• catatonia •
Pronunciation: kæt-ê-ton-ee-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. A state in which the body moves randomly and often accompanied by stupor, stereotypy, mutism, and agitation, usually associated with schizophrenia. Severe cases may end in catalepsy. 2. Complete, full body paralysis (catalepsy).
Notes: We probably hear the adjective for this noun, catatonic, as in 'catatonic state', more than we hear this word. Catatonia is commonly confused with catalepsy, which is solely body rigidity and unresponsiveness. A catatonic state in common parlance is usually taken to be total body paralysis, so I have added this definition to the standard one above.
In Play: This word commonly refers to full body paralysis: "The young man was so unsuited for kingship, he was subject to catatonic fits." This makes it liable for metaphorical duty, usually associated with shock or similar states: "She never goes out; she is so depressed as to be in a virtual state of catatonia."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from medical Latin catatonia, which replaced katatonia in the 1880s. Katatonia was formed directly from Greek katatonos "stretching tight", from katateinein, "to stretch tight", made up of kata "down" + tonos "that which can be stretched" + -ia, a mass noun ending. The PIE word kat- "down" shows up in Latin catulus "young animal", probably from the custom of referring to young animals as "dropped". The PIE word ten-/ton- "to stretch" went into the making of English thin, what an object becomes when stretched. English has a plethora of borrowings from Greek and Latin, though. Tenon came from Greek where it meant tendon, and tendon was borrowed from Latin tendere "to stretch". Tent came from the same source. Latin tenere "to hold, keep, maintain" went into the making of tenable, tenant, tenure, tenacious, and tenement. English tone came from Greek tonos "string (that which can be stretched)". (It's no stretch to thank Chris Stewart, our South African friend of long standing, for recommending today's illustrious Good Word.)