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A.Word.A.Day--hibernaculum

Pronunciation RealAudio

hibernaculum (hi-buhr-NAK-yuh-luhm) noun, also hibernacle

1. Winter quarters of a hibernating animal.

2. The protective covering of an animal or plant bud that protects it during its dormant stage in the winter.

[From Latin hibernaculum (winter residence), from hibernare (to spend the winter). Ultimately from Indo-European root ghei- (winter) that is the ancestor of words such as, chimera (literally a lamb that is one winter, or one year old) and the Himalayas, from Sanskrit him (snow) + alaya (abode).]

"Ground squirrels, marmots, woodchucks and chipmunks retreat into underground hibernacula for five to seven months and cool their body temperatures by 30 to 40 deg. C."
Brian M. Barnes; How Animals Survive the Big Chill; The Washington Post; Mar 4, 1990.

"Dudley council is to create an hibernaculum for several thousand of the creatures after a tremor which hit the Black Country last year ruined their already crumbling residence."
Earth Moves For Bat Colony; The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland); Aug 28, 2003.

What makes a word difficult? What makes it unusual? Often I get mail from readers asking why one would want to use all those unusual words I feature in AWAD.

Well, an unusual or difficult word is one that's not in common use. Who's to say that "hibernaculum" is a more difficult word than, say, "curriculum". It's only because it's not used more often that a word appears esoteric, odd, or strange to us. From a word's point of view, it's catch 22. It's not used often because it's not a common word -- it's not a common word because it's not used often.

And that's what we try to remedy when we feature those words here. Give them a spin - that's what they're for. That's the sole purpose of their existence. They're here to serve you - in your daily conversation and formal speeches, casual writing and official memos. You might have to explain the word at first, but it may not take long for it to get wider currency (from Indo-European root kers- : to run).

This week we feature five words that are ready to run. Give them a chance. And remember, you don't have to use a word in its literal sense. You can be creative. For example, there's no reason to limit today's word for non-human animals. You can very well use it to describe your winter hideout.

-Anu Garg

X-Bonus

A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes. -Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

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