Tuesday, 23 June 2020

an itch to scratch

An ancient and obscure word from the Greek κνῆστις for spinal column (and colourfully for a cheese-grater), the word saw a revival around a decade ago when rediscovered by a linguist who read the Oxford English Dictionary (see previously) cover-to-cover and echoed by many contemporary authors as a nominee for the favourite words, acnestis refers to the part of an animal’s hide that it cannot reach itself to relieve an itch—and by extension a blindspot or an Achilles’ Heel.
In a fashion similar to its more recent rediscovery and celebration, the word first appeared in print in the late eighteenth century in a compilation by a medical lexicographer: Acneſtis — that part of the ſpine of the back, which reaches from the metaphrenon (an obsolete term for the dorsal side of the body), which is betwixt the ſhoulder blades, to the loins...this part ſeems to have been originally called ſo in quadrupeds only, beſause they cannot reach to ſcratch it.