Daily Archives: June 7, 2009

dehisce

This word suffers from a surfeit of symbols for sibilants: why wrap it up in sce for a simple [s], especially when the preceding vowel is short? Well, it does come from Latin dehiscere, and the ere is the infinitive ending, which we don’t need in English. But the Romans didn’t say the sc as simple [s]; the c was [k] to the classical tongue. And so from the close, tight alveolar fricative the tongue dropped back to a velar stop and then opened up to a vowel, a trill or tap, a vowel, and the mouth was, by grace of the suffix, at the last agape. Now it simply closes down in a hiss, without taking the risk of ending in isc. How ironic. For dehisce means “open up,” “gape,” “burst open”; botanists use it to refer to what many seed-pods ultimately do. You may have seen it happen in alien horror flicks, sometimes to bits of anatomy that really shouldn’t. But it can also be a fancy term for what ecdysiasts do.