This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Sunday Rest: spermaceti. Word Not To Use Today.

Practically all words come trailing echoes. This is inevitable when you consider that words usually borrow parts of their meanings from others: that, for instance, the Italian libro means a book, and libre means books; that the German Kraftfahrzeughaftpflightversicherung is made up of fairly simple parts that give you some hefty clues that it means car liability insurance; and that in the Australian Wiradjuri language wagga is a crow and wagga wagga are crows (though when you duplicate a verb in Thai the action of the verb isn't repeated, but intensified). 

This trend for words to display relationships is very helpful - until you get to a word like spermaceti.

Spermaceti is the waxy substance obtained from the oil in the head of a sperm whale. 

File:Mother and baby sperm whale.jpg
photo by Gabriel Barathieu

It may act as the whale's aid to buoyancy, or it may help the whale with echo-location. 

Spermaceti smells wonderful, and was used formerly to make candles and perfumes.

It has nothing at all to do with either sperm or spaghetti. 


...I suppose we must be grateful for that, mustn't we.

Word Not To Use Today: spermaceti. This word comes from the Latin sperma cēti, whale sperm. If it's Latin sperma means, yes, sperm, and if Greek it means seed. The Latin cētus means whale, from the Greek kētos.

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