Daily Archives: October 5, 2020

iopterous

We cannot live a perfect live without a little flash of purple flying past.

In the things of ordinary days – walking, working, shopping, dining – our lives are filled with browns, greys, greens, blues, and whites, yellows at times, and the reds that make us turn our heads. And this is all well and good in the mean quotidian, but the long slender fingers of the day deserve the occasional amethyst ring; the plain prose page of labour and leisure is ornamented best with the flash of an iopterous lexeme.

Iopterous! This is not a linguistic term, not usually – it is better fitted for entomology than for etymology. But I can tell you what ancient wings fluttered to give it to us. You may recognize pter, from helicopter and pterodactyl (and archaeopteryx and lepidoptera and a few others); it comes from Greek πτερόν pterón ‘wing’. But io? Is it from Io, the cow-horned maiden of Greek myth, now the namesake of a Jovian moon? No. Or Ios, an island in the Cyclades? No. It comes from ἴον íon ‘violet’. What is iopterous is violet-winged.

And what is iopterous? A violet-crowned woodnymph, and a varied bunting, and a violet-backed starling. And more kinds of insects than I can count – butterflies, dragonflies, moths, wasps, mantises, beetles, stick insects, and who knows what all else: they all have varieties with purple wings, humble little bugs soaring the air on flitting flashes of the royal colour.

And, of course, many a little – or not-so-little – word, a lexical rarity drawn from the jewel-box to set in a sentence as its most precious thing. Use them rarely and use them wisely and they will glint and glimmer and flicker and flash in the dark letters and white background of your page; use them to excess and you have a swarm of bugs, and you will need a bunting or starling to feast them away.