Daily Archives: November 6, 2015


One of those mornings. You awaken planked on your bed, your face drained of colour, your tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth. You have clearly consumed too much. When you get up you find that your legs are jelly and you are swimming forward as much by the waving of your hair and flapping of your earlobes as by any limbs. You feel as though your body is almost entirely liquid. One look in the mirror and you know: you’re going to have to carry a comb today. Yes, my friend, you are become a ctenophore.

Ctenophore. From Greek κτενός ktenos ‘comb’ and ϕέρειν ferein ‘bear, carry’. Not that everyone who carries a comb is a ctenophore. No, the word is actually a name for a kind of jellyfish. A small one, plankton-size, measured in millimetres. They move forward by the flapping of lobes and the swaying of cilia (little hairs). Those rows of cilia – eight or more rows – give it the name, since the cilia are short and the rows look like combs. There may be more than a hundred cilia, but note that these are not centophores – actually, cent is from Latin; a proper Greek hundred-bearer would be a hectophore. But these are not that.

Regardless of how opaque their name may seem, ctenophores are transparent and largely colourless. In spite of all that, they are voracious predators. Yes, there are things even smaller than the ctenophores – other little jellyfish, for instance. Read more about them at http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/cnidaria/ctenophora.html and http://faculty.washington.edu/cemills/Ctenophores.html .

It may be tempting to think of them as like a c swallowing a t at the start of this word. But surprise! (Or not.) In English, it is the c we don’t say, leaving the word sounding similar to “ten-four”… not quite a hundred, but never mind. But in other languages, the c is said as “ka” or just “k.” Of course they didn’t stick a vowel in there in the original Greek.

We may think we can’t say “kt” at the start of a syllable, but there’s nothing actually keeping most of us from doing so except our beliefs about what sounds we can say where. If you can say “pectin” you can drop the “pe” and just say “ctin,” and if you can say “ctin” you can say “cten.” Never mind that this kind of jelly contains no pectin. Your tongue may feel as though it’s sticking to the roof of your mouth when you say /kt/, but think of this: at least you don’t have any ctenophores in it.