or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Body Language

Over here on Pharyngula is a link to a video of vultures eating a corpse in Tibet. Well, there was a link, anyway, but I guess someone complained to YouTube, because it's gone. That's okay as far as I'm concerned: I don't have any problem with scavengers eating human remains, but I don't really need to see it happening.

Anyway, I thought of four words that mean "human remains", and as it turns out, I could only figure out one of them without any help. The four words are "carcass", "corpse", "body", and "cadaver". Can you at least make a guess at the most obvious one? I bet you can, if you look closely, maybe strip off a letter or two....

"Carcass" probably comes from the Latin verb "cadere", "to fall, to decline, to die", which I mentioned here in reference to the word "escheatment", which is when you die intestate and your estate reverts to the government, and also here in reference to the words "decay", "decadent" (i.e. decayed morally), and "deciduous" (trees that decay in the autumn).

"Carcass" has the French ancestors "charcois" and "carcois", but nobody knows where they came from.

"Body" appears to come from an ancient German word, "botah", which became "bodig" in Old English: it originally meant "cask", and later "trunk" or "chest", both words which to this day refer to the major central portion of the human body. Its original sense is very old; the abbreviated sense in which we often use it now, to mean "dead body" or "body of a dead person", dates from the late thirteenth century.

That leaves "corpse", the only one I figured out, and if you hack the last letter off you will see "corps", which still exists in English to refer to a body of people, and also shows up in such words terms as "corporal punishment" (i.e. the bodily sort, as opposed to, say, detention), "corporation" (a legal body), "corpulent" (having too much of a body), and "corporeal". The word "corps", with its silent "-p-", is from French, which to this day uses it to mean "body".


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