Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Lousy Day

I’m working on the 2nd edition of my Word Parts Dictionary for McFarland & Company, so I notice that my postings are a bit more sporadic than usual.

I’m going to share something that only the most hardcore of word freaks will care about, but it’s fascinating to me.

The open nature of the internet is one of its delights--anyone can post anything--but it’s also one of its glaring weaknesses, especially when it comes to discussions of words. Phobia lists are fun to peruse, and a Google search for “fear list” brings up about 68 million hits. One of the words that makes some of these lists--and several books listing fears--is pothiriophobia, the fear or dislike of parasites. I now believe that it resulted from a misreading.

One of the references that I use is an edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, and there is nothing meaning parasite that begins with the Greek letters pi/omicron/theta or pi/omega/theta, the equivalents of p/o/th.

However, there is a phthir- that means louse or worm, but it is spelled phi/theta/epsilon/ iota/rho. To the untrained eye, a theta can look like an O with a transverse bar [ θ ], thus rendering it poth- instead of the correct phth-.

So in my 2nd edition, pothiriophobia is toast, replaced by phthiriophobia. You read it here first.

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