Monthly Archives: April 2021

stellification, stelligerate

You have, perhaps, heard of “an exaltation of larks.” But what of exaltation for a lark? Of exalting words for wanton gratification? What of the stellification of the lexis: the consecration of words into a constellation, amplifying the merely empirical into the empyrean – a dark purple vault of prose into the universe? The ecstasy of explication? The apotheosis of apothegms and epigraphs and epochal epopees? Dammit, why have all these words unless we can shout them to the heavens, lift them to the dark skies, turn the ink traces on the white pages into so many mythical figures pinpricked in the nightly dome? Let language be stelligerate when it may!

Look, read this, from Cold Modernism: Literature, Fashion, Art by Jessica Burstein:

Her lexicographical prowess made her eerily fast on the cryptonymous counterpunch; she could feint to the distaff, drop to her knees, and make like to pray. A swift consult with Messieurs Furnivall, Murray, Onions, and Trench, and she’d be back bobbing and weaving before they knew what hit them. Diagnosing modern verse as supine, moschiferous, and polysarcous, Loy infused her poetry with illicit shards; the result was a disturbing mongrel, with bark no less stelligerate than bite. Taxonomers then entrenched her as the preeminent litterateur of traumatropism, having grown some peculiar poetry from the bed of a wound.

Burstein’s whole book isn’t as stelligerate (or belligerent) as that, of course; Burstein is plainly aiming to make the passage an icon – in the manner of a constellation more than a painting, perhaps – of the stylings of Mina Loy, whom it is describing. And, given the opportunity to let off some fireworks, why should one not take it?

I won’t define or etymologize all of the words in the passage for you; Google works fine, and I know you have an internet connection. But I am here for stelligerate – and for stellification while I’m at it. 

Stelligerate is a word seldom used now (one might declare it obsolete, but clearly it’s used more than never); it means, as best the Oxford English Dictionary can conjecture, ‘exalted to the heavens’. It comes right from Latin stelliger, ‘star-bearing’, from stella ‘star’ and the suffix -ger ‘bearing’ (as in verbigerate, but otherwise not much seen in English).

Stellification, as you may well have guessed from the stell- and the -ification, means ‘making a star’ or, perhaps more precisely, ‘placing among the stars’ – in other words, making something (or someone) into a constellation. Its related verb is stellify

Of course there’s an important difference between making something into stars and making something into a constellation: when you identify a figure as a constellation, you use stars that are already there. They have been burning in their separate distant places in the universe for eons, and from the terrestrial perspective you have decided that their perceptual alignment represents the figure. It’s all in your head; the stars exist independent of, and unmoved by, your fancy.

And so, too, we might say, when we use such stelligerate verbal stylings: the words were there from ages past, and we merely draw on them to exalt what we describe. But it’s not quite the same. A word exists only because of human minds and only as humans use it. You do not keep a star alive by using it in a constellation, but when you exalt a word, you fuel it. As it shines the light you want, it burns not the hydrogen of distant galaxies but the oxygen of your lungs – and the electricity of your mind and our millions of glowing screens. What a lark of exaltation.


The rain rattles the window like words heard once and half forgotten: the speech of strangers in calm crowds, the arcane ingredients in ancient recipes, an epic poet’s hapax legomena. Outside, the world twists in the cold wet dark; within, I am warm and I will sleep well, caressed by the berceuse of the pleuvisaud.

Pleuvisaud? Surely you have wondered from time to time what the mot juste might be for the sound of rain on a roof or windowpane. If you Google this question, you will encounter, among others, this word pleuvisaud, mentioned on Stack Exchange (“I don’t remember where I’ve seen this, but, ‘pleuvisaud’ has been used to describe the pleasant sound of rain. In particular, the comforting sound of rain on a roof while one is inside”) or Quora (“I have seen the word pleuvisaud used to describe the sound of rain on a roof. Unfortunately I don’t know the source. But it’s a rather lovely word”). If you further search the word, you will find a page and a half of results, mostly apparently copied by aggregator sites from Stack Exchange, but also a few uses in fiction by one author, someone who goes by Emma_ChrisWay:

Shaking, Zeta heads back to the cafe. She sits by the window as rain starts to drum on the bay window

“I used to love that sound,” she thinks. “Pleuvisaud.”

