Word of the Week (130): ANGUIPED (probability 4634), by David Sutton

ANGUIPED (or ANGUIPEDE) means having legs like snakes; its usage seems to be confined to descriptions of mythical giants. When I first met the word I was doubtful about the practicality of such an anatomical endowment, mythical or not. Snakes for hair, as in the case of the Gorgon Medusa, is fine, except perhaps if you fancy a perm, but it seems to me that even the most co-operative of reptiles would fail to provide that combination of rigidity and flexibility that makes the human leg a marvel of engineering and enables its owner, if properly trained, to outlast, if not outsprint, pretty well anything else on legs. However, further research in the field of gigantology revealed that ANGUIPED is particularly applied to creatures depicted on magical amulets of the Graeco-Roman period, the commonest kind being the ABRASAX (or ABRAXAS), which combines the snake legs with the head of a rooster, and is shown in a sitting position resembling the yoga lotus pose: as one who never quite managed this pose even in my more flexible days I can well see that having a couple of pythons for legs would have made things a lot easier.

The field of myth is fairly poor in words for giants, but perhaps one should mention JOTUN or JOTUNN, of Norse origin, and its Old English equivalent ETEN or ETTIN. Then there are the Greek TITANS (with feminine TITANESS), famous for engaging in a GIGANTOMACHY or GIGANTOMACHIA, a war against the gods. Note also that GOLIATH, the name of the giant Philistine slain by David, can also be used in a general lowercase way to denote a giant.


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