Who can bear life adjacent to the jaculiferous? Who would not rather let sleeping fugu lie than suffer the slings and arrows of tetrodotoxin? Who would not reject a brush with a porcupine? And yet it can be so hard to spot them, swimming through social spheres innocuously until someone darts an odd glance or malapert word… and then the spines come out.

Well, there’s the long and the short of it: It can take a sharp eye to spot the danger, to see what will lie and what will dart. In Latin, jacere (really iacere, since Latin did not have separate letters for i and j, and what we now write as j was a consonantal version said like “y”) with a long e before the r (often represented now as jacēre) means ‘lie’ – as in lie there. Something that lies next to something else is adjacent. But jacere (iacere) with a short e (sometimes set down as jacĕre for clarity) means ‘throw’. As in alea jacta est, ‘the die is cast’. Modern words such as reject derive from that root. The Latin word jaculare is derived from it; it is a verb meaning ‘dart’. The noun jacula means the noun ‘dart’.

There are a few words that derive from this. Today’s word is one such. It combines with Latin ferre ‘bear, carry’ (ferre is related to the verb bear way back) to give us jaculiferous, ‘dart-bearing’ (if it were a common word, the puncturing would surely lead to occasional misconstrual as draculiferous, but it’s not). It refers to things that have darts or dart-like spines on them. An example is the genus Diodon, which contains the pufferfish, among which is one kind of fugu, a name for a few different blowfish that bear a deadly tetrodotoxin and just happen to be a famous item in Japanese cuisine. Of course you try to eat the parts without the toxin, or with just enough toxin to give you a slight tingle in the lips without actually, you know, paralyzing your respiratory system and killing you. As happened to the Kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII, who rolled the dice (so to speak) and finally lost.

And we thought porcupines were hazardous. Oh, yes, porcupines are jaculiferous too. They don’t puff up like the fish, but they have the dart-like spines (the fact that they don’t throw them does not disqualify them). Both kinds of porcupines count. Say, did you know that New World porcupines are only distantly related to Old World porcupines? Old World porcupines are Hystricidae; New World porcupines are Erethizontidae. Something to think about when you’re pulling out the quills.

Jaculiferous things are best avoided. Jaculiferous people (figuratively speaking, of course) are also usually better treated with circumspection. But, as with the written form of the word, we carry on with life in the midst of them. We are always rolling the dice, never quite sure for whom the darts are borne.

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