Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let’s Face It

A news item last week mentioned that Sidharth Chand from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was one of the favorites in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. Last year, Sid missed the word "prosopopoeia" -- a rhetorical device by which an imaginary, absent, or dead person is represented as speaking or acting.

The -prosop- root shows up in a number of interesting words. I believe that one of the first times I encountered it was in Oliver Sacks’ book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. There, he discussed a case of prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces.

The root comes from the Greek προσοπον, face. Here are some of the words based upon it.

aprosopia: absence or imperfect development of the face

prosopalgia: neuralgia affecting the face

Prosopis: prickly trees and shrubs so named because their flowers were thought to resemble a face

prosopography: description of an individual’s life by presenting the various faces/aspects he or she displayed over time

prosopolepsy: partiality or undue favour shown towards a particular person, or towards people of a particular class, rank, etc.

prosopology: the study of facial features

prosopon: any one of the three Persons of the Trinity, especially regarded in terms of outward appearance or manifestation

SIDEBAR: prosopagnosia

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

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