(Deep in the Heart of Texas)

Meanwhile, Kristen lounges cosily in her family’s Camper van overlooking the downy Mendip Hills. ‘Pleuvisaud’ she muses to herself as the rain tip-taps comfortingly on the tin roof.

(Dark Night of the Soul)

Sergio and Jim embrace as big fat drops of rain fall on the roof of the cabin. ‘Pleuvisaud’ sighs Sergio. ‘What did you say?’ asks Jim quizzically. Sergio turns to Jim with a gentle smile ‘Pleuvisaud; the comforting sound of rain on a roof.’

(Waves of Freedom)

It appears that these three works of fiction are the source for the respondent(s) on Stack Exchange and Quora; it’s not impossible that at least one of them, identified as Emma Davies, is the same person as Emma_ChrisWay. But tracing such a detail is not always easier than, say, knowing where a particular raindrop formed.

And where did Emma_ChrisWay get the word? Not in any dictionary to which I have recourse. For that matter, the morphology of the word is not quite transparent. The pleuv- seems to suggest rain, although the usual form of the root is pluv- (as in pluvious); an exception is pleuvoir, the French verb for ‘rain’ (as in il pleut, ‘it’s raining’). The -isaud (or perhaps -visaud) doesn’t match any root I can find or am familiar with, though it has a faint sound of “sound” and a passing glimpse of the start of audio

There is no word I can find in English or any other language that closely resembles this word. Perhaps there is one somewhere that’s similar but just different enough that I can’t manage to find it. Or perhaps not. Perhaps Emma_ChrisWay decided that the sound needed a word and determined to make one she found suitable. And if she did, who am I to gainsay the effort?

So we don’t know just where pleuvisaud came from, any more than we know the lakes that a raindrop evaporated from. But listen: it sounds right. We need it. Take it, and rest.

gauntlet, gantlet

I watched a documentary on Amy Winehouse recently, and it really drove home the downside of being famous: running the gauntlet of paparazzi everywhere you go, running the gauntlet of criticism, running the… what?

Running the gantlet? You sure? Isn’t it, like, a metaphor of running between lines of knights who are slapping you with their metal gloves? You know, gauntlets, from the same root that gives us modern French gant ‘glove’?

Just kidding. I know very well what it refers to originally: a form of punishment where someone (almost always a man, and most often a soldier or sailor) would have to walk (or run, if he could) between two lines of soldiers (or sailors, or others) who had sticks, whips, or similar weapons, and who would beat the man as he passed between them. Variations of this punishment have been around for millennia; the Romans would even at times subject every tenth man of a unit to a determinedly fatal version of this, meaning – yes – it was used for literally decimating them. (There, doesn’t that make your pedantic heart happy?) And while there were many kinds of weapons used, and while gauntlets can be formidable weapons (just try being slapped by one and see), gauntlets were not used for this and are not related to it.

So why do we say run the gauntlet? Because the original word doesn’t get used for anything else, and it sounds like gauntlet, and gauntlet has a similarly menacing air (see throw down the gauntlet).

So the original word is gantlet, right?

Nah. Gantlet is a variant spelling of gauntlet. Some usage guides – particularly some American ones – have counselled writers to reserve gauntlet for the gloves and gantlet for the punishment. It’s the same kind of split as between person and parson or between to and too – only in this case, first, two different words merged into one, and then the one word split… but not the same way as it joined. The other word that got absorbed into gauntlet, before gantlet split back off it (inasmuch as it has), was gantlope, also spelled gantelope.

Only gantlope isn’t the original form either – not quite. It came from Swedish gatlopp, from gata ‘lane’ and lopp ‘course’. So this Swedish word has, over time, passed between many hands and been beaten into a new shape: somehow it got n slapped onto it, and the lopp became lope (reasonably enough; English lope comes from the same root as Swedish lopp), and from that, of course, it ran on into gauntlet.

