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Caltrop

18 May 2016

You might have spotted this word over on the HH Twitter feed the other day:

Originally used in reference to crystallography and chemistry, an enantiomorph (literally an “opposite shape”) is a mirror image or reflection, while something described as enantiomorphic or enantiomorphous resembles or provides a reflection.

 

And that word got us thinking about all the other obscure words there are for things you see and do everyday—and it’s 10 of those that feature in this week’s YouTube video

 

 

But of the ten words looked at in the video, two—calceate and discalceate, meaning “to put on” and “to remove your shoes”, respectively—are worth a little further investigation. Both date back to the seventeenth century in English, and both share a common root in the Latin word for “shoe”, calceus. That in turn is descended from the Latin word for the heel, calx—which opens up a whole new vocabulary of obscure heel-related words.

 

To calcitrate, for instance, is to kick, while to recalcitrate is to kick back or kick out in resistance or frustration. (No prizes for guessing that’s where the adjective recalcitrant also comes from.) Likewise, to calcate is to kick something down or to stamp it into the ground with your heel, while to exculcate is to tread or trample something down. To conculcate also means “to tread” or “to trample”, while the use of the word inculcate to mean “to impress upon” or “to indoctrinate” comes from the notion of figuratively “stamping” something into someone’s mind.

 

The cal– of caltrop—a spiked metal weapon used to impede vehicles or horses—is also derived from the Latin calx, as a caltrop is literally a “heel-trap”. Similarly, calks and calkins are both parts of a horseshoe; something that is calciform projects outwards like a heel; and a calcar is a heel-shaped spur at the bottom of a flower petal that attaches it to the stem.

 

But it’s not all unfamiliar and obscure territory here. Among the more familiar heel-words English has to offer is the word cockatrice, which is thought to be a part-English, part-French adaptation of the Latin word calcatrix, meaning “treader”, “tracker”—or, literally, “one who treads on your heels.”

 

 

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