• formication •
Pronunciation: for-mê-kay-shên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: No, it isn't as bad as you think: formication (with an M, not an N) is the sense of ants or other small bugs swarming, over your skin or anywhere else.
Notes: Despite the rarity of its use, this word has a remarkably large family of derivations. The immediate origin of formication is the verb formicate "to swarm with moving objects", as an old computer might formicate with flashing lights. The adjective, formicant, means "very faint or slow, crawling", as in the formicant heartbeat of someone seriously injured. If the phrase "ant farm" suggests to you that ants will germinate in the spring, replace the phrase with the noun, formicary, instead. It's an English word that means "ant farm".
In Play: Anything that makes your skin crawl makes you formicate: "When the teacher scraped her fingernail across the blackboard, a wave of formication spread across the classroom." If you can't think of a use for the noun, try the verb: "Holiday sales had residents formicating in the streets of New Monia all day long." This is an expression guaranteed to swing the focus of attention to the speaker.
Word History: Yes, this word comes from the Latin verb formicare "to swarm like ants", derived from formica "ant". "Formica means 'ant' in Latin?" I hear disbelieving carpenters ask, "So, what about the countertop laminate of the same name? Is it made from ants?" Well, that formica—Formica® to be exact—inherited its name from mica, according to the original Formica® website. Since Formica was originally a substitute insulation for mica, a popular electrical insulation of the time, the company decided to use that phrase as a name for the new product. Later, when this material was used to make the laminate, the company decided against changing the name. (Dr. Goodword suggested today's Good Word, because he loves 'garden path' words, words lead us in the wrong direction.)