But run the gantlope did get established in English. It was used starting in the 1600s, and you can find it in texts ever since… but fading out over time as it was replaced (starting soon after its appearance in the 1600s) with gauntlet, a word that had already been around in English for a couple of centuries.

You can see, certainly, that gantlet is marginally closer to gantlope than gauntlet is. But you can also see that if you want to be fussy about it, you can go with gantlope. After all, dictionaries from publishers such as Oxford and Merriam-Webster will tell you that gantlet is a variant spelling of gauntlet, and they will tell you that run the gauntlet means ‘go through an ordeal’ (it’s almost never used literally anymore, of course). And they will also present gantlope (or gantelope) for your use as you wish. 

But it’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-in-you-don’t situation: if you put run the gantlope, many readers will say “Huh?” or “You got that wrong”; if you put run the gantlet, many will think it’s a misspelling; if you put run the gauntlet, a few will hasten to point out that you are an ignorant barbarian deserving of being slapped by lines of soldiers. Still, words change and phrases change. The proof is in the pudding; you might as well just do or die.*

*Originally “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” and “Theirs but to do and die


“So you’ve persuaded the famous Narcissa to join us,” I said.

It was our word tasting Zoom chat, and a few of us had already assembled – including Maury, whom I was addressing. But Narcissa was not there yet.

“Yes,” Maury said. “I did tell her when it was, and she’s usually punctual – oh, that must be her.” He looked to the side and picked something up. His phone. It had apparently vibed with a message. “Oh dear.”

“She won’t be joining us?” I said.

“No, she will, anon, but this makes me wince just a little.” He held up his phone so we could read the text message: “Sorry – will connect in a minute. Spent the afternoon pouring over cookbooks.”

Jess, in her frame, peered, then sat back. “Pouring. Oof. Good thing Margot’s not here.”

“Narcissa is usually more attentive to spelling,” Maury said. “Most odd.”

Arlene, looking over Jess’s shoulder, said, “It should be poring without a u, right?” Jess looked up at her and nodded slowly.

“Perhaps she’s saying she can live with or without u,” I said, and then sang a little quote from U2: “With or without you, ohhh…”

“More like can’t live without u,” Jess said. She had a point.

“So does this have to do with pores,” Arlene said, “like…” She held her sleeveless forearm forth to the camera.

“No,” said Maury, “that’s from Greek; this is not.”

“Germanic,” I said. “Related to peer and, somehow, I think, to spoor.”

“I’m not sure there are any real traces to connect it to spoor,” Maury said. “Just suggestive resemblances.”

“Anyway,” I said, “an old root for looking closely, examining. Not related to the word for flowing fluid.”

“It’s kind of amazing that the spelling hasn’t converged with that kind of pour,” Arlene said.

Jess looked at her. “It seems like that’s what it’s in the process of doing.”

“That was an alternate spelling in earlier centuries, too, when the spellings were less fixed,” I said.

Arlene giggled. “I just… what do people think they’re doing when they spell it that way? Do they think their attention is a fluid, and they’re pouring it over the books, or…”

She was interrupted by the boo-bleep of another person connecting. A woman, probably over 40, with carefully large hair, carefully bright lips, carefully shaded eyes, and carelessly loud glasses, appeared among us.

“Hello, Narcissa,” Maury said. “I take it you’ve been planning some cooking?”

“Hello!” Narcissa said. “Hello, hello,” she said to the others of us. “Not just planning, Maurice. I made a bundt cake, some zabaglione, and, just now, a cosmopolitan.” She raised a coupe with red liquid in it and red lip prints on it and had a sip.

“I wouldn’t think that would require too much bibliotechnical spelunking,” Maury said.

“Not at all,” Narcissa said. “Quick and dirty.”

Maury nodded. “…You said you had been poring over cookbooks.”

