Week forty-four: ONISCOID (probability 17075), by David Sutton

ONISCOID means 'like a woodlouse', from the Greek oniskos, a diminutive of onos, ass. It's a nice word, but of limited applicability, since not much is like a woodlouse except another woodlouse. Many animal words — LEONINE, EQUINE, FELINE, AQUILINE, ASININE, even ELEPHANTINE — can be transferred to human characteristics, but there doesn't seem much chance of getting ONISCOID into the conversation unless, say, your spouse has a tendency to curl up in a ball when prodded and roll away into a dark corner.

There are of course many other rather specific taxonomical terms. ALCIDINE relates to auks, LEPORINE to hares, OSCINE or OSCININE to songbirds, PAVONINE to peacocks, PICINE to woodpeckers, RANINE to frogs, BUBALINE to a particular genus of antelope, SCIURINE to squirrels, SORICINE to shrews, VESPINE to wasps, PARDINE to leopards and XENURINE to a genus of armadillos. Less usefully from the Scrabble point of view, ARVICOLINE refers to water-voles and DIDELPHINE to opossums.

While on the subject of words of great precision but limited applicability, let me leave you with my favourite: MYRISTICIVOROUS, which means 'feeding on nutmegs'. Disappointingly, this refers not to the latest fad among waif-thin supermodels, but to certain humming-birds.


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