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Pinguescence

Pronounced /pɪŋˈɡwɛsns/Help with pronunciation

My lesson is taken from a book of 1847, Lectures on the Principles and Practice of Physic by Thomas Watson: “Shut a healthy pig up in a small sty, and give him as much food as he is willing to eat, and you ensure his rapid pinguescence.” How true, even today.

The chance of pinguescence, the process of becoming fat, turning up in any book you’re reading is small. The Oxford English Dictionary comments that it is “literary or humorous in later use”, though the archives suggest that any such later use is rare. And yet, with the panic about the obesity epidemic currently sweeping the developed nations, it might be a good time to bring it back into circulation.

The word is from Latin pinguis, fat, which — directly or through its relatives in Latin — has given English a number of words, such as pinguedinise, to make fat, pinguedinous, fatty or greasy, pinguefy, to make greasy or saturate with oil, and pinguefying, fattening or greasy. All are rare.

This humorous writer has, either in strict etymology or ignorance, taken the word back to its Latin sense:

The machine was positioned at the forefront of the production line and, as the pieces of bread passed beneath, furiously rotating rollers served by a hopper-full of softened pinguescence went to work, distributing butter thinly and evenly across each slice; one a second was considered par for the course.

The Times (London), 26 Oct. 1991.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 22 Mar. 2008

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 22 March 2008.