• ouroboros •
yur-rê-bor-rês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A representation of a snake or (rarely) a dragon eating its tail.
Notes: The ouroboros is a symbol of perpetuity, the eternal cyclic renewal: life, death, rebirth. Some also interpret snakes shedding their skin as a symbolization of transmigration of the soul. Still others take the snake biting its own tail as a fertility symbol. You may leave off the initial O (as in the picture) should you run out of space while writing ouroboros. The adjective is ouroboric.
In Play: The German organic chemist August Kekulé had a eureka moment when he realized the structure of benzene resembles that of a ouroboros. Ouroboroses are popular in tattoo parlors: "Carla had a ouroboros tattooed on her butt cheek."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the Ancient Greek adjective ouroboros, a shortening of the phrase ouroboros drakon "tail-eating snake, dragon." The adjective was created from oura "tail" + bora "food", the noun from bibroskein "to eat, devour". Oura comes from PIE ors- "buttocks, backside", origin also of English arse and German Arsch. Bora comes from the same source as English bread, PIE bhreu-/bhrou- "to boil, cook, brew". English brew, brown, and burn come from the same word. English ferment was remodeled from Latin fermentum "yeast", which comes from the same PIE word. We have several borrowings from French or Latin beginning with FER that refer to hot stuff: fervid, fervent, and fervor, all form derivations of Latin fervere "to boil or ferment". (Now, let's applaud our old friend William Hupy, denizen of the Agora, for today's fantastic if arcane Good Word.)
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