Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Interesting Words with Nephr
Bill Long 12/26/07
I was at a spelling bee one evening at the Mississippi Pizza Pub in Portland, and a competitor misspelled nephelognosy. If he had known that the first part was derived from the Greek word for cloud (nephele) and the the second from the Greek word meaning "knowledge," the word would probably have been a piece of cake, even if it describes not cakes but clouds and the systematic observation and description of them. Actually, when nephel comes into English, it is usually followed by an "o," which is easier to pronounce than an "a" or "e," and so we have nephelodometer, nephelognosy, nepheloscope (though also attested as nephelescope). But here is a tiny problem--the prefix neph comes into English through words such as nephoscope, nephogram, nephograph--all of these words are part of the International Scientific Vocabulary, and so they aren't directly derived from the classical root. But all of these words have something to do with clouds--either the study of clouds (nephology), a photograph of clouds (nephogram), the instrument for measuring the movement of clouds (nephoscope), etc.
Care should be taken to distinguish these words from two words that invariably trip people up in spelling bees, nephalism and nephalist. Both of these words are derived from the Greek nephallos, which means "sober." Thus, the temperance movement of the 19th/20th centuries in America was interested in promoting nephalism, a word much superior-sounding to "teetotalism," though the concept, in general, sucks.
Two other "neph" words should be mentioned before moving to nephr. First, nephelium is a "genus of Asiatic and Australian trees," popularly known as the rambutan. I looked at a picture of the fruit of such a tree, and it doesn't really remind me of a cloud, though when it is cut in half, as in this photo, you could imagine that it looks like a cloud--if you really had to. I don't know if that is where the name derived. Then, there is the word nepheline, defined as a "trigonal aluminosilicate of sodium." But, the OED helpfully tells us that it is so named because its fragments are rendered cloudy by immersion in nitric acid. Well, why does that determine its name? I suppose that if it broke into tiny pieces at being mashed by a mallet that we should call it "smashine"? I am sure I am missing something at this point--I will probably learn lots about nepheline in purgatory--where I will no doubt go for making fun of the creative activity of God.
I will mention in passing two unrelated words. The nephilim are the biblical "giants" mentioned in Genesis 6, though the Hebrew word nephal may have something to do with falling--since that is the meaning of the verb. So, the word is taken from the Hebrew, and has nothing to do with "clouds" in Greek. Then, a nephite has nothing to do with any of this but referns to a member of the people descended from Nephi, a son of the Jewish prophet Lehi who, according to the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, led a colony from Jerusalem to America ca. 600 BCE. If time permits in life, I want to make a thorough study of LDS theology and beliefs, and then raise about 1000 questions about it....
The Greek word for kidney is nephros. If you focus on that and imagine all the things that can be done with kidneys, you will have come up with many of the "nephro"-words in English. For example, if you want to cut into it, you have a nephrotomy. The Dr. who performs the nephrotomy nephrotomizes you. A nephrectomy, by contrast, is an excision of the kidney. Nephrotomy appeared in English as early as 1697, while nephrectomy didn't appear until 1880--once surgical practice had been developed. By the way, a kidney Dr. is known as a nephrologist. I have an acquaintance, Tom, who cheerily says upon meeting other people, that he is a nephrologist-he doesn't say "Kidney doctor" or "doctor." Good for him.
Back to nephtrotomies. One of the reasons for a nephrotomy is that you might have nephritis--or inflammation of the kidneys. But you may have something else--a nephropathy, which suggests a general disease or dysfunction of the kidneys. In this case the best thing to do is probably to take a nephrogram, also known as a renogram, to see what is happening to the kidneys. Though renal is the common adjective we use to describe something "of the kidneys" (of course, it is from Latin), almost all the scientific words dealing with kidneys are derived from the Greek. Ah, one other note. The historical or "King James" version of the kidneys is the "reins." Here are a few of the beautiful KJV uses of the term:
"His archers compass me about, he cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare; he poureth out my gall upon the ground," Job 16:13.
"Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me," Job. 19:27.
And finally, from the Apocalypse:
"And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works," Rev. 2:23.
Something that is nephrotoxic has a toxic effect on the kidneys or produces kidney disease. And, through all of this, the person suffering from pain in the kidney is said to have nephralgia. I recall my first awareness of the word nostalgia--homesickness or, literally, the pain at (thought of) home, and my delight to know the meaning of "algia." Something that is analgesic, for example, removes pain (the "an" is an "alpha privative," thus reversing the sense of what follows).
Let's finish with nephridium which, in certain invertebrate groups, is an excretory or osmoregulatory tubule opening to the exterior of the body. There is a picture of a nephridium here along with a "bladderlike storage region of the nephridium." The opening between the nephridium and coelom is called the nephrostome or nephridiostome. Stoma is the greek word for "mouth."
There is a genus of slender lobsters known as the Nephrops, and a species of this genus is variously known as the Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn or languoustine. Seems to me I have seen the last word in a bee or two...
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long