Word of the Week: Fissiparous

So, avuncular (unclelike), saturnine (sluggish), sybaritic (pleasure-loving), antediluvian (primitive), concomitant (accompanying), uxorious (fawning), lucubrate (laborious studying), vulpine (foxlike) and how about … fissiparous?

This was maybe the word that started the whole writing-words-down thing for me, though it was not actually the first word I wrote down. It was a pet adjective of Diarmaid MacCulloch, the wry, bookish Brit who wrote “Christianity” and “The Reformation.” He indulged this predilection numerous times in describing the leprosy-and-sex-tinged family politics of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.

Accordingly, it is necessary here to make a minor, and temporary, break with my personal copy of Webster’s Fourth, which defines fissiparous, strictly, as a term from biological science that means “reproducing by fission.” Mr. MacCulloch used it to describe divisive relations, as in “tending to break up into parts or break away from a main body; factious.” This definition is included by yourdictionary.com, which uses both Webster’s and the cheeky American Heritage. In any event, a reader is hard-pressed to find the word employed in a strictly scientific context.

While it was unknown to me before I stumbled over it in the pages of “Christianity,” fissiparous is actually quite the little workhorse. As in,

  • Two words that Jawaharlal Nehru made popular in India’s political lexicon were “fissiparous” and “Balkanization.”
  • He described the agitation for self determination and independence of some ethnic groups in the country …as a manifestation of the fissiparous tendency in the people.
  • In a country where neither of the two main parties has won 40 per cent of the vote in the past two general elections, there is a market for power sharing — as long as it is not seen as inherently fissiparous.

One thought on “Word of the Week: Fissiparous

  1. Pingback: Word of the Week: Skeuomorph « Patos Papa

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