• fungus •
fêng-ês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The taxonomic kingdom of yeasts, molds, smuts, and mushrooms. The members of this kingdom are parasitic, absorbing nutrients from organic matter. They do not need sunlight since they do not produce chlorophyll and have no vascular structure. They reproduce by spores rather than seeds.
Notes: We normally do not think of eating fungus but a pizza without fungus is like a day without sunshine, for mushrooms are fungi. In fact, fungo "fungus" is the word for "mushroom" in Italian. The plural of English fungus is fungi pronounced [fên-jee] or [fên-jai]. The adjective for this word is fungal. (We hope that bringing to your attention the fact that mushrooms are a fungus doesn't deter you from eating them.)
In Play: Fungi range from the invisible cells of athlete's foot to the huge honey mushroom of Malheur National Park in Oregon, which is about 3.5 miles across: "While I'm eating one fungus on my pizza, another is eating me between my toes." Time to use a fungicide, a fungus poison, for that athlete's foot.
Word History: Several readers of our Good Word dysfunctional wondered if the verb it was derived from, fungi "to perform, carry out", was related to mushrooms. In fact, there is no relation. Fungus comes from the same source as Greek spongos "sponge", less the Fickle S. We have seen several words which appear in some languages with an S (English slack, Latin super) and in others without the S (Latin lax and Greek uper, hyper- in English). In fact, English cold and scald share the same ancestor with a fickle S. Now since mushrooms like the morel and chanterelle resemble sponges, this relation makes sense even though there is no written proof. (The first four people to ask about the relation between the verb fungi and the noun fungus were Mary Jane Stoneburg, Mark Lackey, Kathleen of Norway, and Neuminous of the Alpha Agora. We thank them all and those who will write later for bringing the phonetic similarities to our attention.)
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