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May 13, 2019
This week’s theme
Portmanteaux or blend words

This week’s words
hermaphrodite
meeple
cremains
shero
prissy

hermaphrodite
Hermaphroditus
Marble copy of a fresco from Herculaneum
Sculptor unknown
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Previous week’s theme
Words from singer-songwriter Roy Zimmerman’s songs
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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

You might think that coining a blended name is a recent fad: there have been Brangelina (Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie) and Bennifer (Ben Affleck + Jennifer Lopez), Javanka (Jared + Ivanka), and more.

But this thing has been around for a while. It goes back to, well, Greek mythology.

Meet Hermaphroditus. He was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. The nymph Salmacis fell in love with him and prayed to gods to be forever united with him. Be careful what you wish for. Gods answered her prayers and united -- fused -- them both into one. And that’s how we got the word hermaphrodite for someone who has physical traits of both male and female.

This doesn’t just apply to names. We coin words in the English language all the time by fusing two (or more) existing words into one. That’s how we got motel (motor + hotel) and advertorial (advertisement + editorial) and bankster (banker + gangster).

This week we’ll see five other words that were coined in this manner. Such a word is also called a portmanteau.

hermaphrodite

PRONUNCIATION:
(huhr-MAH-fruh-dyt)

MEANING:
noun:1. An animal or plant having both male and female reproductive organs.
 2. Someone or something having opposite qualities or characteristics.
adjective:1. Having both male and female reproductive organs.
 2. Having opposite qualities or characteristics.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Hermaphroditus, a blend of Hermes + Aphroditus. Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes (who also gave us hermeneutic and hermetic) and Aphrodite (who gave us aphrodisiac). Earliest documented use: 1400.

NOTES:
Nowadays, the term intersex is preferred over hermaphrodite when it’s applied to humans.

USAGE:
“To happy music, pretty boys, girls, and hermaphrodites performed a weird group dance on stage.”
Regina Glei; Dome Child; CreateSpace; 2011.

“Balzac described Natty Bumppo, Cooper’s half-white Christian, half-Indian hero, known by his Indian name of Hawkeye, as ‘a magnificent moral hermaphrodite, between the savage and civilized states’.”
David Burke; Writers in Paris; Counterpoint; 2008.

See more usage examples of hermaphrodite in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
How simple life becomes when things like mirrors are forgotten. -Daphne du Maurier, novelist (13 May 1907-1989)

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