Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Straight Arrow

Mark from Orlando: “While I was at a sporting goods store the other day, I learned that there’s a fancy word for archery. Do you know what it is?”

Yes, and it’s a great word: toxophily. It’s based on two Greek words — toxon, a bow, and philein, to love. A form of the word worked its way into English as the title of a work by Roger Ascham in 1545.

In the book, a history and apologia for use of the longbow, Ascham presented a Platonic dialogue between Toxophilus and Philologus. One of Ascham’s contentions that always amuses me is that, “shooting is fitter for students than any music or instruments.” Tell that to your piano instructor.

The -phily compound is interesting. In some cases, it signifies pollination methods.

• acarophily: fertilization of plants by mites.
• anemophily: pollination with the assistance of the wind.
• hydrophily: pollination by the agency of water.
• ornithophily: pollination by birds.
• zoophily: dissemination of seeds by animals.

That ending also points to plant preferences.

• nemophily: a preference for wooded areas.
• nitrophily: a preference for soils rich in nitrogen.
• ombrophily: a prefernce for prolonged rain.
• photophily: a preference for intense light.
• scotophily: a preference for darkness.
• xerophily: a preference for dry conditions.

In other cases, the -phily ending is used to designate a hobby.

• bibliophily: collecting books.
• cartophily: collecting cigarrette cards.
• notaphily: the study or collection of banknotes.
• scripophily: the collection of old bond and share certificates.
• timbrophily: stamp collecting.

Finally, it is sometimes used to name an unhealthy attraction or preoccupation: coprophily (defecation), gerontophily (sexual attraction to older people), and necrophily (I see dead people!). Personally, I don’t see what’s so wrong about gerontophily.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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