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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Oct 02, 2005 10:26 pm

• autotomy •

Pronunciation: ô-tah-tê-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 can't be freed.

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 cliché: "I would autotomize my right arm for a Steinway piano!"

Word History: Today's good word comes to us from Greek, a combination of auto- "self, own" + tome "cutting", the latter from temnein "to cut". Auto- appears in so many English words it may seem an English prefix: automobile, the self-mover, autobiography, a biography written by oneself, autograph, one's own signature. The root *tom-/*tem- is not so obvious outside medicine, where we find appendectomy "cutting out the appendix", tonsillectomy "cutting out the tonsils", and many others.
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Postby gailr » Mon Oct 03, 2005 12:05 am

A difficult word to [drop] casually into conversation. But it reminds me of a shop owner I knew who sent a teddy bear with dangling arm home with one of the employees. Her husband put his medical training to good use, sending the bandaged bear back the next day along with a well-written diagnosis regarding the avulsed limb.

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Postby M. Henri Day » Tue Oct 04, 2005 1:35 pm

Ted Rall posted a wonderful cartoon yesterday, which has autotomy as a partial theme. But it is not for the squeamish, as it casts unkind aspersions regarding the company kept by a Mr Richard Bruce Cheny....


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