that Jim and I were taking care of last weekend. Mr. P., who at seven months of age is the most winsome cat in the whole world (yes, he is), had unfortunately just been declawed and was not for a day or two the happiest cat in the whole world. (For the record, I'm against declawing, but he's not my cat.) So Mr. P. hadn't had a salpingoöophorectomy, obviously (he had undergone a bilateral orchidectomy, which I'm not against, at least for household pets), but he had had an onychectomy.

Anything look familiar about that word? Not the suffix, which I'll get to in a minute, but the first half, "onych-". It is, in fact, related to "onyx", a usually black, often veined or banded gemstone. And how are the two related? If I'm not mistaken--it's happened before--it's that the veins in the stone looked clawlike (or like claw-marks) to the Greeks, and "onych-" means "claw" or "fingernail".

Now, that suffix, "-ectomy". In a hilarious column, a reader asks Cecil Adams what "-ectomy", "-ostomy", and "-otomy" mean, saying his wife thought they mean "hack it off", "bite it off", and "pinch it 'til it drops off". Ha! We use that one all the time at our house.

In fact, "-ectomy" is from the Greek: the suffix can be divided into "-ec-", from "-ecto-", "out of" (as in "ectoplasm", of which more anon), and "-tomy", "a cutting", from "temnein", "to cut". An "-ectomy", then, is the cutting out of something, as opposed to an "-ostomy", which means a cutting of an opening into (from "-stomos", mouth, as in St. John Chrysostom, "golden-mouthed"), and an "-otomy" is merely the cutting of something, with no removal of flesh. (A friend was once having some minor surgery that I called a "rectumectomy", to which she sensibly replied that they weren't removing anything, but "rectumotomy" just doesn't sound that funny.)

Just two more things. "Chrysostom" comes from Greek "chryso-", "golden", plus "-stom", "mouth". Does that first half look familiar? It's the same as the first half of "chrysanthemum", "golden flower" (as the second half, "-anthemum", is from the Greek for "flower", which ought to look familiar from "anther", the pollen-bearing part of a flower). And finally, "ectoplasm" literally means "out of the flesh"--it's the corporeal form of ghosts putatively generated by mediums to allow them to do their cheap little tricks.

I could do this all day. You can imagine what a joy I am to live with.


Blogger Frank said...

Happy Canada Day! (I got it in with three minutes to spare!)

Saturday, July 02, 2005 12:57:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...


In our area it was mostly a damp, sputtering sort of day, and the Canada Day fireworks show was cancelled, but then after sundown, around 10, we could hear booming and banging; the skies had cleared enough (still overcast but a high ceiling) that they went ahead and had the show anyway. Luckily we're close enough to the water and high enough up (third-floor walkup) that we could see maybe two thirds of the display from the living-room window, including the big finale, which they always launch particularly high in a brilliant show of patriotism. (As the convenience-store owner said on "The Simpsons", "Celebrate the birth of your country by blowing up a small part of it.")

Saturday, July 02, 2005 4:09:00 AM  

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