hallux

I won’t bother teasing you on this word, as everyone who read yesterday’s tasting of vamp knows already that it’s the big toe – or, to quote the Oxford English Dictionary, “The innermost of the digits (normally five in number) of the hind foot of an air-breathing vertebrate; the great toe.”

Great toe? What’s so great about it, really? But, lowly though its object may be, this word does sound somehow darkly magical, perhaps a constellation on some mage’s tall hat – or a word from an incantation. It resounds with hollow echoes of hallows, horcrux, hex, Pollux, haruspex, helix, hallucinate, and fiat lux, but also a bit of halloumi and an Electrolux – and afflux, efflux, influx, reflux, flux, and Benelux.

The sound of the echoes collects and comes to collision much as the sound of the word itself does: first a breath, a simple sifflet of ruach, and then from it comes the voice of the vowel [æ]; it allows next the channel of a liquid, represented on the page with ll; but that pulls back to a central vowel and then it all collapses, front and back, a stop and a tight fricative: [ks].

That x also makes me think of a joint, just as the ll make me think of digits. And we must not forget that this is a word for that toad of the body, a toe: something you might stub on a lump of kjerulfine. Our word du jour is simply mystical because it’s classical; the mundane has been transmogrified.

Well, the Latin word for “big toe” was undoubtedly mundane to the ancient Romans too. Picture a Roman child wailing plaintively “Allex meus dolet!” (“My big toe hurts!”)

Oh, yeah: the Latin for “big toe” was actually allex. A variant was hallex, with an unpronounced h. But the English form is what Oxford calls “corrupted” – and I might call mutated. Transmogrified. A mystical change caused retroactively by the future incantation of its ex-chrysalid magical form. Or perhaps of that rhyme that I, like many, learned in my youngest years: in response to “So?” you recite “So, so, suck your toe all the way to Mexico.”

Hmmm… a luxury Mexican halluxigustation… a lexical hallucination of lickable halluces (that’s the plural of hallux), but perhaps an excellent elixir of relaxation… sounds great toe me.

5 responses to “hallux

  1. I’ve always wanted to write a story — preferably to be read aloud — specifically to include the line “He swore by Hallux and Pollex he would hang them” — very painful indeed and quite possibly crippling, but neither a fatal punishment nor a godsbound oath.

  2. Pingback: pollex | Sesquiotica

  3. Pingback: Halifax, Haligonian | Sesquiotica

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