Increase your English vocabulary by learning about the origin of uncommon, winter words
At the Wording Desk
nivosity & hibernaculum
Nivosity and Hibernaculum:
Rare Winter Words
It’s snowing today here in southern Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie, and so an ornate late autum or early winter wish seems in order. And here it is:
Should nivosity wax, may thy hibernacle be snug.
Nivosity means snowiness from Latin nix, nivis ‘snow.’
A hibernacle is a winter home or residence from Latin hiberna ‘winter.’ To hibernate is to pass the winter in a state of torpor. There is even a verb in English meaning to pass the summer in a state of torpor, namely, to estivate.
Hibernaculum is a zoological term designating the winter refuge of a hibernating animal. It is used in birders’ jargon. The classical Latin word was usually in the plural where hibernacula referred to Roman soldiers’ winter tents, huts or encampments.
To wax = to increase, to grow (like German wachsen). This was the prime meaning of ‘to wax’ in Old English; the polishing and beeswax meanings of wax all came later. A couple of the verb’s Indo-European relatives are augere Latin ‘to increase’ as in English words like augment and the ancient Greek auxein ‘to increase’ as in the botanical word auxin, the name of a plant growth hormone.
As a verb, wax is both transitive and intransitive. An old verbal phrase meaning ‘to get angry’ was ‘to wax wroth.’ Wroth is a variant of wrath.
“He’s waxing wroth?”
Comic writer S. J. Perelman gave Groucho Marx a silly pun in one of the Marx Bros. movies: “Why’s he screaming? He’s waxing wroth. And afterward, he’s going to let Roth wax him.”
Groucho & Sid Perelman interviewed by Kenneth Tynan in New York City
Bill Casselman, November 22, 2016
Text Copyright 2016 William Gordon Casselman
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