Word of the Week (112): PHYSETER (probability 21595), by David Sutton

PHYSETER is an old name for the sperm whale; the word is Greek in origin, deriving from the verb physaein, to blow.

Even those of us not well versed in CETOLOGY, the study of whales, can probably name quite a few varieties of the creature. Another name for the sperm whale is CACHALOT or CACHOLOT. Then there is the RORQUAL, which is characterised by a prominent fin on its back, hence its other names of FINBACK, FINFISH or FINNER; additionally, the SEI is a type of rorqual. The white whale can be known as the BELUGA, though this name is also applied to the sturgeon. It may seem odd that two such different creatures should have the same name, but both derive from the Russian beliy, white.

The Greenland whale is also known as the BOWHEAD. The California gray whale is known as the GRAYBACK or GREYBACK. Then is the killer whale, the ORC or ORCA, which can also be called the GRAMPUS, though this name is also used for Risso's dolphin.

We should not forget the NARWHAL or NARWHALE with its long spiral tusk, nor the melodious HUMPBACK. Sadly, the chance to play ZEUGLODONT, any of a genus of fossil whales, will never arise. But perhaps we can finish by sneaking in the new arrival in CSW12, the very unlikely but possible WHOLPHIN, a hybrid of whale and dolphin.


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