Narcissa looked at him over the top of her glasses – the ones on her face and the one in her hand. “Maurice.” She held up a finger, set down her glass and disappeared for a moment. She returned with three books, each one open to some spot in the middle. She held up the first: it showed a recipe for bundt cake, apparently well used, with batter droplets and smears on it. She set that down and held up the second: its glossy recipe for zabaglione was bedaubed with a streak of something frothy. She set that down and held up the third: a little red hardcover displaying a recipe for a cosmopolitan, with red liquid still dripping off it. She set that down and retook her seat. “I need a decent cookbook holder. Every time I work with liquids I end up getting some on the book.”

“Quick and dirty,” Jess said.

“Two of my favourite adjectives,” Narcissa said. “And that is why, Maurice, I said I had been pouring over cookbooks. Really, my lad… you’re usually more attentive to spelling.” She smiled slightly and raised her glass.

stanch, staunch

Many a stanch defender of the language will try to staunch the flow of misspellings.

Wait. No. Many a staunch defender of the language will try to stanch the flow of misspellings.


It’s like a gauntlet/gantlet and pour over/pore over thing. Every lexical fussbudget knows that. The sight of the wrong one is like aluminum foil touching a filling.

And if you feel that way about staunch and stanch, you… are not going to like what you find if you look in, say, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary or the Oxford English Dictionary or, um, the ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary, or… let’s see, what else is on my shelf here…

Now, yes, it’s true, for the adjective – as in a staunch defender – the spelling with the u is the more usual one, and the spelling without the u is the alternate, whereas for the verb – as in stanch the flow – as well as for the related noun (yes, there is one; it means ‘dam’ or a similar waterway impedance) the spelling without the u is the more usual and the spelling with it is the alternate. But “alternate” does not mean “wrong.”

So how did it get to be this way? Is this like one of those cleave and cleave things, where two different words happened to converge on a spelling? Or is it one of those isle and island things, where one word was mistakenly thought to be related to the other and got a letter added where it doesn’t belong (in case you’re wondering, isle is the one that has a historical s and island is the one where the s was mistakenly stuffed in)? Nope. It’s one of those things more like person and parson – or, for that matter, more like to and too. They come from the same thing, but the spelling has diverged with the usage. Only in the case of sta(u)nch, the split is still underway. It’s like seeing an amoeba in the middle of, you know, doing it. Or like seeing a stream at a fork. Though, really, it seems to have stagnated: both spellings have stood for both senses for centuries.

In the case of stanch and staunch, the source is words having to do with stopping the flow of water, damming up, et cetera, and, in adjectival form, being impervious to leaking – which is the same dam thing. The Old French form was estanche for the adjective and estanchier for the verb. Its ultimate Latin source might be sto ‘I stand’ or stagnum ‘pool’ – it’s not quite clear. But we do know that the related Italian word is stancare (verb) and stanco (adjective), both translating as ‘weary’. Which may seem suitable if you are wearying of all this lexical hair-splitting.

But if you are the sort who likes to make and maintain small distinctions – one spelling for the verb (and noun) and one for the adjective – well, this one is for you. Specifically, adjective is for u. But remember one thing: though Americans can get away with saying the stanch spelling to rhyme with ranch, you will always be safe (except from people who don’t know any better) saying either spelling to rhyme with haunch.

Although, really, you’ll be safest just avoiding the whole issue and using words like dam or stop up or stalwart.


Zenography looks like it should be writing about Zen Buddhism, or a Zen style of writing, or something like that. Which would be what, exactly? I remember happily reading books of Zen poetry from my Dad’s library (acquired in the coursework for his PhD in Religious Studies), but as enjoyable as they were, the point they all made is that studying Zen by studying Zen poetry is like studying astronomy by examining telescopes. I also remember there used to be a travel agency on Spadina Avenue in Toronto that declared itself to be Zen Travel, and I thought, “Oh, you go in, they tell you you’re already where you want to go, and in exchange you give them all you have, which is nothing.”

But no, by Jupiter, zenography is not that. Zenography is different from Zen. Zenography is not like studying telescopes, it’s true – but telescopes will help you with zenography. Because zenography is the study of Jupiter. As in the planet. The big planet. The planet with the eye. A planet that, given the right light, you can even see with your naked eye – though a telescope will help a lot.

