• inkhorn •
ingk-horn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Noun; historical) Container for holding ink or carrying ink, originally made from a horn. 2. (Adjective) Pedantic, pompously learned, used only by academicians, as 'inkhorn vocabulary'.
Notes: Back in the days of the quill, before the invention of glass, ink was kept in hollowed horns. Later, when ink was stored in bottles, the name inkhorn continued to be used. (Readers under the age of 70 may be forgiven for not understanding a word of this.)
In Play: The first sense is strictly historical: "Francis Bacon (1561-1626), philosopher and statesman, loved to relax in his garden, accompanied by a servant with quill and inkhorn so that he might record his thoughts." However, today's word is current in its second sense: "Ezra Pound wrote poetry out of anachronistic myths in inkhorn lingos with arcane poetic forms."
Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound comprising ink + horn. Ink is an English remanufacture of Old French encre, from a clipping of Late Latin encauston "ink", borrowed from Greek enkauston. The Greek word is composed of en "in" + kaiein "to burn", source also of kaustikos "corrosive", borrowed by English as caustic. Horn goes back to PIE ker-/kor- "horn; head", which emerged in Latin as cornu "horn, antler", as in cornucopia "horn of plenty". Carrot was borrowed from Greek karoton "carrot" from the same source, since a carrot's shape is pretty much that of a horn. (Thanks now to our old friend and my former student Sue Gold of Westtown School for sharing such an arcane Good Word with us.)
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