We have established, in my note on amphithect, that, as the 1888 Encyclopedia Britannica says, “ctenophores furnish examples of eight-sided emphithect pyramids.” We now know that this means the pyramids are oblong but are symmetrical on two axes. But apparently not everyone knows what ctenophore signifies.

First off, I must affirm that that is the correct spelling. No matter how much your eyes (or your brain) may want it to be so, centophore is incorrect. These things don’t bear hundreds; gracious, that would be macaronic. The phore is from Greek φέρω phero “carry”, and cent is a Latin root. Nope, we want the Greek root χτένα khtena, which came by way of Latin spelling to be cteno here. You could connect it with amphithect by overlap to make a portmanteau, amphithectenophore (not that anyone does). There certainly is something gluey about that ct, anyway – it suggests a tip-and-back coarticulation on the tongue, very sticky (of course, in real life Anglophones simplify the onset).

It stands to reason that, not being Latin in origin, cteno also does not relate to catena, “chain”. Nope, χτένα is “comb”.

So… does that mean your hairdresser is a ctenophore? Hmm, well, I hope not, not in the sense it’s used in English. Actually, the combs of ctenophores are more hair than comb – they are cilia, rows of hair used to propel the squishy beasties.

Yes! Ctenophores are squishy little sea critters (a jelly body with two layers of cells holding it all in) that come in a variety of shapes, amphithect pyramid being but one. Most of them have rows of cilia. They have not brains but nerve nets. And yet they’re not at the bottom of the food chain, either – they eat all sorts of things, even each other, and can eat up to ten times their own mass in a day. They typically catch their prey using glue. (Perhaps they gum them up by asking them to say ctenophore.) Some are a few millimetres wide. Some are up to 1.5 metres wide.

Boy, that really stops the conversation, doesn’t it? A jelly-like thing, reminiscent of some protozoan viewed under a microscope, but large enough to wrap around a child. So, uh, how is it that they’re not much heard of?

That ugly name might have something to do with it. But of course there are various kinds, such as the cydippids and the lobates, and the ctenophores are known more colloquially as comb jellyfish. No, though, they’re not actually jellyfish – real jellyfish are cnidarians.

Yup. Cnidarians. There is it again, that c attaching to the beginning like some sucking (perhaps squishy) sea critter. I’m just gonna have to say that it’s what you get – they’re found under the c.

One response to “ctenophore

  1. Pingback: amphithect | Sesquiotica

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