Wednesday, September 12, 2007


A New Word?

Fred Reed, Thinking About Intelligence. More Trouble Than It's Worth:
I have lived in both Mexico and China—well, Taiwan—and can report that the fellow's notions of Sino-Mexican unconcern are highly cephaloproctological.
Google hits for the adjective cephaloproctological all refer to various versions of this same sentence, so Fred Reed either coined the word or was the first to use it on the Internet. The corresponding agent noun cephaloproctologist also occurs among the following comments to an Internet forum on digital cameras:
Bret please remember that he has mistaken which orifice he should be talking from (he should have used a higher one).

I believe that he is talking through the upper one, but because of unfortunate placement, the sounds from it must pass through the lower one to be heard. Perhaps a good cephaloproctologist could help him.
Google also has a few hits for cephaloproctology, but these seem to refer back to Fred Reed.

Let's start at the hind end first, and examine -proctological (-proctologist, -proctology). One of Kipling's poems starts "There are whose study is of smells," meaning students of chemistry. There are also those whose study is of that part of the human anatomy that produces smells, in Greek πρωκτός = prōktos, in English anus. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the first occurrence of proctology in English dates from 1899, although Aristophanes (Knights 878) has πρωκτοτηρέω (to be a watcher or observer of πρωκτοί). A proctologist is a doctor who specializes in the physiology and pathology of the rectum and anus.

The first element of Fred Reed's new word, cephalo-, also refers to a part of the anatomy. Greek κεφαλή (kephalē) means head. The same root occurs in brachycephalic (short and broad headed), dolichocephalic (long and thin headed), megalocephalic (big headed), mesocephalic (with a head of an intermediate length and width), etc.

Cephaloproctology, cephaloproctologist, and cephaloproctological must all be understood in the context of the slang expression "to have one's head up one's arse." Cassell's Dictionary of Slang says that the phrase originated in the 1940s in the United States and defines it as
1 to be completely and deliberately stupid. 2 to be obsessed with oneself and one's own interests. 3 to ignore what is happening.
In French, there's a jocular word similar to cephaloproctologyendorectocéphalie, which recalls the French expression "avoir la tête dans le cul." Despite the superficial similarity, French "avoir la tête dans le cul" does not mean the same as English "to have one's head up one's arse." It is defined as "être très mal réveillé" ("to wake up on the wrong side of the bed") or "ne pas se sentir bien, un lendemain de veille ou de fête" ("to feel poorly the day after staying up late or partying"). French endorectocéphalie in English would be endorectocephaly, with the adjective endorectocephalic. I don't find these words on Google, so maybe I can take credit for introducing them into English.


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