Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Bill Long 10/12/04
Ardor for Ordure
We have many non-offensive terms for excrement. We can call it dung, offal, fecal matter, excrement, manure, ordure, feces, for example. It normally repels, and so there is a lot of money in a business that carries away human wastes. In my home town, for example, a nicely-coiffed teen-ager drives around a pricey Hummer with the vanity license plate "Hny Bkt," standing for the company name founded by her dad, "Honey Bucket," the movable plastic john. There is a lot to be made off human waste.
Looking at the Roots
So, I thought it would be interesting to dig deeply into the Greek and Latin roots of words we use for manure. Each of the three words (2 Greek and 1 Latin) has bequeathed very sophisticated words for dung to us. If the advice we hear around us from stress-reducing gurus is to "stop and smell the roses," let's pause for a minute and smell the words which lend a deep aroma to the concept.
The Greek terms are kopro (taken into English as copro) and skyr, which is taken into English as scat because the English word is built off the genitive singular, where the root is found. The major Latin term for the same is stercus. Let's play a little while with these terms as they enter English.
There is only one column of "scat" words in the OED derived from the Greek word for dung, yet the words are pretty vivid. The basic term is scatology, meaning the branch of science which deals with diagnosis by means of the feces. Its secondary meaning is "filthy literature." So, I guess a student of pornography could be called a scatologist, though it doesn't seem that this charge would sting as much as it would have 50 years ago.
Care should be taken to distinguish this from the Christian doctrine of the last things, eschatology, pronounced identically except for that first "eh" sound. Thus, if you gave the impression in a fundamentalist meeting that you were sincere and mumbled that you were very interested in scatology, the believers would take you under their wings and try to convince you about the order of events leading from today until the last judgment. But, once they really found out what interested you, they would usher you to the door, except, perhaps, for those "weaker" members who themselves had unspoken scatological interests.
One could even practice divination through dung, called scatomancy, which isn't so off-the-wall as it might seem at first. After all, if you knew all the things which antique and modern diviners used to tell you your fortune, you might indeed be tempted to run to dung for guidance. The person who actually examines the stuff is called a scatomancer and the inspection process is called scatoscopy. Well, interestingly enough, both medical doctors, who we know have nothing to do with divination, as well as thaumaturges, perform scatoscopy. The doctor who does so is called simply a doctor, and is paid a lot; the diviner who does so has a little shack off Main St. with blinking lights and earns subsistence wages.
But here we have an interesting cross-over with words. The Latin word stercus comes into English and gives us two columns of OED words relating to dung. One of the words is stercorarian, which is defined as "a derisive appellation for a physician following obsolete methods of practice." Hm. So, maybe the diviner and the doctor, if not second cousins or nearer, are at least, in a more liberal reading of the idea of consanguinity, related.*
[*They may even be "laughing heirs" of the other. That term, derived from the common law of wills and trusts, denoted a person who unexpectedly received a financial windfall from a distant relative dying intestate and, as a result, "laughed" all the way to the bank.]
Gross Me Out!!
Yes, I have to get to the other "scat"-related words that I have kept under wraps until now. It really is for your own good. The word scatophagous means "feeding upon dung," and a creature that so lives this way is a scatophage. Well, we all know how some dogs live. They just are scatophages. But at least we can confine this disgusting practice to the "lower orders" of creation, right? Wrong. As a matter of fact, each of the Latin and Greek terms for dung has given to English a word for "feeding upon dung." It is as if all want to get into the act to describe this interesting concept.
For example, the more common term for a dung-eater is a coprophagist, and coprophagous and coprophagic involve the "indulging (yikes!) in the eating of excrement." George Orwell, writing about Salvador Dali, asked, "Is he coprophagic or not? Dali adds firmly that he is not." Phew. Early 20th century medical writing observed the phenomenon of coprophagia among some mental patients, and one concluded, "Coprophagia is not uncommon among the insane." Care is taken, therefore, to remove the coprophagists from our midst, even if we cannot confine them to the lower orders (in Aristotelian terms) of creation.
But the term and concept won't go away. Unlike the other two terms, we can combine copro with philia and have coprophilia, the love of dung or, in a more "elevated" sense, "one who is attracted to filth." If only the world consisted of clean living Protestants, maybe this coprophilia would decline and disappear. But, in the meantime, we have to deal with coprophily. Freud believed that "repression of the coprophilic pleasure in smell played a peculiar part in...foot-fetishism."
Now we are really getting far afield, and so I will conclude this mini-essay with the observation that, as I recall, middle school boys are seemingly obsessed with bodily functions, many of them having to do with bowel issues. Well, they grow out of that, don't they? I guess so, but, seems to me, many of them still never shake their focus from the posterior region.
[On to Dung II]
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long