By the way, the word Zen – not as in zenography – is the Japanese version of the Sanskrit original dhyana, which means ‘meditation’. Zen is not an idea or a philosophy; it’s a practice of meditation: don’t just do something, sit there. The aim is to achieve enlightenment, a true understanding of the fundamental oneness of everything (here’s a Zen joke: a monk goes up to a hot dog vendor and says “Make me one with everything”) – or, really, the fundamental lack of substance and permanence in everything, but at the same time and inevitably a unity: no two things are really two things. There are two main schools of how to achieve enlightenment. One school focuses on approaching it gradually, sort of like getting halfway there, and halfway there from that, and then half of the remaining way, asymptotically approaching complete insight. The other school focuses on paradoxes as keys for sudden awakening – the famous koans, such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “What was your face before your parents were born?”

But, again, this is not that. OK. So why is the study of Jupiter called zenography? Well, if we called the planet by the Greek equivalent, it would be easier to understand. You may remember that the Roman gods were basically rebranded versions of the Greek ones. Ares became Mars. Aphrodite became Venus. And Zeus, the top dog of the gods, the bringer of mirth and hurler of thunderbolts and assaulter of countless women, became Jupiter.

So you might think that the study of Jupiter could be Zeusography. And you’d be on the right track. But in Classical Greek, the combining form of Ζεύς is Ζηνο-, Zéno-, for reasons that would probably make your eyes glaze over. So writing about Zeus – or Jupiter – is zenography, and anything centring on Jupiter is zenocentric, and if there were a magazine all about Jupiter it might be called National Zenographic or something.

This might lead to a couple further questions. One is “Is this related to zenith?” The answer is no. Zenith  traces to Arabic samt, as does azimuth. Another is “What about that Zeno guy?” And the answer to that is… yeah! The ancient Greek thinker we call Zeno was actually Ζήνων, Zénōn, a name derived from Zeus, sort of like how Christian is derived from Christ.

Do you remember what Zeno is famous for? He was a clever thinker and liked his paradoxes, and the best-known one of them is basically that if you’re going somewhere, you first have to get halfway there, and then you have to get half of the rest of the way, and then you have to get half of that, and so on, so that conceptually, you never get all the way there – it’s asymptotic. But of course, in real life, you just defy the paradox and get there. Still, the idea is rather enlightening, isn’t it, by Jupiter? And so we find a connection between Zen and zenography after all… which was perhaps inevitable, as they were never really two different things, more than anything else is.


If you’re like a lot of people, defenestrate is one of your favourite words. It has that marvellous scuffling sound, more finicky than finesse, looking like an ungainly portmanteau of defense, demonstrate, and perhaps a few others such as infestation and finasteride, and all of that going right out the window – for who does not appreciate the image of throwing things or people out of windows?

Its construction is straightforward enough. The fenestr- root comes from Latin fenestra ‘window’ and can be seen reflected in languages such as French (fenêtre), Italian (finestra), Portuguese (fenestra and also fresta), and even Swedish (fönster), German (Fenster), Dutch (venster), and Welsh (ffenstr). Not English, though – our window comes from Old Norse vindauga (‘wind-eye’), as does, among others, Irish fuinneog. The -ation suffixation is plain enough. The de- may seem odd; for one thing, fenestration refers to the windows of a building, and to fenestrate is to put windows in something, so defenestration might seem to refer to removing windows; but for another, the usual prefix for ‘going out’ is e-, as in eject, or ex-, as in expel. But oh well. Exfenestrate has not caught on, and the probably better-formed efenestrate just does not have that same something that defenestrate has. Anyway, the de- also connotes a downward trajectory, which is usual in such instances.

But if we have defenestrate for throwing out a window, why not words for throwing into a window, or other window-related actions? 

