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Weird words. December 4, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was just musing about why a West Coast clam would be called a “geoduck,” when it was neither a rock nor a duck. Certainly, it doesn’t resemble either one. Instead, it bears more of a resemblance to an amaryllis just prior to flowering, with a long, stout, stemlike neck extending from a bulblike shell. Maybe it tasted like duck but had really hard flesh?

Having pondered the geoduck’s bizarre name on and off for years, our friend Ben finally headed to Wikipedia, where I saw that not only was it not pronounced as spelled—the correct pronunciation is apparently “gooey duck,” what a delicious thought—but that the name is derived from a Lushootseed (Nisqually) word meaning “dig deep.” These large, long-necked clams do indeed “dig deep,” so foragers seeking to harvest them must also “dig deep” to unearth them. But our friend Ben thinks the more descriptive Chinese name for the geoduck, which translates as “elephant trunk clam,” is far more appropriate.

Our friend Ben can’t say why I was thinking of geoducks this morning, but as I read an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, I was dismayed to see that the columnist had included the word “afflatus” in his article on net neutrality. Afflatus?!! Our friend Ben is not ignorant, but I’ll admit that there’s much that I don’t know. “Afflatus” is certainly a word I was unfamiliar with. What could it mean? A windbag? And why was a columnist for a newspaper that is read by business professionals and investors using a word unlikely to be known by any of them?

Again, according to Wikipedia, “afflatus” is a Latin term, derived from Cicero, that means “inspiration,” but inspiration to the max, “the staggering and stunning blow of a new idea, an idea that the recipient may be unable to explain.” “Struck dumb” and “dumbfounded” come to mind in this context.

The nuance justifies using something stronger than simple “inspiration.” But it does not, in our friend Ben’s opinion, justify resorting to a word that’s no longer in use. That is pretension, plain and simple, not good writing.

Geoduck. Afflatus. What weird words have you found today?



1. Steve - December 17, 2010

Your work, although not ubiquitous yet, always has great avoir du pois.

Thanks, Steve (I think)! Must work on becoming ubiquitous…

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