In this little verbal outing, I borrow a word from zoology and entomology (study of insects) and expand its meanings in order to get a new name for the clothes that strippers toss off during a striptease performance or the speedos and bikinis which nubile maidens and buff studs shed at the beach or amidst the sumptuous appointments of the Quick Chance Motel down behind the hammer factory.
In Latin, exuviæ were ‘garments stripped off, skins of animals, the spoils of an enemy,’ from the Latin verb exuĕre ‘to divest oneself of ...’
In zoology, the plural of exuvia is exuviae. Educated usage prefers the Latin plural. Don’t write exuvias; it’s illiterate and brands you, the user, as a letterless yutz of the most uneducated, abject station. Sorry.
There is a back formation of the singular noun in scientific literature too, namely, exuvium. A rare verb exists as well, to exuviate.
Exuviae refers to the sloughed-off, dead skin of snakes and the slough of caterpillars and of insects leaving their pupa stages. In carcinology, the scientific study of crustaceans, exuviae may name the cast-off, chitinous integument of lobsters, crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans that grow by shedding old carapaces, that is, upper-body shells, also termed the chitinous exoskeletons of arthropods.
Don't Lift that Chiton, Naughty Nymph!
An analogue to this tough protein chitin is keratin of which your human fingernails and toenails and hair, like the horn of a rhinoceros, are made. Chitin is a not-so-rare instance of scientific namers being playful with their use of ancient Greek roots, for χιτών chiton in ancient Greek is a word for a short tunic worn in fair weather by male slaves and some women.
This nineteenth-century English word, possibly borrowed from an 1853 CE German term, combines two ancient Greek roots: ἄρθρον arthron ‘joint’ + πούς ποδος pous, podis ‘foot, limb.’ It names smaller animals without backbones but with jointed limbs, segmented bodies and usually an outer shell that molts. Insects, spiders and crustaceans are arthropods.
Garbled Words of TV Sports Broadcasters
The most common English term from ἄρθρον arthron ‘joint’ is the medical name for inflammation of the joints, arthritis. Don’t say “arthur-eye-tiss”, like some of the more illiterate sports broadcasters, incapable as they are of dealing with even simple English consonant clusters like rthr. There is no need to infix a spurious u-sound between the r and the th.
These are the same muddle-mouths who can’t say athlete. The th followed by the l is too deft a tongue movement for them. So they say “ath-uh-lete” and “ath-uh-letics.” But there is no uh. Just the forty-pound tongues of slugs too lazy to take care with the enunciation of our English words.
A Note on Ecdysis & Ecdysiast
The process by which exuviae are cast away is named ecdysis. In English entomology, ecdysis names the casting off of an insect’s earlier, outer cuticular layer so that a new layer can grow in its place. The moulting of a lobster shell is also ecdysis. The noun is modern scientific Latin (1854 CE) from classical Greek ἔκδυσις ekdysis > Greek ek ‘out of’ + Greek dyein ‘to put on [clothes], to dive in.’ The Greek is possibly cognate with one of our English verbs of putting on clothes, namely, to don, a contraction of 'to do on.' When we remove exuviae, we can say we doff our clothes, a contraction of 'do off.'
Ecdysiast, as a high-flown, comic synonym for burlesque stripper, was coined in 1940 by American writer, editor, critic and scholar of the American language H.L. Mencken (1880 – 1956 CE).
My Exemplary Sentences Using the Word Exuviae
Brenda doffed skimpy exuviae and scampered “in the rude” into the warm summer water whose very waves seemed to cuddle and lap her slippery physique, in a manner, if not untoward, then, at the least, impertinent.
The Most Reverend Horatio Marzipan did not approve of cameras embedded in cellphones, especially those contained in the cellphone of his teenage parishioner Tiffany Dreadlittle, several of whose selfies featured Horatio, his holy exuviae cast aside, in a nude embrace that was illegal in 37 states and on 7 known planets of the solar system.
Like the petals of a dangerous, too generous flower her robe opened and she cast it aside into an erotic dune of silken exuviae already flung upon the love couch: panties, bras, false buttock pads, aphrodisiac lotions in stoppered flasks, and one prosthetic leg made of Porlex, the plastic that “feels” like real skin.
Now, good taste and proper breeding, not to say the approaching constabulary, bid us draw a prim curtain upon this exuvial scene and disclose no more.
Bill Casselman, October 09, 2017
Text Copyright 2017 by William Gordon Casselman
Increase your vocabulary in English science. Learn about exuviae, both its old and its new meanings.
At the Wording Desk