Words birthing other words


Cuckoos lay their eggs in nests of other species (Chestnut-winged Cuckoo)

I get a daily email that contains an unusual word and its origins and history. Many of these words are sufficiently uncommon that you’d have to give considerable thought to devising a conversation into which you could insert one, and even with preparation, it would probably call attention to itself.

One of the words this week was nidicolous, an adjective with two definitions: 1. Remaining with the parents for a long time after birth,* or 2. Living in the home of another species.

Being suspicious of vocabulary wielded as a weapon, I don’t favor swinging ostentatious words around in order to intimidate or flaunt one’s education. Having said that, I do love words: playing with them is entertaining, and using one that perfectly suits the situation can be very satisfying. I continue to enjoy them and collect them.


I made this recent collection using wordle.net.

I can’t predict whether I will be able to hang onto either definition of nidicolous until such time as I want to express a thought where it would be the perfect fit. But that isn’t actually the focus of my interest in this case. What caught and held my attention was the etymology of the word.

Beyond the immediate roots, the Latin nidi- (nest) + -colous (inhabiting), the entry says this:

Indo-European root sed- (to sit), which is also the source of nest, sit, chair, saddle, assess, sediment, soot, cathedral, and tetrahedron.

Tetrahedron at the Louvre

Tetrahedron at the Louvre

Language is its own strange land–otherwise, how would you ever have chair, soot, cathedral and tetrahedron as cousins?


*If you or people you know happen to have adult children living at home, there’s an easy place to try this one out. Depending on how you feel about that circumstance, you might write up a little poem of some kind, taking advantage of the convenient way that nidicolous rhymes with ridiculous.

[Images: Wikpedia, wordle.net, Pixabay, mychimney.com]


4 thoughts on “Words birthing other words

  1. Thanks for an entertaining & interesting post.

    Let me add two cents. I love Indo-European roots, but it’s super interesting for me to see the paths that different words take to get to English. For example, “sit” comes from proto-IE “sed” -> Germanic “sitzen” -> English “sit”.

    By contrast, “cathedral” comes through Greek, where “hedr” or “thedr” meant a seat, and then . So we get proto-IE “sed” -> Greek “thedr” / “hedr” -> Latin “cathedra”. So how does this get to English cathedral? Well, a “cathedral” is by definition a church where there is a (catholic) bishop. So it has the bishop’s throne, or seat. In old English, a “cathedral church” meant a church with a throne (or the bishop’s seat).

    Oh, and I find it interesting that the Greeks considered the flat sides of a 3-D geometric shape to be “seats”. By contrast, in English we usually call them “faces”. I think the Greek approach makes more sense. The flat side of a cube, for example (or mathematically, a hexahedron) makes more sense as a seat than a face. Seats are more flat than faces.

    And I hate to be pedantic, but ….
    No, correct that, I actually like to be kind of pedantic…

    The shape outside the Louvre is a square-based pyramid, not a tetrahedron. A tetrahedron looks kind of like a pyramid, but all four faces (including the one on the bottom) are triangles. The Louvre’s pyramid actually has 5 faces if you count the bottom, so it is technically a pentahedron.

    Keep ’em coming, Lori.

    • Jeff, what a wealth of interesting details! If I didn’t know how busy you are, I’d try to enlist you to vet subsequent vocab posts (and I may try anyway). As for the tetrahedron, it’s clear my love of great pictures led me astray. The images I found for tetrahedrons were so boring, and then this one popped up, and I was so charmed that I didn’t do a background check or even look at references. I was hoodwinked by a pretty (polyhedron) face!

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