Week forty-nine: CAPIZ (probability 10392), by David Sutton

CAPIZ (plural CAPIZES, which has a not too difficult anagram) is the translucent shell of a bivalve mollusc, used in making jewellery etc. The word comes from Tagalog, the language of the people of the Philippine Islands, and the shell has also given its name to a province of those islands, or possibly the province has given its name to the shell; the matter seems unclear.

There are a number of other interesting words relating to shells. CHANK is the shell of a gastropod mollusc of the East Indies that is sliced into bangles and worn by Indian women; the word is Hindi but is connected with CONCH, which goes back to the Greek konche, a shell or mollusc. HALIOTIS (unchanged in the plural) is another word of Greek origin, from hals, sea plus otos, ear, and denotes a kind of gastropod with a perforated ear-shaped shell lined with mother-of-pearl. One species of HALIOTIS is the ORMER, common in the Channel Islands, and this reflects the same idea of a 'sea-ear' but in this case the derivation is from Latin auris maris, ear of the sea.

A related shell is the ABALONE; an especially richly coloured variety is found on the Pacific coast of North America. The Maori word for this shell is PAUA or PAWA, while the Afrikaans name is PERLEMOEN. Other Maori names for shells include PIPI and TOHEROA.

MUREX (plural MUREXES or MURICES) is a genus of shellfish yielding a purple dye highly prized in ancient times, being reserved for imperial robes.

The prize for the shell with the most variant spellings must surely go to the QUAHAUG (or COHOG or QUAHOG or QUOHOG), a large edible clam of the N. American Atlantic coast, though this is hotly pursued by another edible shellfish of NW Ameirca, the GEODUCK (or GWEDUC or GWEDUCK). Both of these take their names from Native American languages, the QUAHUAG from Narragansett, the GEODUCK from Salish.

More homely names for shells found around our own shores include SPOOT, a kind of razor-shell, TELLEN (or TELLIN), STROMB, a very large whelk, and WENTLETRAP. This last name comes from the Dutch wenteltrap, a winding staricase, reflecting its spiral form.

And let us put in a word for the humble DODMAN or HODMANDOD, as the garden snail may be known.


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