Daily Archives: August 1, 2009


Ohhh, this is a messy-looking word. It seems sort of like the sound a Foley artist would come up with for some alien creature’s evisceration of a particularly pyknic space cadet. The effect is as gruesome whether you construe the ch as an affricate or say it properly as [k]. Dear, dear… that spl seems so often to come with messes: splat, splash, splatter, splodge, splutter; even splay and split can be messy, and spleen has its own unpleasantness. And Let me ‘splain, officer is just the beginning of a mess that will take some guts to deal with.

Which brings us back to splanchnic. No, it’s not an alien’s picnic in a splatter flick. If it provokes a visceral reaction, then that’s appropriate: it means “visceral” – of, involving, or related to your innards. It comes from Greek splagkhnon (the g – gamma – is pronounced as a velar nasal before the kh – a chi), which refers to those parts which, when we find them in edible animals, we refer to as organ meats (ignoring the fact that muscles are also organs).

Hm! Well, this word does seem to have sent them through an organ grinder, or at least to have monkeyed around with them so that they’re wurst for the wear. In any event it doesn’t have much vowel movement; in fact, with three consonants, one vowel, three consonants (we’re counting sounds, not letters), one vowel, and one more consonant – that’s seven to two – it has quite the case of consonantipation. Yet mixed with that partially eaten lunch is some panic; if you hoped your plans would be a cinch, you have some sorting out to do… in order not to snap at the clinch you need to get your guts in order. And that takes heart, intestinal fortitude, and, well, lungs, liver, kidneys…


Classical music lovers, on seeing this word, may think first of one of the best-quality labels in the business. (I used to fantasize about buying their entire catalogue.) In uncapitalized usage, this word is halfway to contronymic: it refers to two things that, while in some ways related in nature, are really quite different. In art and sacred things, nimbus names what is more commonly called a halo: that lambent circle sitting on a saint’s head (one sees no nimbus on bimbos – you’ll want to be there in the nimbus when the saints go marching in). It is often seen spoked like a motion picture reel, or even as a full-body glow such as on the Virgin of Guadalupe (she didn’t need a tanning bed, either!). In more mundane matters, however, nimbus refers to a rain cloud.

Funny to think that there are two contrasting things commonly depicted above people’s heads in cartoons – the one a golden ring indicating innocence, the other a dark cloud, perhaps raining, indicating a glum or bitter mood or state of fortune (perhaps getting a B minus) – that can both be called nimbus. Does either really seem to match the word? The glow is typically called halo now, which is less equivocal and has that air of heavenly breath in its saying, and that leaves nimbus for the clouds – but it’s no longer a formal meteorological designation by itself; it shows in compounds such as nimbostratus and cumulonimbus to indicate that the kind of cloud in question rains (though the rain may be virga, not necessarily of Guadalupe). But, again, does nimbus sound like rain? Rather more like distant thunder, perhaps, with just a last hiss of preciptation on the [s]. At least the shape of the word has some cloudiness or raininess to it in the n and m. And can you guess which language has lent us this word? Yes, of course. It’s classical, naturally.