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autotomy

Printable Version
Pronunciation: aw-tah-dê-mi Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: Self-amputation, the dropping of an appendage when under attack, as the gecko drops his tail if it is caught and cannot free itself.

Notes: This Good Word has a considerable family, including an adjective, autotomous, and an adverb, autotomously. There is also a verb autotomize "to cast off an appendage to escape". Crabs autotomize their claws along a fracture line that immediately closes, minimizing blood loss and trauma. A new claw then grows in the same spot (regeneration).

In Play: The world has waited far too long for this word to be put to metaphorical use: "The new university president told those department heads clamoring for more autonomy that those with low enrollments are more likely to face autotomy." Immediately, we have an improvement on a tired, old clich: "I would autotomize my right arm for a Steinway piano!"

Word History: Today's Good Word is a loan translation made up of Greek components auto- "(one)self" + log- "tell, study, idea" + -ic(al), an adjective suffix. Greek autos "self" is of unknown origin, but we have met logos "word, idea, speech", the noun for legein "to say, speak". This word derives, oddly enough, from PIE, leg-/log- "to gather". It is found in Greek lexis "speech", once perceived as gathering words, and Latin legere "to bring together, gather; to read aloud". The root of the Latin verb is visible in the Latinate English borrowings, lecture, legible and legend. We also see it in legal and legislate from Latin lex "law", something which is also collected. The PIE word arrived in Old English as laece "physician, doctor", which devolved into leech in Modern English, due to physicians using these creatures in the past for "curing" various diseases. (Iain Smallwood, who joined our merry band of contributors back in 2009, is responsible for today's intriguing Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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