Thursday, December 3, 2015

New Word Thursday: poikilotherm

A quick multiple-choice quiz:

A poikilotherm is
  1. A unit of measure of the temperature of ocean water based on the water's effects on a fermented Hawaiian snack paste.
  2. A cold-blooded animal.
  3. A unit of measure for the heat-retention properties of wool.
  4. A word I totally made up from some plausible word parts.

I met with my writers' critique group on Tuesday, but we had nothing to critique. So instead, we decided to all write for half an hour based on a prompt and then share (or not share) what we had written. To create this writing prompt, I went to my favorite online dictionary site, Wordnik, with the intention of scrolling to the bottom of the home page and clicking the Random Word link three times to come up with three different words that we would all work into our stories. It was my version of Three Word Wednesday.

The second word that popped up was poikilotherms. (So if you guessed D, that's also your grade for the quiz.)

The -therm is common enough. It's from the Greek thermÄ“, "heat." The first part of the word also comes from Greek — poikilos, "many-colored, variegated."

So a poikilotherm has variegated heat. In this case, it's neither wool nor ocean water (seriously, a unit of measurement based on poi?), but animals.

Poikilothermic animals are more often referred to as ectothermic, from the Greek ektos "out."

In the common parlance, a poikilotherm or ectotherm is simply a cold-blooded animal.

When that word showed up on Wordnik, we didn't even know how to pronounce it, much less how to use it in a sentence. (Nor, I guess, could we be bothered to find out.) So we skipped over it. Come back tomorrow to read what came out of that prompt.