Daily Archives: May 4, 2012

pollex

This word makes me think of online polling, formal or informal – all those thumbs-ups (which, in a place like Facebook, can lead to useful cross-pollination). In fact, I could take it for the name of a polling company (like Pollara) or the charge card they put their expenses on (or the drug they take to deal with hay fever – sorry, that’s Pollinex). But you know it’s possible to push and pull with polling by expert pollution of the lexis; in a popularity poll of pollices, who polices the policies that, when you peel away the pixels, appal or appeal to hoi polloi?

Ah, push pollsters. I’d love to place those lickspittle pillocks on poles and express them out of the polis. But why pay the expense of the deportation? Let them thumb their way out of town, pollex by pollex on the turnpike.

So what is a pollex? Here’s another hint:

Jack Horner minor,
A corner-bound diner,
In pudding of Noel delighted;
Pollex introduced,
A gage he produced,
And thereby his goodness indited.

Indeed, that humble digital member, the toe of the hand (indeed its hallux), has this alternate name taken straight from the Latin unaltered. How important it sounds! Mark Mandel has marked it: “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.”

I find this a very stylish-looking word, that nice primped p in front, the clean o following, then the modernist or pin-stripe ll, and for a bit of variation the e; at last, that most eye-catching letter, x. And it starts with a clean pop of a /p/, runs through a tongue-tip liquid, then hits voiceless stop at the back and returns to fricative at tongue-tip. We will ignore just how similar it is to bollocks. Anyway, the plural of bollocks is not bollices (though the thought amuses me), but – in keeping with the Latin -ex pattern – the plural of pollex is pollices, because in English we just lurrrrve taking plural inflection undigested from soure languages.

Pollex is not a very frequently used word, to be sure, though Romance languages have cognates of it as standard. It happens, though, that as a I thumbed through the web looking for instances, I found that POLLEX is also the name of the Polynesian Lexicon Project, a website I shall surely return to to find out more about Gilbertese, Hawai‘ian, and most immediately Maori. Thumbs up for descriptive linguistics!