Printable Version
Pronunciation: vêr-mê-form Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Worm-like, shaped like a worm: long, thin, cylindrical, and flexible.

Notes: Anyone have spaghetti?If you like vermicelli, you might prefer skipping today's word as we delve into its distasteful origin below. The root of this word, verm-, appears in many words referring to worms, including vermiculture, raising worms for fishing and soil improvement, and vermicide, a chemical worm-killer. Nothing much is made of vermiform itself; we may create a noun, vermiformness, if we need it desperately.

In Play: Because of a general dislike of worms in Western European cultures, we must be careful how we use this word: "Well, you could have said 'long, slender fingers'; you didn't have to tell her that you enjoyed the movement of her vermiform digits as she played the piano." However, we do find multitudinous opportunities to use this word in everyday conversation: "Cookie Baker refuses to eat eel because of her aversion to all vermiform creatures."

Word History: Today's Good if repugnant Word drifted down to us through our lexical lending library, French, from Latin vermiformis "worm-like", a compound adjective made up of vermis "worm" + forma "form" + the adjective suffix -is. Yes, yes, the same word came to English via its Germanic roots as worm. It ended up in Greek as rhomos "worm" and Lithuanian as varmas "bug, mosquito". A little worm in Latin was vermiculus, a word that went on to become Italian vermicelli "little worms". (Sorry, it's true). This word wandered down to French as vermeillon "vermillion", Portuguese vermelho "red", and Catalan vermell "red" as a result of the fact that the Romans originally obtained this color by crushing the vermiform larva of an insect (Kermes vermilio). Some Slavic languages follow the same worm-red logic, such as Czech červený from červ "worm" and Polish czerwony "red" from czerw "maggot". (Well, it is easy to worm a note of gratitude to Raven Edwards from my vermiform fingers today for her suggestion of this fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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