Jan 31, 2011


Summary: Have you ever misused a word? I have. Do you know how deep do the roots of this week's WOW word go? Here's a test: Does chthonic mean "to the marrow" or does it refer to something even deeper (and darker) than that?

For almost 10 years, one of my favorite words has been chthonic. ... Only today, I learned I have been both mispronouncing and misusing it all this time! It seems these Words of the Week can be WOWing to me, too.

My interpretation of this word (taken from a book I once read about Jungian dream analysis) was something that was bone-deep, or to the core of oneself. However, when I set out to craft this blog post today—and share what I thought I knew with you—I discovered that the actual meaning of chthonic (and its partner chthonian) is really something of or relating to the underworld. Have I been equating the essence of myself with Hellishness all this time!? *gasp!* I shudder (and chuckle) to think what people have believed I thought of myself for the last decade ... that is, if they understood it at all.

But that's what happens when I 'teach' myself new words without looking them up and verifying them. Have you ever seen a word in print and gleaned its meaning from the text? Sometimes this is easy. Other times, it only seems easy, and really we wind up making ourselves look foolish!

Having a sense of humor about it is helpful. So, is being flexible. For instance, have you ever used a word in a sentence, only to have someone correct your pronunciation or usage? If so, how have you reacted? What was the most embarrassing moment you can recall? (And do you also remember the word?)

My guess is the experience taught you the proper usage/pronunciation/spelling/etc. more firmly than a lot of other word-learning experiences. Funny how negative experiences seem to do that, being burned into our brains indelibly. There's something rather chthonic about it, eh?

Chthonic (THO - nik) or chthonian (THO - nee - yan) - Of or relating to the underworld; infernal. Although both versions have their roots directly in the Greek word khthon, or earth, they only entered English about a century and a half ago: chthonian was first recorded in use in 1850, and chthonic, in 1882.

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