The Words of May 2012

Fourteen “Words of the Day” from the last month.

Part 1 — (Definitions and Origins. Date of First Known Use in English Taken from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

5/4: Fulcrum [FOOL-kruhm] (noun) the support, or point of rest, on which a lever turns. Origin: Fulcrum originally referred to a bed post from the Latin word fulcire meaning “to prop up.” First Known Use: 1668

5/7: Sudorific [soo-duh-RIF-ik] (adjective) causing sweat. Origin: Sudorific comes from the Latin word sūdor meaning “sweat.” The word “sweat” is unrelated and comes from the Old English, swote. First Known Use: 1626

5/9: Cicatrix [SIK-uh-triks] (noun) new tissue that forms over a wound. Origin: Cicatrix is derived from the Latin word cicatrix meaning “scar.” The Latin word has no clear origin. First Known Use: 1623

5/14: Intromit [in-truh-MIT] (verb) to introduce; to send, put, or let in. Origin: Intromit comes from the Latin roots intro- meaning “inwardly” and mittere meaning “to send.” First Known Use: c. 1588

5/17: Omphalos [OM-fuh-luhs] (noun) the central point. Origin: From Greek, omphalos did not enter English until the 1850s when Thomas De Quincey used it in his work Suspiria de Profundis. It literally meant “navel.” First Known Use: 1855

5/21: Belabor [bih-LEY-ber] (verb) to explain, worry about, or work more than is necessary. Origin: Like besot, belabor comes from the prefix be- which makes a verb out of a noun and the root labor meaning “to work.” First Known Use: 1596

5/26: Betide [bih-TAHYD] (verb) to happen to; come to; befall. Origin: Betide stems from the Old English word tide meaning “something that happened.” As in besot and belabor, the prefix be- turns the noun into a verb. First Known Use: 12th century

Fulcrum is a fairly common word that can be used just as effectively in a metaphorical as in a literal sense. Anything or anyone that acts as a hinge or support for an action is a fulcrum. It’s interesting that the word is most often used in reference to a lever today, when it originally meant “bedpost.” But the latter image contributes to the nuance of this word with the image of a support or prop.

The important distinction to make with the word sudorific is that it refers to an outside agent or situation that causes sweat, not to the creature that sweats. The adjective that points to the one doing the sweating is sudoriferous. It would be a bit redundant to refer to “sudorific heat,” so this word is more likely to be used for sweat-inducing drugs or medicine.

There’s no denying that cicatrix is just a fancy medical term for “scar,” which is a perfectly fine word in its own right. But cicatrix just happens to be one of the coolest-sounding of all fancy medical terms. So it’s a fun word to know, even if its potential uses are limited. The word can specifically refer to a scar left on a plant after one of its leaves falls off.

The problems with intromit begin with its pronunciation (that awkward emphasis on the final syllable). It doesn’t have a nice sound, and it’s much rarer than its synonyms, any of which would do just fine. Try as I might, I can’t find a redeeming quality. This is definitely one of my least favorite words of any that we’ve looked at here.

Omphalos has several different uses. In addition to a central point or hub, it can be used as a synonym for “navel.” For the ancient Greeks, the Omphalos stone at Delphi marked the central point on Earth. More recently, the term “Omphalos hypothesis” is used to describe the creationist theory that God created the universe with the appearance of age, so that mountains and canyons were fully formed at creation and Adam had a navel, to give two examples. This theory was set forth by English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse in his 1857 book, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. Ancient religions and modern pseudoscience notwithstanding, this word would make an interesting substitute for “hub” or “navel.” As for myself, though, I think I’d only prefer it in the latter case.

The most common use of belabor is in reference to someone who continues hammering away at an argument long after the point is conceded. But it can also mean to attack physically, or simply to “assail verbally” (American Heritage Dictionary). Each of these meanings carries the idea of violence, of excessive force. This is probably due to the presence of the root word “labor,” which can simply be a synonym for work but often connotes especially hard work. A person who belabors something is most likely making something easy look hard.

Of the two be- words this month, betide is probably the less common now. It has a very archaic feel, which doesn’t mean it would be hard to understand, just that it would probably draw too much attention to itself unless the context made it fit. On the other hand, a word like this can add quirky good humor to a conversation, if dropped in out of nowhere once and never used again.

