Tag Archives: etymology

There’s a Word for That? Seriously?

The Speech Dudes are nothing if not quirky when it comes to content for a blog post. You might think that being Speechies working in the field of AAC we’d be keen and eager to write endless articles about how to best serve the population who would benefit from being provided with aided solutions to help communication. And yes, we do that from time to time because we really do want to share any thoughts and ideas we might have that have some value. But our interests extend outside of our careers into other aspects of life. And for Dude One (Russell) a more general fascination with language as a cultural phenomenon means that the very stuff of communication as a whole provide an endless source of spell-binding interest.

Which is why the discovery of a new word can be so exciting and mind-boggling that I’m finding it hard not to share. It’s not that the new word is one that I’m likely to use in everyday conversation but the more enchanting question is why the word exists in the first place.

The word is aproctous, and means “without an anus.” And if you’re now thinking, “Dude, why would you ever need to use that?” then you’re exactly in the place I am. It comes from the Greek meaning “without” and πρωκτός meaning “anus.” It’s such an odd word that it’s not even an official Scrabble word, which is a shame because that’s possibly the only situation in which I might actually use it.

To check how folks might be using it I turned to the iWeb Corpus, a web-based collection of over 14 billion words from 22 million web pages. Surprisingly, there is not ONE single example of aproctous to be found, and includes any posts like this one talking about how aproctous isn’t used!

Of the instances where it appears, the primary use is in zoology to describe two sub-branches of the class of animals called Brachiopodia called Rhynchonellidae and Terebratuladae, which, bizarre as it may sound, don’t have an ass. Of course, I’m sure they have some other way of expelling waste as an alternative but quite frankly I don’t have the time nor inclination to spend time finding out. Suffice to say that in relation to the word itself, its use in biology is fairly narrow.

There was also a Death Metal band from 1991 called Aproctous who appear to have had a stunningly unsuccessful career, probably not as a result of their choice of band name. But other than those references, there are no other significant example of the word being used.

I’m great believer in giving rare and obscure words their moments in the sun. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to say something like “We enjoyed the brastling campfire” [1] or “It was so cold that Dan was left with a nirled scrotum” [2] or perhaps “I bought my oranges from the local oporopolist” [3], all of which contain words that are stunningly rare but, to my ears, really do deserve to be aired at least once per decade.

Still, if you can find a way to slip aproctous into a conversation, by all means do so – and make sure you let us know how it went.


[1] brastle (v.): To crackle, clatter, and roar as a fire. Old English “brastlian.”

[2] nirled (adj.): Shriveled, shrunken, stunted, frozen. Middle English “knurre.”

[3] oporologist (n.): A fruit seller. Greek ὀπώρα meaning “late summer, fruit time” + πώλης meaning “seller.”

Countdown to Christmas – Question 13: Friday 13th December

It’s a topical vocabulary question today. What’s the word used to describe “the fear of the number 13?” Hint: fear of the number 13 is different from the fear of Friday the 13th itself. 

Fear of the number thirteen

ANSWER: triskaidekaphobia!

The word triskaidekaphobia is a relatively new word – and for lexicographers, anything from the early 20th century is “new” – and was coined from the Greek treiskaideka, which means “thirteen” and phobos, meaning “fear.” The Oxford English Dictionary has the first published use of the word in Isador Henry Coriat’s Abnormal Psychology in 1911.

The specific fear of Friday 13th has two words: paraskevidekatriaphobia and friggatriskaidekaphobia. The latter is simply triskaidekaphobia with the prefix, frigga, which is the name of the Norse goddess after whom Friday originates. It’s origin is obscure but certainly recent i.e. 20th century. The former, appears to be traceable to Dr. Donald Dossey in his 1992 book Holiday Folklore, Phobias, and Fun, is also a Greek coinage: paraskevi meaning “Friday,” dekatria meaning “thirteen,” and again, phobia means “fear.”

But wait, you eagle-eyed readers exclaim, how come both treiskaideka and dekatria both mean “thirteen?” Well, treis on its own means “three” and deka means “ten, and the Greek word for “and” is kai. So, the former is literally “three and ten” whereas the latter is simply “three ten.”  Score another point for the Dudes as being “edutainers” – you may not realize it, but reading our blog is an education; we just do it oh so subtly 😉


Article on paraskevidekatriaphobia from the Macmillan Dictionary Buzzwords blog.

Definition of triskaidekaphobia in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.