Daily Archives: July 25, 2013


What does this word bring to mind?

The e and c seem jammed together at the beginning, perhaps a sequence from half-closed e to open c, causing the p to release, raising its stem and opening its loop to h, but after that it’s different – the o may be the open eye of surprise, the r the realization, and then e… the return to the beginning, perhaps?

What is “ec”? Hmm. That question is posed by the psychologist in Equus. He at one point enters as the young protagonist is incanting “equus, equus, eq—” (stopping abruptly on seeing the doctor) and in a later therapy session he asks, “What is eq?” The beginning of equus, ‘horse’. But what is ec? The beginning of ecstatic, eclogue, eczema, eccentric, ec cetera… sorry, et cetera.

Which is what? A certain éclat? A burst of éclair? It is actually from the Greek root ἐκ for ‘away’.

And phore? As in semaphore, chromatophore, and many others, including the pher in such things as the name Christopher. It is from Greek ϕέρειν pherein ‘carry, bear, bring forth, disclose’. But those words are nouns. This word, ecphore, is a verb.

I don’t want to get carried away here, but it does look like ecphore means ‘get carried away’. Or perhaps ‘carry away’.

Hmm, or ‘take back’? Oh, that takes me back. Song cues have a way of doing that for me. I immediately think of the end of “Cry, Baby, Cry,” from the white album by the Beatles: “Can you take me back where I came from, can you take me back…” Ah, yes, song cues are to me as the madeleine (actually toast dipped in tea) was to Marcel Proust. (Has any of you actually read that book? I haven’t. I just know the triggering moment. The rest looks awful long.)

And I won’t take back ‘take back’. Nor should I. What the heck phore? It’s apposite: ecphore, the verb, means (per Oxford) “To evoke or revive (an emotion, a memory, or the like) by means of a stimulus.” Just as the sound /ɛ/ at the front of the mouth leads to a knock at the back /k/ and then a sudden puff and opening out the front /fɔ/ before pulling back again into an echo /r/, the taste or touch or thought of one little thing can ecphore a feeling or image of an experience.

Yes, that’s true, get it right: a stimulus takes you back to the memory, but it ecphores the memory, not you. It carries it, and deposits it on you. The word truly does seem like the explosion or sneeze (“Ecphore!”) of a thought, a memory, a subroutine of feelings and entailments from the dark, musty storage basement of your brain. And the related noun is ecphory, not ecphoria. I don’t know why.

So there it is, all of a sudden. A smell, a taste, a song, a sound releases a flood of memory. You stand or sit, carried away, your shoulders twitching or fingers twiddling or head flicking back: such is the power of an eructation from the gastric tract of rumination and recollection. And I find words often have that power.