• troglodyte •
Pronunciation: trahg-lê-dait • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A person who lives in a cave or building carved into a hillside. 2. A pongid (gorilla, orangutan, or chimpanzee). 3. A reclusive, anachronistic person who resists change.
Notes: This curious word has a limited immediate family, only an adjective troglodytic. The first constituent, troglo-, may be combined with other Greek words to create new words like troglophile "a cave-lover or cave-dwelling animal". And, if troglophile, why not troglophobe "someone who fears caves"? Looks OK to me.
In Play: You probably never thought of chimpanzees as troglodytes, yet their scientific name is pan troglodytes, perhaps from the days when we thought they lived in caves. But this word is used most widely in the sense of an anachronistic recluse: "Nothing brings the troglodytes out of the woodwork like the smell of change." I suppose your attitude toward change will determine whether you identify with the troglodytes or the change-makers.
Word History: Let us see if we can dig out the origin of this word. It was kidnapped pretty much as is from Greek troglodytes, which referred to animals that live in holes, such as mice, foxes, and snakes. Later on it was applied to cavemen. In Greek the word was a compound from trogle "gnawed hole" (from trogein "to gnaw") + dytes "one who enters". ("Cave" in Greek was spelunx, from which we derive spelunker.) But troglodytes to the Greeks were also Caucasian or Middle Eastern peoples who carved their homes in rocks or lived in decorated caves. Aristotle referred to troglodytes as "midgets" and thought that they fought wars against cranes (the birds).