Weekly Word Watch: from ‘haravointi’ to ‘hemimastigotes’

On our latest Weekly Word Watch, we go outside and take a trip to outer space, encountering some Finnish, Turkish, Egyptian, Greek, and Mi’kmaq along the way.


…at least it taught us some Finnish. Visiting the deadly wildfire that has ravaged Northern California this past week, US President Donald Trump said Finland experiences few fires because ‘they spend a lot of time raking and cleaning’ their forests. The false claim baffled the Finns, but they met it with a sense of humor, taking to social media to post photos of themselves creatively raking leaves. And they included the hashtag #haravointi.


Haravointi (roughly pronounced har-uh-voyn-tee) means ‘raking’ in Finnish, with harava a basic word for the tool itself. Finnish is not an Indo-European language, unlike those of its Scandinavian neighbors. It’s Uralic, which includes Hungarian and Estonian. That’s why we shouldn’t look for rake cognates in Finnish but can find them in, say, Norwegian, whose term is rake, though its vowels are very different. The gap between the Finnish haravointi and English rake didn’t stop the Finns from issuing many a choice pun, however, including rake news (fake news) and, alluding to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan, Make American Rake Again and Rake America Great Again.

The Tulip

Elsewhere in nature, a colossal flower may be growing…in the City of London. If its construction plans are approved, a new structure will become the tallest building in the in the UK.


Architects Foster + Partners have dubbed it The Tulip, and its long stem holds its bulbous top just above some of the glass, steel, and (nick)names of its neighboring skyscrapers: the Gherkin, the Razor, the Walkie-Talkie, and the Shard, which currently boasts the UK height record. Foster + Partners envision The Tulip as be a minimal-footprint, forward-thinking space for education, offices, and tourism. The Tulip is visually striking, to be sure, but so is the word tulip. Recorded in the 1570s, tulip is ultimately said to come from a Turkish pronunciation of the Persian dulband, a ‘turban’, for the resemblance of the flower to the headwear. A Turkish rendering of dulband also yields our word turban.


The Tulip, to many, certainly looks like something from outer space, which is where our next word takes us. Scientists have have identified a binary start system they predict will explode, sending out an astronomical amount of energy in the gamma-ray bursts of a supernova. For the system’s swirling, snaking appearance, they’ve nicknamed it Apep. As they explain in the journal Nature Astronomy: …we here adopt the moniker ‘Apep’ after the sinuous form of this infrared plume. Apep, the serpent deity from Egyptian mythology, is the mortal enemy of the Sun god Ra; we think this is an apt allusion to the image that evokes a star embattled within a serpent’s coils. Indeed, the mythic Apep (Apophis in Ancient Greek) was depicted as a serpent who represented chaos, which will definitely be ensuing following its namesake’s explosion. Fortunately, Earth will not be downwind from it; we have enough to worry about here.


We don’t need to point our telescopes on deep space to find things that are out of this world. For microscopes zooming in on backyard dirt samples can yield some truly strange discoveries. Canadian scientists conducted a genetic analysis on rare, flagellated microorganisms called hemimastigotes, based on Greek roots meaning ‘half-whip’ (whip for the flagella, a word itself from the Latin for ‘whip’.). Their results led them to conclude that the unusual, ancient, and distinct critters, which have been observed since the 1800s, warrant their very own branch on the tree of life: a new kingdom. One of their specimens yielded a new species of hemimastigotes. They named it Hemimastix kukwesjijk. The genus name Hemimastix is a kind of nominal form of  hemimastigotes and the species name kukwesjijk is after Kukwes, a greedy, hairy, man-eating ogre in the myths of the Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people native to the Nova Scotia area where the hairy-seeming microbe was found. The -jijk means ‘little’ and Kukwes itself is said to be a diminutive form of Kuku, or ‘giant’.

John Kelly November 23 2018

Educator, writer, and word nerd, John Kelly blogs about etymology at www.mashedradish.com and Shakespeare at shakespeareconfidential.com. Follow him on Twitter @mashedradish and @bardconfidensh.

Categories: Word trends and new words
Tags: ApepDonald TrumpFinnishharavointihemimastigotesrakeweekly word watch
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