Printable Version
Pronunciation: skæ-tah-lê-ji Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The scientific study of feces, as in medicine, paleontology, and biology. 2. Obscene language or literature.

Notes: Here is a word I've been avoiding until we all grew older. It offers a way to dance around the s-word. It comes with an adjective, scatologic(al), an adverb, scatologically, and a personal noun, scatologist.

In Play: Today's Good Word is often used by science in its original sense: "Scatological studies in paleontology reveal not only what our ancestors ate, but how they hunted and gathered." However, it is more often used as a substitute for profanity: "Scatology seems to be widening its appeal to modern readers and theater-goers." This meaning is so far from the original that it may now be used figuratively in the sense of "really bad": "Politicians these days are digging deeper and deeper in the bucket of scatological political tricks."

Word History: Scatology is made up of scat "dung" + -ology "study of, fascination with". Scat comes from Greek skor (genitive skatos) "dung", inherited from PIE sker-/skor- "poop, dung", source also of Latin stercus "dung", which eventually turned into Portuguese esterco, Italian sterco, and Spanish estiércol. The word originally meant "to snip, clip; clipping", for we find the same root in English shear and sharp. We see it again in short, since PIE [k] regularly became [h] in Germanic languages. Latin eliminated the initial S for its cortex "(tree) bark" and curtus "short", which English remodeled into curt. We also find it in Latin muscerdae "mouse droppings". Coming down through English's Germanic ancestors it was, indeed, transformed into the s-word. (Today we thank Albert Skiles for his courage if not daring in recommending today's Good Word with its naughty history.)

Dr. Goodword,

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