Daily Archives: May 2, 2009


The sound of this word seems to bear out its sense nicely enough: a crisp first half followed by a floppy, soft second half. Yes, the second half has two syllables to the first’s one, but since in English we set our rhythm to be roughly even between stressed syllables, you will find it takes about equal time to say each part of this compound. The long-shortshort rhythm can also give a sense of an arc through the air followed by a tumble on the ground. The shapes contrast, too, but more ironically: the curved and floppy ones are nearer the start, and the taller and straighter ones towards the back. As to its echoes, you may be forgiven for thinking first of teeth, since Crest is so commonly seen on toothpaste tubes. But skiers may think of dropping off cornices, and rock climbers of tumbling from ridges. Crest is cognate with French crête, “ridge,” after all. But ridges are not the original crests! Crest comes from Italian cresta from Latin crista, “tuft” or “plume,” and that is what it first meant in English too: the sort of crests you see on certain birds, for instance. So this word is for the birds? Some say so (picturing, for instance, a dejected rooster, also called a drooping co— oh, right, internet filters), but horses may be the mane thing (there, I’ve made the main/mane pun the one obligatory time in my life and can now leave it to its main domain, hair salons). A horse that is crestfallen is one whose crest – the topline of the neck, on which the mane grows – flops to the side rather than staying upright. Such a horse is not in a good and happy way. Nor is anyone else whose normally perky upper parts are hangling sadly (picture a centurion with head hanging low: the plume of feathers on his helmet is also called a crest). And so this word has a tone that is inevitably almost lachrymose and bespeaks dejection ever so trenchantly, perhaps as of a boy whose prizewinning jack-o’-lantern has been dropped – it is, after all, a song by The Smashing Pumpkins too.