As I listened to my stomach gurgle over this weekend’s IBS flare-up (still going on … yea), I was reminded that there are a lot of interesting words that have to do with bodily functions and phenomena, many of which are actually publishable in a family newspaper (mostly because they’re not euphemisms).
See, I told you, the Word Nerd can make anything about words, including gastric distress. She’s a marvel, that one. And deeply weird, but you knew that.
That gurgling is called borborygmus, or intestinal rumbling caused by moving gas, according to Merriam-Webster. “If in looking at the word you thought it was just some crazy coinage invented by someone who thought the word matched the rumbling sound it represented, you’d be right, in a way,” the dictionary says. “We picked it up from New Latin, but it traces to the Greek verb borboryzein, which means ‘to rumble.’ It is believed that the Greek verb was coined to imitate the digestive noises made by a stomach. ‘Borborygmus’ has been part of English for at least 250 years; its earliest known use dates from around 1724.”
Please, just don’t ask me to pronounce it. My doctor and I were both at a loss trying to do that Monday. I can pronounce it; just not when asked.
Eructation was something I was doing a lot of over the weekend: burping. A burp is called a ructus; Mental Floss points out that “the Romans knew excessive or unstoppable belching as ructabundus (although sadly that word has yet to catch on in English).” I feel a sudden urge to help them out … and to burp. (Three guesses as to what a flatus is; first two don’t count, but it’s a word we’re not allowed to print in the paper. Yes, I did that too.)
The word mastication isn’t used enough, thanks to sounding like that word that means to self-pleasure, but there’s nothing dirty about it. It simply means the act of chewing. Of course, if you have pica and love to eat dirt, mastication would be dirty. And probably ruin your teeth.
Another word that isn’t used much is micturate, which means to urinate. According to Merriam-Webster, “There are numerous synonyms for the act of voiding urine which are, to loosely paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish, and short [and also not allowed in the paper] . While we love these kinds of words, it seems likely that many of them are already familiar to readers, while a longer and fancified synonym such as micturate is not. The act or process of micturating is micturition and the word for ‘the state of really needing to micturate badly, like, right now’ is micturient.”
Our former managing editor, if he didn’t know it already, would be amused to find that laughing in a loud and immoderate manner is called cachinnation. It has that onomatopoeic sense in that it sounds like “cackle,” which is the laugh he always wanted to hear from me. You wouldn’t think a cackle would brighten someone’s day, but it did for him. (I have more than one laugh; he just really loved the cackle.)
Pareidolia is that common tendency we have to see a specific image in a meaningless or ambiguous visual pattern. As a kid, I was always seeing faces in the knothole patterns of the wallboard in our house, and I still see them in just about everything if I look at something for too long. It’s the same principle behind Rorschach ink blots and cloud-watching. It’s a more specific form of apophenia, in which you perceive a connection or meaningful pattern among random things. That tends to give rise to conspiracy theories like QAnon and the Illuminati (forgetting, of course, that a conspiracy that widespread would be quickly uncovered because, for one thing, most people can’t keep their mouths shut about secrets).
During allergy and cold season, I’m often seized by rhinorrhea and sternutation, as well as tussication. That would be a runny nose, sneezing fits and coughing. If I have those symptoms now, I just stay inside, but many a past night has seen me at the store, nose red and looking none too attractive, searching for relief in the cold and flu aisle. Those days are over for a while.
Goosebumps have another name as well. Horripilation is the bristling of hair on the head or body, from fright or excitement, for example. If you think there’s a connection to “horror,” you’d be correct. The Online Etymology Dictionary attributes the same root to both, horrerre, meaning “to bristle with fear, shudder” (the second part comes from pilo-, the combining form meaning hair). The broader term, which encompasses animals such as cats or porcupines, is piloerection.
The lachrymose (me sometimes; don’t watch “Up” with me) are given to tears or weeping, according to Merriam-Webster. Lachrymal (or lacrimal) glands are where tears come from. Lacrimation is the secretion of tears, but more specifically in the medical sense an abnormal or excessive secretion of tears due to disease. While my movie viewing may produce tears, I’m fairly sure it’s a normal amount.
Except with “Up.” And “Coco.” Dang Disney for killing off lovable characters.
There are a lot more words for bodily functions, but I’ll leave you with just two more.
Bromhidrosis is the clinical word for foul-smelling sweat, which you’re apt to produce if you’ve been, say, on an hour-long photo hike to find butterflies. Of course, after you’ve gotten all sweaty is when you’re likely to attract some species of butterflies like the Hackberry Emperor that landed on me some years back. I felt so special till I got home and learned that some butterflies feed on carrion, and will drink sweat for the salt. So really I was just a great big salt lick. Woo hoo.
I’m lucky I’ve never been afflicted with onychophagia, which is the medical terminology for nail-biting. Merriam-Webster says: “This imposing looking word comes from adding together the combining forms onych- (from the Greek word for ‘nail,’ or either the finger or toe variety) and -phagy (from the Greek phagein, meaning ‘to eat’). The initial portion of the word is not particularly common in English vocabulary, but -phagy is found at the tail-end of many words referring to ‘eating of a (specified) type or substance’.”
Sorry, but if I see someone going to town on his toenails, I’m heading swiftly in the other direction. Hopefully without sweating so as not to attract butterflies. I mean, it’s cute when a baby or a cat does it, but a full-grown human? Yeesh!