Part 2 — Urban Dictionary

5/4: Tired tears (noun) the constant stream of tears you produce when you’re extremely tired and need some sleep. Definition contributed in 2012

5/7: Intensive porpoises (noun) 1) malapropism for “intents and purposes” 2) seriously determined and focused aquatic mammals, dangerous to sharks. Definition contributed in 2012

5/9: Marriage (noun) what straight couples have legally and commonly don’t want, and what gay couples don’t have legally and commonly want. Definition contributed in 2005

5/14: Shower fluffer (noun) when one’s spouse or roommate takes the first shower of the day and gets the hot water running so for your shower the availability of hot water is immediate. Definition contributed in 2009

5/17: Cyclops date (noun) a date with someone you’ve met over the internet; it’s not quite a blind date because you’ve seen their [sic] photo, chatted with them and possibly talked to them on the phone. Definition contributed in 2012

5/21: Upcycling (noun) the practice of converting waste materials into products of greater value. Definition contributed in 2007

5/26: Supes (adjective) a shortened version of super. Can be used in any situation. Definition contributed in 2009

When our bodies get particularly tired, they start doing things that can be misconstrued — most notably, yawning. Tired tears would be another one. We are neither bored nor sad, just tired. I think this term conveys a decent idea, but the words themselves lack inspiration. I’m sure I’ll forget the term next week, even if my eyes try to remind me about it.

Intensive porpoises made me laugh, so I had to include it. I don’t think it’s quite right to call this a malapropism, because I don’t think anyone has mistakenly said “intensive porpoises” instead of “intents and purposes.” “Intensive purposes” is the mistake, “intensive porpoises” the joke. In either case, the better name for it is most likely “eggcorn.” The Word Detective explains that “for all intensive purposes” does make some sense but is still an error that threatens the survival of the correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes.” Bravo, Urban Dictionary, for getting this right and making a nice joke out of it.

The satirical definition of marriage given here is a nice, ironic little couplet that expresses an increasingly common argument. The argument goes like this: people oppose gay marriage because it might do damage to the sanctity of marriage, but they seem to ignore the fact that rampant divorce among heterosexual couples has already done as much damage to that “sanctity” as could possibly be done. In other words, someone who claims that gay marriage threatens traditional values needs to realize that those traditional values have never been respected universally. Furthermore, does that person really believe that infidelity and divorce are lesser evils than homosexuality? It’s an interesting argument. I don’t really have the space to address this topic at length here, but I chose this word as a good example of Urban Dictionary getting political, taking common words and giving them slanted definitions.

In shower fluffer, it’s “fluff” as in fluffing up pillows. It certainly would be nice to have the hot water ready for you. “The availability of hot water is immediate” sure sounds like a roundabout way of saying it, though. This is a case where we recognize the need for professionals to write definitions.

Cyclops date speaks for itself. That makes it the best Urban Dictionary term of the month. Now, the thing about the internet is that people can lie, so a Cyclops date could actually be about the same as a blind date, if not worse. But assuming the relationship isn’t getting off on the wrong foot in a major way, seeing a photo and chatting online would be comparable to having no depth perception while still being able to see. This was a well-done entry, if not for the fact that there are bawdy connotations when something with one eye and a date are involved.

Upcycling is a real thing; it has a Wikipedia article and everything. It’s also a wonderful idea, making the best use of limited resources and cleaning up the environment. The formation of the word is pretty lazy, but it fits right in for Urban Dictionary.

“Can be used in any situation.” The writer of the definition for supes felt like five words just couldn’t be enough, could it? It’s a little ironic to have a long definition for an abbreviation. Then again, “super” doesn’t spring to mind as a word that needs shortening; cutting down one syllable doesn’t necessarily qualify as abbreviating. We had a similar discussion on the word “totes” two months ago. There seems to be a “shorten to one syllable and make it plural” flavor of abbreviation that has caught on. Isn’t that interesting?

My shower fluffer belabored her task this morning; when I intromitted myself beneath the sudorific stream, I screamed, “Intensive porpoises!” as it burned my omphalos. That night, through tired tears, we talked it out and made peace. Nights like that are the fulcrum of our supes marriage.

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