O is for…

Octopus_Amsterdam_by_shinmat

Welcome to the latest instalment of my Vocabulary Series! This week, I have a fun sample of words beginning with the letter O. It turns out that there are a lot of great words that start with O, so it was tough to narrow it down to three.

The first word I chose is wonderfully long and complicated, but if you can master its pronunciation, it will lend you an air of sophistication when you use it.

Obstreperous (adjective)

Etymology:  First appears around the 1600s. Comes from the Latin obstreperus, meaning clamorous, which comes from obstrepere, meaning to drown with noise or oppose noisily. In turn, obstrepere comes from combining ob, meaning against, and strepere, meaning to make a noise. Strepere comes from the Proto-Indo-European strep-, which is thought to be imitative (kind of like early onomatopoeia).

Definition:  Unruly, noisy, and difficult to control.

Example:  The children at the School for Supernaturals were normally obstreperous, but it was always worse during the full moon.

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This next word has an almost religious sound to it, though maybe that’s just to my ears. Either way, it’s a neat word with an equally neat meaning. You should see if you can find a way to work it into a conversation this week.

Ossify (verb)

Etymology:  First appears in 1713, meaning to turn into bone. Likely a back-formation of the word ossification, it probably comes from the French word ossifier, which in turn comes from the Latin words os, meaning bone, and –fy, meaning to make into. The figurative meaning of ossify first appears in the 1850s.

Definition:  Turn into bone or bony tissue; harden; make or become emotionally callous; make or become rigid, fixed, or unprogressive in attitude.

Example:  Mimi couldn’t turn people into stone like her big sister, Medusa, but being able to ossify her competition still ensured she would make the cheerleading team.

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The bonus word this week is one of my all-time favourite animals. They’re smart and dextrous masters of illusion, and sometimes I wonder if they are actually the first wave of an intelligent alien race on some sort of reconnaissance mission to Earth.

Octopus (noun)

Etymology:  First appears in 1758 as the genus name for a group of eight-armed cephalopod molluscs. Comes from the Greek oktopous, meaning eight-footed (okto=eight, pous=foot).

Interestingly, the proper plural form of octopus is octopodes. However, in English we normally use octopuses. Using octopi is incorrect—it comes from the mistaken assumption that the –us in octopus comes from the Latin noun ending that takes an –i in its plural form.

Definition:  A cephalopod mollusc with eight suckered arms, a soft sac-like body, strong beak-like jaws, and no internal shell.

Example:  The octopus overlord watched the scout’s footage with mounting horror. He tapped in the coordinates for Earth. It was time to turn the tables on the humans; tonight, his crew would feast on human sushi.

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As always, etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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Image credit: shinmat @ deviantART

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4 thoughts on “O is for…

  1. It was a “stroke” of luck that I found Apoplectic when I was researching the etymology of agony. I couldn’t agree more with the concern about “verbing” nouns or adjectives. It resounds of imaginative loss inherent in English-speaking societies today. Bill Bryson believes that the ossuary of English is our grammatical rules, unnecessarily guarding it from growth. I disagree with that assumption. I believe our language will ossify with lack of use in the written and conversational forms.

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