Daily Archives: February 11, 2009


A biological word that looks and sounds much ruder than it should. When you see it, you may think of forfeit and fornicate, or perhaps formicate (which could make you even antsier). If bifurcate comes to mind, at least you have something like the right image. If you hear it said, with its unstressed short lax vowel in the last syllable, it could be taken for an expression of exasperation: “ff.. aw, forget [it]” – or perhaps something a bit coarser than that. Esperantists may recognize the rude autocopulation imprecation forfikigi. But again, the overtone of fork will get you farther. There’s no hint of the shape of the signified in the sound; it has those faffing, fluffing [f]s, then two voiceless stops – you need to go to the Latin source, forfex, to see something like shears. In that word you see the scissors at the end, and especially in italics you may be prompted to view the f‘s as tresses recently trimmed. The definitions split in two directions: some sources say “shaped like scissors”; others declare “deeply forked, like a bird’s tail” – such as a scissortail flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus, which sounds like a concupiscent dinosaur or perhaps a play by Seneca).