• homunculus •
hê-mêng-kyê-lês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Manikin, dwarf, small human or humanoid creature. 2. (Historical) Microscopic, fully formed human from which in olden days a fetus was thought to develop.
Notes: The plural of homunculus is homunculi ([hê-mêng-kyê-lai]). This word is an abusive term if used to refer to a small person or midget. It has two Anglified, seldom seen or heard step-sisters, homuncule and homuncle. Its adjective is homuncular.
In Play: Referring to small humans as homunculi is offensive, but there are inoffensive ways to use today's word: "Granny thinks her computer has a homunculus inside carrying out all her commands." We bump into various imaginary small, human-like creatures that homunculus fits: "Sarah Sitwell claimed that she saw a flying saucer land in a field on her farm and several homunculi exit it."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a diminutive of Latin homo, homin- "(male) human being". This word originated as PIE (dh)ghom-on "person, earthling", a suffixed form of (dh)ghem/(dh)ghom- "earth", source also of Persian zamin "earth", Russian zemlya "land, earth", and Greek khthon "earth". The suffixed form is also responsible for Welsh dyn "man", Breton den "man", Lithuanian žmogus "man, person", and Old English guma "man". It also produced Latin humanus "of man, human", borrowed by English for its human, but humus apparently came from the unsuffixed form, (dh)ghom-. Humus "vegetable mold" was borrowed from Latin humus "earth, soil". (Today's long Good Word with a small meaning was suggested by a newcomer to our happy band of contributors, Susan Hollabaugh.)
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