Monday, January 07, 2008

Bearding the Lion

The word beard has many diverse meanings. As an American slang term of the 1950s, it came to mean a front man, someone who would conceal the real identity of the person placing a bet on a horse race, for instance--especially if the bettor was the trainer.

These days, a beard is a companion of the opposite sex who helps hide the reality that one party is gay. I’ve also seen it used for a person who acts as a smoke screen to hide the fact that his married buddy is having an affair.

Well, the tables are turned, because it’s surprising how many words are bearding for beard. Let’s look at some examples that derive from the Latin barba, beard, and the Greek term for the same, pogon.

barb: a beard-like appendage in various animals; e.g. feathers under the beak of a hawk (obs.), the wattles of a cock (obs.), a slender fleshy appendage hanging from the corners of the mouth of some fishes, such as the barbel and fishing-frog.
barbate: bearded or tufted.
barbellate: furnished with short, stiff hairs.
barber: a person who shaves or trims beards and cuts hair.
barbigerous: bearded.
rebarbative: repellant, forbidding, unpleasant.
pogoniasis: growth of beard by a woman; excessive beard growth, generally.
pogonic: relating to a beard.
pogonologist: a person who studies or writes about beards (pogonology).
pogonotomy: shaving.
Tragopogon: the plant Goat’s-beard. [Trag- is also used in tragedy: Goat Song]

By the way, bearding the lion, meaning to confront danger directly, comes from I Samuel 17:34-35: “And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock. And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered [it] out of his mouth; and when he arose against me, I caught [him] by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.”

SIDEBAR: The Beards [Lisa Marr]

SIDEBAR: The Beards [Hillbilly Italian Spaghetti Roots and Blues]

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