With every step he takes a door closes.
He staggers forward, barely putting the effort in to walk as the sound of wood slamming on wood and bolts clicking into place encompasses him. The still air surrounding him warps and bends and creaks and groans as he pushes at it, giving no heed to his futile march. The stench of stagnation leaks in through the cracks his apathetic movements are able to make in the wall ahead of him, his eyes dimly focused on a blur ahead through the impassable air. Another door? A window? The light at the end flickers, morphing, changing from a dream to an ambition; a mirage of hope fading into a stained glass rendition of lion and lamb, each growing more distant the closer he gets.
Another step and another door slams next to him, the clambering rasp of a metal bar sliding into place like a nail hammered into a coffin.
Frustration with every movement. Desperation with every door closed. Regret with every staggering step that doesn’t lead off this downward path.
The depths of nowhere are boundless, hollow and calling his name.
Erinaceous /ɛ.rɪˈneɪ.ʃəs/ Adj. Hedgehog-like.
Yes, erinaceous is a word that describes something that is similar to a hedgehog. It comes from the Latin word for hedgehog, ērināceus, and I think it is delightful that English has this word. You know, just in case there’s something in our lives which we can only describe as resembling a hedgehog.
Sure, you say, it could just mean spiky, bristly, prickly, or oddly cute. But it doesn’t.
It’s not just the spikiness of a hedgehog that it describes; it’s the entire hedgehogness. So, off the top of my head, this word could apply to; porcupines (“It was erinacious in appearance, but actually of the rodent family“), echidnae (“I thought it was erinaceous until it laid an egg right in front of me!“) and pin-cushions (“Grandma your pin cushion is somewhat erinaceous“). Oh, and hedgehogs, but that’s pretty tautological.
So basically we have an adjective here that has a very limited descriptive range. When using this word, and being pedantic (I can’t imagine a non-pedantic person using this word), you will always have to qualify your statements. You will find somewhat erinaceous, relatively erinaceous and fairly erinaceous but the only truly erinaceous thing in the world is a hedgehog. And there’s no point stating the obvious to the point of redundancy. The only other application is describing erinaceous art, I guess. And who goes around painting pictures of hedgehogs?
This is a word that has one very specific meaning. And that’s a rarity in English. According to the Oxford English Dictionary there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, but if different senses of each word were counted then this number would triple. Meaning that, on average, each word in the English language (and these statistics exclude inflections, technical and regional words) has an average of three meanings or senses.
But not erinaceous, the most specific word in the English language.
I once tried to learn German, but not in a classroom environment. This meant that I was learning it, around the age of 13 through to 18, from various German exchange students that I knew. Of course this is a horrible way to learn any language. You have very limited exposure and an (or in my case many) untrained “teacher(s)” and this led to me learning three things:
1. Very basic nouns and verbs
2. Very basic phrases
3. Intricate curse-words and insults
And let’s be honest, it’s mainly the latter. It was, however, the curse-words that sparked my love for German and the huge variety of words they have that English simply does not have any equivalent for. The example I’m thinking of is Standgebläse /ʃdɑːndgɛblæzɛ/ and you can find its definition here because I’d like to keep this a little PG at least. So here are a few German words that I’ve picked for their morphological complexity, because I like the way it’s all just smashed together. Before I start I’d like to thank Kathi for her help with the phonology of this entry. Danke, Kathi, du bist einfach unglaublich.
Kummerspeck /ˈkʊmɐʃbæg/ Noun. Literally means “grief bacon” and I find that hilarious. Its proper definition is ‘fat which comes about from emotional gluttony’. “Frau Müller put on so much Kummerspeck when her dog died.”
Neidbau /naɪ̯dbaʊ̯/ Noun. A word which literally means “spite house” this is the kind of structure that is built solely to annoy one’s neighbours. “Let’s build a Neidbau to block Herr Schmidt’s view of the lake.”
Tantenverführer /’tantɛnfeʁfyɐ/ Noun. Now this is interesting because it literally means “aunt-seducer” but the implication is that of someone who has suspiciously good manners. I’m curious as to why Germans are so concerned about good-mannered boys seducing their aunts. “Little Krause is such a Tantenverführer, I wonder what he wants.”
Umweltverschmutzung /ʊmvɛltfɐʃmʊʦʊŋ/ Noun. Pollution, but it puts it so harshly that it makes you pay attention when all we hear about today is global warming and smog-coated cities because what it really says is to dirty the world. And that is deep man. “I’m so glad Stuttgart isn’t covered in Umweltverschmutzung like Berlin.”
Brustwarze /bʀʊstvaʁʦə/ Noun. “Breast warts” because Germans like to be oh so romantic when they’re talking about nipples. “Oh Fräulein Naumann’s Brustwarzen are so pretty.”
Schwangerschaftsverhütungsmittel /ʃvaŋɐʃaftsfeʁˈhyːtʊŋsˈmɪtl/ Noun. A word this long must have a complicated meaning. It’s got to be something crazy, something only the Germans could think up… Nope. That’s ‘pregnancy aversion remedy’ or as we English speakers call it; Contraceptives. “Oh no! I forgot to take my Schwangerschaftsverhütungsmittel.”
But if you thought that was long you’re in for a treat here:
Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz /ʀɪndflaɪ̯ʃeti:keti:ʁʊŋsyːbɐˈvaχʊŋsaʊ̯fɡaːbənyːbɐˈtʁaːgʊŋsɡeˈzɛʦ/ Noun. Possibly the longest German word, certainly that I could find, and absolute proof that Germans love their compound words. This wee beauty is the law governing “beef labeling regulation and delegation of supervision.” Whatever that means. “Herr Lehmann, you did it wrong! Now we might be sued because of the Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.”
Of course this seems stupid to us but if you understood German then you have everything you need to define your word right there, in the word itself. Sounds a lot easier to me than figuring out what erinaceous means.