Ologies, Religious Terms, etc.
Bill Long 4/2/07
From the Bees and the CWL
You don't have to study the English language too long to come across all kinds of endings of words that indicate something about that word. For example, something that ends with "form" is a word suggesting a resemblance or likeness ("cuneiform" writing, for example, is "wedge-shaped" writing). The ending "oid" also is a word suggesting shape, even if it isn't quite as prevalent (something "berylloid" is a geometrical solid consisting of two twelve-sided pyramids put base to base). Some words have both a "form" and "oid" ending, such as licheniform/lichenoid, which means that one of them isn't strictly necessary. Yet, they are there.
We have phobias without end, as I have shown here. Then we have the ending "cide" which tells us what it is we are killing. "Cide"-words, especially if it has to do with people, don't appear in the Kids' Bee. I suppose the organizers don't want to give these teens any ideas by having them spell parricide or matricide, for example. But there are tons of things we can kill that don't appear to offend too many people. Actually, when I was in the practice of law I once wrote a legal memo construing the "Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1972." That law allowed you to kill a lot of things, as you see. But one of the words I ran into in the Unabridged, which doens't appear in the OED, Century or any other dictionary I consulted, is vespacide. The OED does have a reference to Vespa, but its Vespa is an Italian-made scooter which tons of students and professionals use to get to work. I don't suppose that the Unabridged wants to kill those things. If so, I would have to hypothesize that the dictionary is in cahoots with the big Auto makers in Detroit.
But vespacide is the action of killing wasps. The Century actually has quite a long article on wasps, listing at least a dozen families of these critters, with nicknames such as "digging wasp" or "solitary wasps." I thought it curious that the Vespidae alone are "social wasps." You would have thought that the irony of their aloneness in their sociality would have convinced taxonomists to give them another nickname. In any case, the Century gives us vespa as a genus of wasp.
We dare not confuse this word with the next one in most dictionaries--vesper, which has to do with "evening" and what you do in evening--such as attend a "vesper" service. Something that is "bat-like" is vespertilian, because a bat hangs out at night. We would think that the word vespertilian existed since the foundation of the universe; in fact it was only coined in 1874. But you ought to watch your words. If you were a pastor of a vesper service and wanted to extend a warm welcome to parishioners by saying, "Welcome to this vespal event," you would be greeting them for a "wasp-fest." Rather, you should say, "Welcome to this vesperal event." The extra "er" could save you a lot of trouble.
I was wondering to myself why the OED didn't have any "vespa"-type words referring to wasps, and then it dawned on me. They went "Greek" instead, and decided to list the wasps under "Sphex," the Greek word for wasp. Sphex is a genus of wasp that is the type of the family Sphecidae. None of the dictionaries has what to me is the most pleasant "phobia" to pronounce: spheksophobia-the fear of wasps. I could sit at my desk and say that word 100 times without getting tired of it. Unlike the social wasps, the sphex is a "digger-wasp." I will certainly have to spend some time getting to know these wasps, if only from a distance.
Speaking of a religious event (as I was with "vesperal"), we ought not to ignore some of the interesting religious/theological terms either in the CWL or the Bees themselves. If a word causes someone to fall in one year, you can bet that the organizers will test people on it in the future. Well, here are five of those words. We have already met iscariotic, a word named after Judas Iscariot and meaning "treacherous." Many people, including the author of the apocryphal Gospel of Judas, think that Judas got a bum rap. Indeed, his question to Jesus in John 12:5 might come out of a genuine concern for the solvency of the Jesus movement. Nevertheless, all these objections are cast aside so that the word, which means "wickedly treacherous," can shine forth. We even have this from Farrar's famous St. Paul (1883): "The 109th (Psalm) has been called the Iscariotic Psalm." It might not be bad to quote a few verses from the Psalm.
"Do not be silent, O God of my praise.
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
They beset me with words of hate,
and attack me without casue.
In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them" (109:1-4).
Yep, sounds pretty iscariotic to me. Then we have the word dorcastry. One definition of "dorcas" is a genus of antelopes, but that isn't the Dorcas we have in mind here. Rather, we mean the Dorcas mentioned in Acts 9:36. She is someone whom the Scriptures says was "devoted to good works and acts of charity." She had the good luck to be raised from the dead by Peter when she just happened to die when he just happened to be in town. Yet, she is not known for her Lazarus-type action but for her service. Therefore, Protestant Churches in older days had "Dorcas Societies." It really was not where the dorks hung out; rather it was a ladies' association for the purpose of making clothes and other things for the poor. Therefore, dorcastry, a word I only found in the Unabridged, refers to the church auxiliary formed to promote good works.
As I think of it, however, I think I would be ticked off if I were a minor biblical character and nothing was ever made of my name in the subsequent history of the Church. I mean, even Simon Magus bequeathed to us the word "simony," which is the practice of buying or selling beneficies, ecclesiastical preferments or other spiritual things. What would Tryphaena or Tryphosa think? Or Ananias and Sapphira? Or countless others? Well, it is all in the luck of the draw, and Dorcas gave to us dorcastry.
I see I have completed this essay without even getting to the "ologies." Let me try to do that in the next essay.