• calvous •
Pronunciation: kæl-vês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Notes: No, this word has nothing to do with the calves of the legs or small cows. It is rare but still legal; it remains in the Random House dictionary. The noun, meaning "baldness", is calvity, and may be found in the Oxford English dictionary. Most dictionaries list calvities as the noun for today's adjective; however, it is hard to imagine a plural use for calvity.
In Play: Although we strongly advocate careful word selection for clearer speech, there are times when a bit of misguidance is the humane thing to do. If you say something like, "You'll like M. T. Head, Hetty; he is quite a calvous guy," Hetty may keep an eye on M. T.'s legs and miss the fact that he is bald. Americans in the US are constantly looking for euphemisms for words we find embarrassing, so here is a new one: "Either Les Hair's forehead is growing or he is getting a bit calvous."
Word History: The Latin word calvus "bald", from which today's Good Word was borrowed, is directly related to German kahl "bald, naked". It may go back to the same root that turns up in Serbian as glava and Russian as golova "head", though the semantics here is a bit shaky. More likely the root of this word went into the making of Russian golyi "naked" and Serbian go(li) "naked". For sure it has remained in the Romance languages, where calvo still means "bald" in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. In English the same root turned into callow "immature, inexperienced". This term originally referred to naked, unfledged birds.