• parthenogenesis •
Pronunciation: pahr-thê-nê-je-nê-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Reproduction in certain plant and insect species without fertilization, asexual reproduction. 2. Virgin birth, conception without sexual relations.
Notes: This Good Word has a healthy extended family. The adjective is parthenogenetic or parthenogenetical, but we can only use the latter for the adverb: parthenogenically. A parthenote is an individual produced by parthenogenesis. The April 15, 1996 Chattanooga Free Press noted that "Parthenolatry [pah(r)-thê-nah-lê-tri] is the worship of virgin women. You don't hear it much." No, there isn't much use for that word these days.
In Play: Here is a good 6-syllable word to use when you need to say "virgin birth", but only want very well-read people to understand you: "Warren accepts all the tenets of Christianity except parthenogenesis." There are secular, non-botanical applications for this word, though: "Given the men I have had relationships with so far in my life, I wish parthenogenesis were a more viable alternative to marriage."
Word History: Parthenogenesis is a Greek compound made up of parthenos "virgin" + genesis "beginning, birth". No one is quite sure where parthenos comes from, though we do find it in Parthenon, the name of Athena's temple in Athens. Athena was an unmarried Greek goddess, the protector of Athens. Genesis is, of course, the name of the first book of the Old Testament, in which the beginning of the Earth is depicted. The root gen- originally meant "to give birth". It is found in scads of English words like genetic, generate, and gent "of noble birth", found in gentle and gentleman. We also find a variant of this root in gynecology, from Greek gyne "woman". The root came directly to English through its Germanic ancestry as kin and the noun kind. (Today we thank Eric Berntson, a genuinely ingenious gentleman of many words, for bringing this one to our attention.)
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