More Words You Won't See at the Bee
Bill Long 5/9/06
The Ectomies of our Lives
The previous essay presented a bunch of words that will not appear in the Bee because the organizers of the Bee probably don't want to focus on peeing or other "lower" bodily functions. The following words comprise a list of words that won't be used because even hearing them makes us squeamish. All of them have the same suffix--ectomy--which means a cutting or slicing. While we take great delight in carving roasts or slicing cheese, not many of us want to spend much time thinking about slicing off vital organs. Hence, our squeamishness. But I am fascinated with "cutting" terms, and will list about 15 of them here, though I only will focus on a few in this essay.
My list (not a complete one) of "ectomy" terms would include: (1) oophorectomy (and the related salpingo-oophorectomy); (2) orchiectomy; (3) penectomy; (4) vasectomy; (5) vulvectomy; (6) tonsillectomy; (7) pinealectomy; (8) hysterectomy; (9) clitoridectomy; (10) frenectomy; (11) posthetomy; (12) prepucectomy; (13) vaginectomy; (14) pneumectomy or pneumoectomy or lobectomy; and (15) splenectomy. My thesis is that you won't see any of these words at the Bee. Some, granted, don't appear in the Collegiate or even, for that matter, in the OED.
Beginning with a "Pis" Word
After completing the last essay I reviewed my spelling lists and ran across a perfectly fine word, pisiform, which will probably not be used at the Bee because of the way it sounds.
Pisiform means "pea-shaped" or "of small globular form" and is generally used either with the word "bone" or "iron-ore." Thus we have, from 1767: "A wound..upon his wrist, just above the pisiform bone." Or, from 1796, "Pisiform, or granular iron ore." The OED tells us that the pisiform bone is a "small pea-shaped bone of the upper row of the carpus," and the diagram neatly shows this. We here have the bones of the upturned hand. Thus, the pisiform bone is the bone that "sticks up" just above the wrist and is on the outside of the lower arm as it hangs limply.
Normally, when guys joke with each other, they accuse each other of having pea-sized brains. Maybe this essay will contribute to elevating the language. Tell your friends they have pisiform brains.
To the Ectomies
Sorry for the rather long digression, but the lesson of the pisiform bone was too good to miss. The first "ectomy" that actually got me thinking of the topic was in what I call the "double oo's"--those few, but interesting words beginning with two "o's." The Greek behind the double "o" is an omega, and "oophoron" can be translated as "egg-bearing." Thus, an oophoron is an ovary. An oophorectomy is, thus, a surgical excision of the ovaries. (When you put the term salpingo in front of it, you have a removal of the ovaries and the fallopian tubes). The term was first used in 1872: "Ovariotomy..to use a more distinctive term, Oophorectomy..whose object, and result, is the removal of an ovarian tumor." A quick Google search discloses that in 2006 there are about as many appearances of the term oophorectomy as there are of ovariectomy (about 1/2 million). I like the sound of the word oophorectomy better and, truly tasteless person that I am, after learning the word, I went around my empty house making "o-o-o" sounds (maybe THAT is why my house is often empty).
I did that until I ran into the next "ectomy" word and immediately fell silent, for the word was orchiectomy (also appears as orchidectomy). Let the OED speak: "Surgical removal of one or both testicles; an instance of this." Now can you see why the Wyoming folks hosting the Bee will be getting a little squeamish. If they give oophorectomy, they seemingly will also have to give us orchiectomy or risk violating the equal protection clause of our politically correct mental constitution. It doesn't help matters any that one of attestations cited by the OED of the use of orchiectomy comes from the Lancet periodical. Lots of slicing going on here; it is beginning to make me queasy already. Indeed, you can even find pictures on the net of the operation, where someone is performing an orchiectomy. Sorry, I am not providing the link.
Finishing with More Slicing of Vital Organs
Let's complete this essay with the word penectomy, which is as bad as it sounds. It is "amputation of all or part of the penis." The word only appeared for the first time in 1965 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: "Preparation of teaser bulls by penectomy." I am going to have to know quite a bit more about bulls to know why a teaser bull has a penectomy. You would think it was the other way around, but I am no vet. Then, a truly horrible thought from a 1991 quotation: "When he recovered from the anaesthetic, he found that he had undergone a penectomy, instead of skin graft." Yikes. You wonder if all the king's horses and men could put the guy back together again.
Unfortunately (or is it really unfortunate?), I have not finished my ectomies here. I will dispose of the rest, however, in the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long