Printable Version
Pronunciation: fer-ê-mown Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A chemical substance secreted by an animal or insect that causes a specific response in other members of the same species, a kind of chemical communication.

Notes: Today's word is a new one in lexical time; it first appeared in print in 1959. The adjective is pheromonal and the adverb, pheromonally, as a bee might pheromonally communicate danger to the rest of the hive. The reason honey bees (and ants) attack perceived intruders in great numbers is that when one of them detects danger, it exudes an alarum pheromone that spreads through the air and attracts and excites others in the hive to aggressive behavior.

In Play: Territorial animals deposit identification pheromones around their territory. These pheromones remain after the vehicle in which it is deposited has evaporated and warn intruders of territorial boundaries. The mating pheromone triggers mating behavior. This pheromone may be artificially reproduced for several insect species that threaten crops. If broadly applied to those crops, it disrupts the reproduction cycle of those insects, thereby disposing of the pests without introducing toxins to the environment.

Word History: Today's Good Word is an academic concoction from the root of Greek pherein "to carry" + (hor)mone "setting in motion", the present participle of Greek hormon "trigger, exciter", from horman "to trigger, impel", a verb derived from horme "impulse". The [bh] of the original root, bher- "to carry, bear", also turned to [f] in Greek and Latin, where we find Latin ferre "to bear, carry" and Greek pherein "to carry". The Latin root is visible in the English borrowings refer, defer, transfer, and aquifer "water-bearer." The [b] sound remained in English giving it bear, the verb, and, with an old familiar suffix, bring. In Russian it turns up as brat' "to carry", beru "I carry", and in Sanskrit, as bharati "he carries, brings".

Dr. Goodword,

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