• exuvia •
eg-zu-vee-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Slough, a piece of molted or sloughed-off debris, such as a molted feather, or an outgrown crab shell or snake skin.
Notes: Today's is a almost a sniglet, a word we need but is hard to find in the dictionary. We often see dead snake skins without the snake, but how do we distinguish them from skin still on snakes? The adjective from today's word puts an end to that confusion by allowing us to distinguish an exuvial snake skin from a live one. Another word for "molt" is exuviate, the verb from today's Good Word: birds exuviate feathers while cicadas exuviate their shells, often seen on tree trunks in the fall in North America.
In Play: Today's Good Word is most often used in the plural: exuviae, pronounced [eg-zu-vee-ee]: "One of the children's favorite games in the summer is collecting the exuviae of various animals in the woods and lake." Notice this allows us to cover feathers, dead skins, and shells with one word. However, let's not be trapped by the literal sense of today's Good Word: "Howard followed the trail of Lydia's high fashion exuviae to the bedroom door and diplomatically stopped there."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from French mespriser (today mépriser "to despise, scorn") composed of mes- "wrong" + priser "to value". English-speakers have had difficulty deciding how to spell the root of this word, prise, for we borrowed it as both prize and price. As we have seen above, this curse has dogged the spelling of misprize, as well. The French word is a drastic reduction of Latin pretium "reward, prize", a noun derived from the PIE root preti- "back", apparently in the sense of "giving back". The same root emerged in Greek as protei "toward, upon", in Sanskrit as aprata "without recompense" with the prefix a- "not, without". In Russian we find it in protiv "against". (We could never misprize the contribution of Jeremy Busch in suggesting today's Good Word; indeed, we heartily thank him for it.)
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