Daily Archives: November 4, 2020

clipsome

Let not the clipsome go unclasped,
Nor yet the handsome go ungrasped;
Chase me, embrace me, squeeze me well,
And let us snug and hug a spell.

What is clipsome? It’s something that many a person feels after a long time of lockdown. No, not needing a haircut – I mean, that too, but that’s not what clipsome means. It means embraceable, huggable, claspable. Like Judy Garland and all these lads in Girl Crazy

Why is that clipsome? Well, consider the clip – I mean the kind you use to hold things together, not to cut them off. This word clip comes from an old Germanic root meaning ‘clasp, embrace, kiss’; that was its first sense in English, too. From that came a sense ‘grip tightly’, and from that came a word for devices that grip tightly. Sort of like clamps, but, at least these days, a little smaller and lighter – clamps can hold lamps, but clips are sized for lips (well, ouch, but I couldn’t not use that). And as late as the 1800s, the ‘embrace’ sense was common enough that clipsome was a sensible word meaning ‘fit to be embraced’.

In case you’re wondering about that other clip, by the way, the one you do to hair, it comes from a different root, one that comes from the sound – just like clapclickclank, et cetera. Scissors make a “clip, clip” sound (or at least they can; the ones I use tend to sound more like “snip, snip”). 

And so it just happens that we have a phonaesthemic doublet. Some words that start with cl- have to do with abrupt onset of sound or action: clack, clang, clank, clap, and the rest of the largely onomatopoeic (if regularized) bunch, plus perhaps cliff. Other words that start with cl- have to do with things being or coming together: clam, clamp, clan, clasp, cleave, clench, cling, clot, clump, cluster, clutch… There are, of course, other cl- words that have nothing to do with either (clerk, clever, clinic, clover…), but cl- tends to show up a bit more often than chance would have it with one of these two general senses. 

Which shouldn’t be so surprising: most of us don’t bear etymology in mind when speaking; we just think of words in terms of resemblance – the more words have a certain feature to them, the more we are likely to associate that feature with that sound. The bigger the cluster, the more clipsome it is.