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by Kenneth Lyen


One of the top ten words that readers look up in the Miriam Webster Dictionary, is the word, “callipygian”. It means “having beautifully proportioned buttocks.” I can’t say that I’ve used it more than a thousand times in my life. Frankly, it’s not a word that I would make a big rump-us about. To be perfectly anal, I think the word stinks.

A couple of decades ago, male chauvinists were debating whether the anterior or the posterior female anatomical bulges were considered more sexy. I think this is quite a futile if not tasteless exercise. As Hobson may have remarked, “I can’t care less.” You can detect my sense of ennui about the etymology of callipygian. As an aside, the word “ennui” does not only denote boredom. It is more akin to the Chinese “xien”, meaning a frustrating, slightly irritating type of boredom. Nevertheless in the interest of humanity, I shall illuminate you all about the origin of callipygian; in other words, I shall get to the bottom of things.

Callipygian is derived from the Greek “kalli” = beautiful, and “pug” = buttocks. To which you will immediately remark that a pug-shaped nose resembles your buttocks, but ahah, you’re being too clever for your own good. “Pug” in this instance refers to a miniature dog or monkey, and not buttocks. It may interest you that the Greek word “kalli” does not seem to cut much mustard in the English language. I can’t find any other word that borrows the Greek (unless you count “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”).

The word "ass" is taken from the Old English word "ears", but this evolved into "ars" in Middle English. The change from arse to ass can be traced back to 1785.

Let’s now turn to the rear end again. The word “rear” is derived from the Anglo-French “rere-ward”, meaning the rear end of an army. The French word “derriere” echoes this sentiment, and if you strain your ears, you may even hear a silent fart.

A fart is the expulsion of intestinal air through the anus, and can sometimes refer to an etymologist who is becoming too anal. Fart is derived from the Old English “feortan”, or the Sanskrit “pard”.

But before we get off our butt, let’s examine the word “butt”. It is short for “buttocks”. It comes from the Old English word “buttuc” which refers to a short strip of land.

Whether the word “bum” is derived from the Middle English “bom”, or whether it’s a corruption of buttock which occurred around 1387, probably because of its onomatopoeic sound that resembles a protruberance or swelling, is anybody’s guess. As a concession, polite society could use the slang “bun” instead of “bum”. “Thanks, your majesty, you have nice buns.”

The word “fanny” can refer to the buttocks as well as female genitalia. It is a nickname for Frances. I hope that explanation is as clear as mud.

The word “rump” is derived from the Scandinavian word “rumpe” which refers to the trunk or torso, and I guess the Scandinavians are no better in their anatomy as the Old English, who also extended their word “haunch” posteriorly.

One last word about bottoms: “The bottom of being is left logically opaque to us, as something which we simply come upon and find, and about which (if we wish to act) we should pause and wonder as little as possible.”  William James (1842-1910). 



Writers (referring to myself) have very peculiar hobbies. One of my diversions is to count the number of synonyms available in a thesaurus. "What a waste of time!", you may well chide. But let me give myself a bit more rope to hang myself. Not only do I count the number of synonyms, I even try to rank the synonyms in the order of intensity ("More intensity, please" from Lost in Translation). And now, you will think that I have really gone off the rollers!

Let me take the number of synonyms for the two words, "love" and "hate". I am using an Internet Thesaurus and allow my fingers to do the walking. On this thesaurus, there are 71 synonyms for "love" and 69 synonyms for "hate". So virtually neck and neck. No love lost here! But when it came to ranking the synonyms, here I had a bit of difficulty. You see, is "caress" more intensity than "pet"? Is "despise" more intensity than "loathe"? So in the end, I just gave up. I proceeded to the etymology part of my obsession (or should I have used the word passion?). Basically both "love" and "hate" are Proto-Germanic words.

Love (v.) admire, adulate, adore, be devoted to, be in love with, be infatuated with, be fond of, be partial to, canoodle, canonize, care for, caress, chase after, cherish, choose, clasp, clind, cosset, court, cuddle, dandle, deify, delight in, dote on, draw close, embrace, esteem, exalt, fall for, fancy, feel, flip over, fondle, glorify, go for, gone on, grass, have a crush on, have a soft spot for, have a weakness for, have sex with, hold, hold dear, hold high, hug, idolize, kiss, lick, like, long for, look tenderly, make it, make love, neck, pet, prefer, press, prize, relish, romance, shine, soothe, spoon, stroke, thrive with, treasure, tryst, venerate, wild for, woo, worship. (71 synonyms)

love (v.) - is derived from the Old English lufian, from Proto-Germanic. *lubojanan, from root of love (n.) (q.v.). The term love-hate (adj.) was first coined in 1937, and originally a term in psychological jargon.

Hate (v.) abhor, abominate, allergic to, anathematize, be against, be loath, be reluctant, be sicken by, be sorry, bemoan, bewail, can't stand, carry on, censure, chill, complain, condemn, contemn, curse, cry, denounce, deprecate, deride, despise, detest, disapprove, disdain, disfavor, dislike, disparage, disregard, eschew, execrate, feel disgust for, flout, grieve for, hurting, lament, loathe, look down on, misprize, moan, mourn, nauseate, neglect, object to, put down, recoil from, regret, reject, renounce, repent, repudiate, revile, rue, run down, scorn, shudder at, shun, slight, snub, sorrow over, spit upon, spurn, take on, trash, undervalue, view with horror, weep, wipe out (69 synonyms)

hate (v.) - Old English. hatian "to hate," from Proto-Germanic. *khatojanan (cf. Old Saxon haton, Old Norse hata, German hassen, Gothic hatan "to hate"), from Proto-Indo-European base *kedes- "feel strongly".



What is the origin of the word "travesty"? Well, I was surprised to learn that it comes from the Latin "trans" = across, and "vestre" = to dress (from "vestis" = garment). The word was adopted by the French, appearing as "travesti" = to disguise or parody. So the word travesty has the same roots as transvestite. Both are disguises and parodies of one sort or another! Well, I'm amazed!