10 Body Parts Hiding in the Dictionary

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iStock

If two people capitulate, then they agree to each another’s terms, or one cedes to the other’s opinion. But originally—and, one finds with a bit of etymological digging, quite literally—a capitulation was an agreement drawn up under chapters or headings, and in that sense the word traces its way back to caput, a Latin word meaning head. A chapter, for that matter, means a "little head."

But chapter and capitulate aren’t the only "head" words in the dictionary (so to speak). A capital city refers to a head city. A captain is one who stands at the head of others. If something capsizes, then it sinks head first. Precipices take their name from a Latin word meaning headlong or headfirst. And even though the biceps and triceps muscles might be in the arm, they actually mean two- and three-headed.

And if that last one sounds confusing, there’s a whole jumble of other body parts in the dictionary.

1. GENUINE

The word genuine originally referred to things that were natural or innate, rather than acquired or added later. In that sense, one explanation claims that it derives from gignere, a Latin verb meaning to birth or to beget, but a more imaginative (and no less likely) theory is that the word actually comes from genu, the Latin word for knee. According to this theory, a father would acknowledge the paternity of his genuine offspring by placing his child on his knee, and from there, the use of the word to mean authentic or real emerged.

2. HYPOCHONDRIAC

The hypochondrium is a region of the upper abdomen lying below (hypo) the cartilage of the ribs and breastbone (chondros). Problems affecting the visceral organs inside the hypochondrium—the liver, the gall bladder and the spleen, among others—were once said to cause melancholic feelings or ill health, and ultimately the entire hypochondriac region gave its name to a morbid obsession with ill health.

3. DATE

The date you write at the top of a letter comes from the same root as data, and derives from a Latin word meaning given—the idea being that a letter would be dated when it was given over to be delivered. The date that you eat, however, is entirely unrelated: Its name comes, via French and Latin, from the Greek word for finger, daktylos, because the date palm’s fruits or leaves are supposedly shaped like human fingers.

4. GARGOYLE

There’s a reason why gargoyles are hideous figures with their mouths open: They take their name from the Old French word for throat, gargoule, and their open mouths are used to channel rainwater away from the main structure of a building.

5. HYSTERIA

The hysterical symptoms or hysterics of someone suffering from hysteria were once wrongly believed to be unique to women. As a result, they were blamed on disorders or imbalances of the uterus. The word hysteria and all its derivatives come from the Greek word for the womb, hystera. Incidentally, the use of hysterical to describe something that sends you into uncontrollable fits of laughter emerged in the mid-1900s.

6. RECALCITRANT

If you’re recalcitrant, then you’re extremely obstinate or uncooperative. The adjective derives from an earlier verb, recalcitrate or calcitrate, which originally meant "to kick out angrily," like a stubborn or uncooperative horse—and in that sense the word derives from calx, the Latin name for the heel.

7. GLOSSARY

A glossary is literally a collection of glosses, short annotations or explanatory comments that were once written along or between lines of text to clarify or translate their contents. These glosses take their name, via Latin, from the Greek word glossa, meaning language or tongue.

8. SUPERCILIOUS

Anatomically, the supercilium is the region of the forehead containing the eyebrows. And because inquisitive eyebrow-raising has been associated with haughty, condescending people, the adjective supercilious came to describe people and behavior precisely like that.

9. HANDSOME

It might seem obvious at first glance, but the term handsome derives from the word hand. Less obvious is precisely why a word meaning good-looking should have anything to do with the hands rather than the face. In fact, when it first appeared in the language in the 15th century, handsome meant "close at hand," or "easy to handle," and from there the word gained all manner of positive connotations, including "entirely fitting or appropriate," generous, magnanimous, courageous, skillful, and eventually—by the mid-1500s—stylish, elegant, and good-looking.

10. CHIROPODIST

And lastly, two for the price of one: We might use this word to refer to a foot specialist or podiatrist today, but a chiropodist was originally someone who treated disorders of both the hands and the feet. As a result, the word combines the Greek words for hand, kheir, and foot, pous.

Thoughtful Human's Line of Plantable Greeting Cards Is Here for Life's Most Delicate Scenarios

Thoughtful Human
Thoughtful Human

Not sure how to make amends with that family member you had a fight with a couple years back? Perhaps you want to offer support to a friend going through a painful time—like with depression, cancer, or various kinds of grief—but don't know how. If you're having trouble finding the right words to say, Thoughtful Human wants to help. This unorthodox card company is challenging people to communicate in ways that show "radical compassion and empathy."

Thoughtful Human is essentially the Hallmark of strained relationships and awkward ice-breakers. The messages get straight to the point and say the words you might have trouble voicing aloud. "I was being really selfish and immature. I'm sorry," reads one. "Still mad, but life is short and tradition is tradition. Happy birthday," reads another.

But what truly makes these cards a literal alternative to extending an olive branch is that they're also plantable? All of the cards are made of seed paper, and they generally transform into wildflowers within 10-14 days of being planted. View it as a symbol of the restorative power of communication.

A variety of cards
Thoughtful Human

In a video posted to the company's website, Thoughtful Human's founder, Ali O'Grady, explains that the cards are designed for "dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances." It's also a deeply personal project: She decided to start the company after losing her father to cancer.

There are cards dedicated to addiction and rehab, depression, grief, injury, long-distance relationships, and other delicate scenarios. Of course, you'll also find plenty of cards for happier times, including thank-you notes and congratulatory messages.

And if you haven't sent out your Christmas cards yet, consider this anti-holiday holiday card: "Shout out to that stranger's baby who locked in a lifetime of undeserved gifts, pie, and vacation time for everyone."

These cards and more can be found on Thoughtful Human's website, on Target.com, and at select Whole Foods stores in California's Bay Area.

Celebrate the Encyclopedia Britannica's 250th Birthday by Checking Out Its First Edition Online

Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Encyclopedia Britannica volumes on display at the New York Public Library
Mario Tama/Getty Images

While those gold-embossed, multi-volume sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica were a feature of many an American childhood, the origins of the venerable reference work actually lie in Scotland. Two hundred and fifty years ago—on December 10, 1768—the first pages of the Britannica were published in Edinburgh. To celebrate the anniversary, the National Library of Scotland has put a rare first edition of the encyclopedia online.

The first edition was the brainchild of printer Colin Macfarquhar, engraver Andrew Bell, and the editor William Smellie. It was published in 100 weekly sections over three volumes (completed in 1771), but explicit engravings of midwifery scandalized some subscribers, and were ripped out on the orders of the Crown. The entries of the first edition—some of which ran to hundreds of pages—reflect the biases and preoccupations of their time: woman is defined as "the female of a man," while there are 39 pages devoted to horse diseases. Nevertheless, the work was a significant accomplishment that drew on at least 150 sources, from essays by famous philosophers to newspaper articles. It also featured 160 copperplate engravings by Bell.

The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica
The title page on the first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

In a statement from the National Library of Scotland, Rare Books Curator Robert Betteridge said, "By the 20th century Britannica was a household name throughout the English-speaking world, and what is especially interesting about this publication was that it had a distinctly Scottish viewpoint. The first edition emphasized two themes—modern science and Scottish identity, including ground-breaking and controversial articles on anatomy and Scots Law."

The first edition (which includes those ripped-out midwifery pages) will appear as part of an exhibit on the Scottish Enlightenment at the National Library of Scotland this summer. For now, you can view all three volumes of the first edition, from "A—the name of several rivers" to Zygophyllum, a genus in botany—online here.

[h/t American Libraries]

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