As it turns out, the field of such lexemes is not altogether barren. As Haggard Hawks tweeted, adfenestrate means “to sneak through an open window.” That uses ad-, meaning ‘to’ (e.g., administer). Others suggest themselves readily – and I and others have suggested them. Infenestrate, reasonably enough, means ‘throw in through a window’, and I didn’t have to make it up, although it has been pointed out that perfenestrate might be better formed for that (with per- as in perfuse). For completeness, I suggest that perifenestrate (with peri- as in periphery) would be ‘throw around a window’, parafenestrate (with para- as in paralegal) would be ‘throw in the general vicinity of a window’, antifenestrate (with anti- as in antipope) would be ‘throw against a window’, antefenestrate (with ante- as in antechamber) would be ‘throw in front of a window’, and profenestrate (with pro- as in projectile) would be ‘throw towards a window’. 

To all this Haggard Hawks added that presumably counterfenestrate would be “to throw someone back through the window they’ve just been thrown out of” (it occurs to me that refenestrate could also work for that, though perhaps that’s better to mean ‘put back into a window’ – or ‘put a window back in’, probably after you knocked it out with all this throwing of things). Mededitor threw in penultifenestrate, “throwing someone out of the next-to-last window.” I tossed on interfenestrate, ‘throw out one window and into another’. Brian Baresch suggested confenestrate “for throwing someone away from a window, possibly someone who was trying to escape thereby (efenestrate).” And Mary Hrovat pushed it towards adjectives: subfenestrate to mean ‘below the window’ and superfenestrate to mean ‘above the window’.

As I consider further, we could also have transfenestrate, ‘throw across a window’, abfenestrate, ‘get away from a window’, and, somehow, though I can’t quite picture it, intrafenestrate, ‘throw within a window’ (well, perhaps this word would be better as an adjective meaning ‘within a window’). And, just to get macaronic and borrow from Greek, if you throw (or perhaps even stick) something onto a window, we can say you epifenestrate it.

All of which is well and good, but of course we know that most of these have limited use. Not that defenestrate gets all that many occasions for actual referential use – but it sure has its aspirational value.

al dente: the metal version

You may remember my quick pronunciation tip video for al dente, wherein I make it clear that it’s not said like “Al Dante”:

Well, last week a guy named Robert emailed me about that video. “I am creating a joke metal project that is themed around Pasta,” he wrote. “Very silly, very fun. I was wondering if I could use audio from that video (basically voice clips) within a song of mine?”

Of course he could. I could not possibly say no. That sort of thing is very much to my taste.

So he did. He made it the middle of three pieces in a YouTube EP. You don’t have to listen to it – not everyone likes metal music – but I think it’s fun, and it’s less than three minutes, anyway. Here:


There are always rules, of course – rules about how to do things and rules within rules and rules about making rules. A common and important question is “Who enforces the rules?” But another question, not common but also valid – for different reasons – is “Who enfarces the rules?”

You don’t know this word enfarce? Of course you don’t; don’t pretend you do – no one uses it anymore. Until now, that is, because I, with my remarkable lexical activation power, say they shall. 

You can make a guess about what enfarce means. You’ll probably be wrong, but make a guess anyway.

Did you guess that it means ‘make a farce [out of them]’? As in take the piss, make a mockery, do the reductio ad absurdum? Good guess! It’s wrong, but it’s a good guess, because you’d think, wouldn’t you? But no, this farce is the same farce that is the source of the farce that means ‘a ludicrous piece of theatre’, and it happens that farces are called farces because they, too, were at first enfarced.

If you know French, you may be guessing where this is going. French for ‘stuffed’ (as in stuffed turkey) is farci, from the verb farcir, and the related noun for ‘stuffing’ is farce. It all comes from Latin farcio ‘I stuff’. The theatre pieces called farces got the name, as far as we know, because they were originally comic interludes, stuffed into performances of greater import (have you ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance? think of their clowns).

So enfarcement is stuffing something in – into a turkey or a sausage, or less literally into whatever else (as when, for instance, a novelist enfarces an ideological monologue into a story). And when we talk about enfarcing rules, we can mean either of two things: (1) stuffing a rule in where it doesn’t really belong; (2) padding rules with extraneous material. Both of these things are quite common with rules. 

