• autotomy •
aw-tah-dê-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 cannot free itself.
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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