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9 November 2009

Monday's Word: Acersecomic

I love long hair. My heroine, Jess, in Starquest has long red hair. My heroine in 'Dancing With Fate, the Greek Muse Terpsichore, has long dark hair my heroine, Tamarith in the sequel to 'Starquest', 'Children Of The Mist', Tamarith has amazing black har which reaches to her feet.

I was therefore interested to know more about the word that appeared in Michael Quinion's 'World Wide Words' this week. 'Ascersecomic'.

He says (quote:) "The legitimacy of this word rests entirely on two appearances in dictionaries, in 1623 and 1656. It seems never to have been used seriously and ever since has been held up as an example of an odd word...

...It means a person whose hair has never been cut. Though that may appear comic to some, there's nothing humorous in its etymology. The word derives from the classical Latin "acersecomes", a long-haired youth, a word borrowed from an earlier Greek one that was
made up from "kome", the hair of the head (which is where "comic"comes from in the ending), "keirein", to cut short, and the prefix "a-", not. Though this sounds like a aged curmudgeon's way to talk about unkempt youngsters who weren't like that in his day, it was actually neutrally descriptive - it was usual for Roman and Greek youths to wear their hair long until they reached manhood.

Greek "kome" has given us one sense of "coma": a diffuse cloud of gas and dust surrounding the nucleus of a comet. The same "-comic" ending turns up in two terms that, if possible, are even rarer: "acrocomic", having hair at the tip, as in a goat's beard ("acro-"means tip) and "xanthocomic", a person with yellow hair (from Greek "xanthos", yellow)."

So there you have it, it would seem the term was orginally more likely to be applied to young men than women - but then a lot of us ladies have a soft spot for men with flowing locks!


*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2009. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org