Our idea of mothers is very much shaped by the way our own respective mothers were when we were young. My mother, in the 1970s when I was in my most formative years, was winsome, sanguine, sage, easily amused, gastronomically expert, mellifluous of voice, statuesque, and lissotrichous.

No, I did not know the word lissotrichous at the time. I may have been a boy genius and super annoying and all that but come on. Here, though, see her in the summer of 1976:

Look at that lovely long brown hair. My parents were never hippies, but my mother had the look of the time, and how. She was certainly not the only woman around with long hair, but her hair was so smooth and shiny and long it was a signature feature. For the young me, a mother was a woman who laughed at the corniest jokes, cooked amazingly, sang beautifully, and had… hair as you see.

And I say why not use a long word for long hair? Lissotrichous actually means ‘smooth-haired’; it has a synonym in leiotrichous. The liss brings with it a sound of something glistening and blissfully lissome; it almost feels like long hair cascading over shoulders. The word unfortunately has the stress on the second syllable, which is probably those Greeks trying to trick us… well, the –trichous part is pronounced “trick us,” after all. So lissotrichous is “liss aw trick us.” And, like my mother’s hair, you can see its roots, which do not differ from the rest: λισσός lissos ‘smooth’ and τριχ– trikh– a declined form of θρίξ thrix ‘hair’.

When I was very young, she had her hair fashionably up, at least for a photo or two:

When I was a teenager, she turned again with the times and permed it:

But when I was at my brattiest, when she had two boys who in conjunction would have taxed the patience of a saint, when she was also teaching school kids every day, she had the kind of hair that gave Samson strength, the kind of hair that brought love to Rapunzel, the hair of a heroine in a Disney movie.

Her mother may have moved to a pageboy bob, and her grandmother may have opted for senior-citizen short, but my mother had hair equal in length to her patience, equal in smoothness to her temperament, equal in quality to her cooking. Who knows; it may have in some way inspired me, 15 years later, to grow my own hair to 24 inches long. (I do not blame her for inspiring the purple dye job. Or the choice of shirts.)

Well, that’s one way to be… hair to the tradition.

I am happy to report that she also taught me how to cook. These days my hair is short and hers is not as long as it once was, but we still have the cooking. And she’s still my wonderful Mom.

2 responses to “lissotrichous

  1. Lovely, thanks for sharing those memories.

  2. I too, enjoyed reading your recollections about your mother. Lovely tribute. Thank you.
    And I found out I pronounced the word correctly upon seeing it. Yaaayh.

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