or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I've just started reading Michael Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and while it's too early for me to say if it's any good (though I like what I've read so far), I have learned a luscious new word from it.

On page 4 is the following paragraph:

Being a generalist is, of course, a great boon as well as a challenge; it is what allowed humans to adapt to a great many different environments all over the planet and to survive in them even after favored foods were driven to extinction. Omnivory offers the pleasures of variety too. But the surfeit of choice brings a lot of stress with it and can lead to a kind of Manichaean view of food, a division of nature into the Good Things to Eat and the Bad.

See, I would have said "omnivorousness", but instead, Pollan has given me "omnivory", for which I am grateful. The parallel formations "herbivory" and "carnivory" also exist, so much more concise than "herbivorousness" and so forth. Don't you love them? Aren't you dying to use them? (The accent is on the second syllable in all three words. Just a heads-up.*)

The fraction "-vore" comes from Latin "vorare", "to devour", and is also the root of "devour", of course, as well as "voracious". Surprisingly, a variant of "vorare" gives us "gorge", which I have already written about at some length.

* The OED also makes note of a spectacular nonce word, "carnivoracity": in this case, the accent is on the first and fourth syllables, just as if it were composed of two separate chunks, and we know this because its inventor hyphenated it after the first five letters. I wouldn't recommend using this word a lot, but hey--it's in the dictionary.


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