Paper - Etymology and pronunciation of the word "oestrus" and its derivatives
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Corner GW. Etymology and pronunciation of the word "oestrus" and its derivatives. (1937) Science. 85(2199):197-198. PMID 17844622
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Etymology and pronunciation of the word "oestrus" and its derivatives
This word seems to offer more difficulties as to pronunciation and spelling than any other technical word in biology. Derived originally from the Greek oloxpos, signifying the gadfly, and taken over into Latin as oestrus, the word came secondarily to mean frenzy or strong desire. The Latin derivative is properly of masculine gender, following the Greek, but we are told by Tyson that some grammarians gave it the neuter form oestrum as early as 400 a.v. In its more general senses the word became naturalized in English with the spelling oestrum and has been so used in prose and poetic literature by many writers (see Tyson’s article and the Oxford English Dictionary).
In the original Greek and Latin the meaning of the word already included, among other forms of excitement, the recurrent sexual impulse of animals. We owe its present definite technical use, however, to the late Walter Heape, whose analysis and terminology of the phenomena of the reproductive cycle form the basis of research on that subject in the present century. As pointed out by Asdell, Heape was not using the well-naturalized English word oestrum, which in English signifies any form of recurrent excitement (e.g., the poetic frenzy), but was deliberately adopting the Latin word oestrus for use as a specific technical term meaning in English “periodic sexual excitement of the female.” Writers having the latter significance in mind should, for the sake of precision, respect the difference and use the word oestrus.
It is scarcely necessary to point out that the nominative form is oestrus, and the adjectival form oestrous (cf. fungus, fungous; mucus, mucous).
As to pronunciation, the Greek and Latin diphthong of the first syllable has become in English merely a digraph, and in England is pronounced like long e, as in thief. Wyld’s Dictionary of “Received Standard English” gives this pronunciation only, The Oxford English Dictionary gives also the short e, as in yet, as an alternative pronunciation, but by the time the Shorter Oxford Dictionary reached the letter O, the compilers had discovered that the short e is an American usage. The word oestrum seems to have first appeared in the American dictionaries in the 1860 edition of Worcester and the 1864 Webster. In both eases the short pronunciation of e was alone given. Webster continued to give preference to this pronunciation, but since the 1909 revision cites also the long e as a non-preferred pronunciation. The Century Dictionary of 1911 gives the long e only, but on the other hand the 1913 Funk and Wagnalls gives the short e only.
It is evident, therefore, that the pronunciation of the non-technical word oestrum, and consequently of the technical term oestrus, oestrin, oestrogenic, ete., is ...
- Stuart L. Tyson, Sctexce, 612: 74, 1931.
- Walter Heape, Quart. Jour, Micros, Soi,, ns, 44: 1, 1901,
- Sidney A, Asdell, Screncr, 75: 131, 1932.