For (1), anyone who deals with legislation and contracts knows that extraneous details get attached as a way of accomplishing extra things with less effort. (I’m put in mind of how, when we made the offer on the place we now live in, I added a request that the microwave oven be included, because even though they’re inexpensive, I knew we might never get around to getting one otherwise.)

For (2), the typical jargon of rules lends itself to padded phrasing such as “The act of walking upon the lawns of these premises is expressly prohibited” where “Don’t walk on this lawn” would suffice. But also, often enough, sets of rules that could be simple and straightforward gain extra rules; for example, an office dress code that starts out as a single sentence prescribing “businesslike attire” gradually, in response to specific complaints, gains provisions specifying that bare knees are not to be visible; that no part of any toe is to be visible; that non-religious and non-medically-necessary headwear is not to be worn within the office space, excepting plain hair bands and barrettes; that bare elbows are not to be visible; that no sleeve shall have a hole in it other than the standard holes at top and bottom to allow the arm to pass through it eventuating in the hand; and so forth. 

All rules need to be enforced, of course, or they’re not really rules, and you need to know whose job it is to enforce them. Rules do not, on the other hand, need to be enfarced. But they will be. And when they are, it’s worth knowing who’s doing it.


Chrysalis, the disc said. 

It was a shiny, silvery, crystalline, seven-inch platter of clear vinyl. The word was on the bottom half of a paper circle in the middle of the disc, in white on a blue background that faded up to a white background on the top half. And the top half said “HEART OF GLASS.” There were other words as well, and above and to the left of “Chrysalis” was a butterfly.

I was on the stage of a dark gym/auditorium of the school in Exshaw, Alberta, Canada. It was a junior high dance, circa 1980. I wasn’t officially the deejay, but I was up there helping spin the records because it was something to do. There was zero chance I was going to be dancing. Not that I didn’t want to. But no. Rejects don’t get to dance. Instead, I was busying myself with the music and with developing a resilient shell to protect myself from the myriad insults and injuries of adolescence, a shell within which I could, at length and leisure, eat myself alive and cling to a world of imagination fed by paper and discs, all while still shining at my schoolwork in my pupil role. But hey, we’re all growing, and every cloud has a silver lining, right?

It was the first time I had seen the word chrysalis. Which, since it looked like crystal and was on a crystalline single of “Heart of Glass” (by Blondie), clearly impressed itself on me as having something to do with translucent, shiny things – and music.

Butterflies? What would they have to do with chrysalis? Butterflies start as caterpillars, then go into cocoons and come out all pretty and girly, right?

Butterflies do not emerge from cocoons. Moths do. Butterflies come from chrysalises – or, if you want to be shiny and perfect about that plural, chrysalides.

Butterflies and moths both start as caterpillars and have a pupal stage. And I’m oversimplifying things a bit here – there’s quite a lot of variety in these flashy little bugs – but whereas the pupa of a moth is protected by a papery cocoon it has spun, the butterfly’s pupa molts its last caterpillar skin to reveal a hard, shiny shell it has developed inside: the chrysalis. Within that chrysalis, it eats itself – quite literally: it digests nearly all of its body, leaving just a few imaginal discs, which are the framework on which its adult body is gradually formed from the ooze the rest of it has become (providing nothing disturbs or damages it). Ultimately, like a post-adolescent learning (usually painfully) to come out of the self-protective shell, the butterfly breaks through the chrysalis and comes out into the world.

Of course, a butterfly only has to do it once and for good. Humans do it gradually, over and over and over. (We seldom get eaten by frogs, though.)

But why chrysalis? Is it because the shell is crystalline? Because it is like glass with a heart?

No. It is not a crystal, nor is it a silver lining. In fact, it’s a gold lining. The Greek original of this word, χρῡσαλλίς, comes from χρῡσός, khrusos, ‘gold’ – passed through Latin, hence the spelling. You see this chrys– root in words such as chrysanthemum. Some chrysalides are golden in colour, hence the name. It’s not related to crystal.

So, now, I hope that is clear. And do butterflies have a heart of glass? Probably not; that seems more of a human thing. But as our hair gets more silver and our years progress towards golden, we may have to shell out a lot, but at least we get to dance from time to time.