Daily Archives: October 20, 2008


It may have the sound of a cloak, but its object is best cloaked; the vague resonances of chocolate are best kept at bay, and the easy anagram “lo, caca” is apposite, if puerile. Makers of laxatives seem to have found a certain effect from the combination of [k] and [l], given the names some of them give their products, and this word may partake of any such effect as well. The aspirated voiceless stops, the first of which saps the voicing from the following liquid, give a crisply whispered air that a synonym such as “sewer” can never quite attain. Five of the six letters have rounded shapes; the exception is the linear (but liquid) l. Make of that what you will. This word, though originally applied to public sewers, is now most likely most familiar to zoologists, especially ornithologists and monotremologists but also ichthyologists and reptilologists, due to its application to a feature their subjects have and humans haven’t. Classic historians may think immediately of the cloaca maxima, the great Roman sewer, and indeed the word has come to us straight through from Latin, undigested. In Latin it was derived from a verb meaning “purge.”