Since wallowing in the wonder of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve loved the onomatopoeic words cacophony & cacophonous - wonderfully honest words that sound like what they mean. At the time I was probably a nine- or ten-year-old boy with all the disgusting proclivities of that easy-titillated crowd. How the younger me would’ve loved to have known the etymology of cacophony.
The last part isn’t all that titillating: -phony comes from the Greek word for sound. The first part, though, comes from the Proto-Indo-European word *kakka-, which meant defecation. And yes, this same root traveled through Spanish to give us caca.
It also gave us these cacophonous cousins:
Cachexia, meaning a generally bad state of health appeared in English in the mid-1500s.
Poorly chosen or incorrect taxonomic names of organisms are known as caconyms, a term that’s been around since 1888.
Poppycock, which appeared in 1865 through Dutch, meaning nonsense.
And since the 1500s, bad handwriting or spelling has been known as cacography.
Kakistocracy, coined in 1829 by Thomas Peacock, meaning government by the worst element of a society.
So readers, did you know about these caca-related words?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: the Merriam Webster, OED, Wordnik, Oxford Dictionary, & Etymonline.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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