Friday, June 19, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: N is for ...


It's taken me a while to get back to my Word Nerd feature. Frankly, I wasn't inspired by the letter "N." It seemed like most N words started with prefixes: neo-, neuro-, not to mention non-. Nertz*, I thought. All these N words are namby-pamby.** So I did what I usually do when I'm stuck for a word: I started browsing the dictionary.

First thing that struck me: there are only 28 pages under the letter N, and two of those are devoted to tables. That's not very many pages; even O has more (at 31), and it doesn't even approach M (75) or the monster S section (168). But I saw some promising candidates: nectary, which is the part of a plant which produces nectar (who knew it had a name?); and negatron, which we know better as the electron and which would have given me time to expound on science and names and things.

But then I saw this word nekton. First of all, it looks cool, with that k in the middle of the word, naked without an accompanying c. (Very Greek, which is its origin ... unlike naked, which is from Middle English.) And the definition: "Free swimming aquatic animals (as in whales or squid) essentially independent of wave and current action." I didn't even know there was a word for that. Actually there are several words to classify aquatic life by their methods of locomotion (or lack thereof). There's one we've all heard of, plankton, which are those life forms that drift within the water. There's also neuston, which are those life forms that float or move on top of the water (water striders, flying fish), and benthos, those that live on the seabed, at the bottom of the ocean (bivalves, coral, anemones).

So again I read the dictionary and learn something new; not just about words, but about scientific classification. And I just know I'm going to have to use benthos in a book sometime, when I get to the Atlantis analogue I've got tucked away for future use. Nifty!

*derived from nuts!
**An eponym taken from the nickname of an 18th-century English poet.


  1. I like "nekkid," myself. As in, why are my kids always nekkid?

  2. Sharon BlankenshipJune 22, 2009 at 4:06 PM

    I just like that you read a dictionary. Spot any catchy plot lines?

  3. No, Sharon, the characters are a bit dry but I love the twists and turns it takes!