fissiparous
Posted: 20 November 2018 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I note that the dictionary within WordOrigins does not know this word. It’s a biological term which means “divisive.” The writer at Guardian seems to use an obscure word to replace a perfectly meaningful one.

From a Brexit article at the Guardian:

This is a petri dish for resentment and risks incubating bacterial diseases that have the potential to spawn Brexit-sized epidemics. Since the early 1970s Britain’s fissiparous tendencies have been managed by references back to the people, with an unprecedented referendums at UK or devolved-nation level. We may yet resort to another to try to sort out this mess.

why not “divisive” tendencies? I suppose that it is a nice play on “petri dish”, “bacteria” and “epidemic.”

MW has:

When it first entered English in the 19th century, “fissiparous” was concerned with reproduction. In biology, a fissiparous organism is one that produces new individuals by fission; that is, by dividing into separate parts, each of which becomes a unique organism. (Most strains of bacteria do this.) Fissiparous derives from Latin fissus, the past participle of “findere” ("to split"), and parere, meaning “to give birth to or “to produce.” Other “parere” offspring refer to other forms of reproduction, including “oviparous” ("producing eggs that hatch outside the body") and “viviparous” ("producing living young instead of eggs"). By the end of the 19th century “fissiparous” had acquired a figurative meaning, describing something that breaks into parts or causes something else to break into parts.

I’m warming up to this one, but I can’t imagine using it in a sentence.

[ Edited: 20 November 2018 04:01 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 21 November 2018 01:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I can’t imagine using it in a sentence.

I plead guilty, m’lud.

Some years ago I was researching the history of British friendly societies, and was grappling with their tendency, throughout the 19th century, to split into separate societies, which would themselves often subsequently split, so that they multiplied by fission, like amoebas. Most complex of the lot were the Oddfellows; at one point in the 1870s there were at least 26 independent ‘unities’ of Oddfellows, and I’m sure I missed a few. I found myself describing the Oddfellows as ‘the most fissiparous’ element of the English friendly society movement.

And no, divisive would not do, either in my case or the Guardian article. Something that is fissiparous splits itself apart into separate entities, whereas something that is divisive splits (or, in the earliest but - I would say - now-archaic sense, draws distinctions between) something other than itself.

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Posted: 21 November 2018 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think it’s a fine word, and I would warn against the natural human tendency to recoil from anything previously unfamiliar, make the sign of the cross (or other apotropaic gesture of one’s preference), and shout “Begone!” I’m glad you’re warming up to it; let it wrap its fuzzy sibilants around your neck and smooch you with its bilabial stop.

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Posted: 21 November 2018 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Re: divisive

The OED is no help. The entry is 120 years old.

Oxforddictionaries.com gives as the only definition, “tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people.” American Heritage and Merriam-Webster say the same (in slightly different words).

So divisive would not be appropriate where splitting into separate entities is meant. It’s more about disunion and discord within one entity.

Fissiparous is an excellent choice in the original example, more so given the petri dish metaphor.

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Posted: 22 November 2018 07:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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languagehat - 21 November 2018 05:23 AM

I think it’s a fine word, and I would warn against the natural human tendency to recoil from anything previously unfamiliar, make the sign of the cross (or other apotropaic gesture of one’s preference), and shout “Begone!” I’m glad you’re warming up to it; let it wrap its fuzzy sibilants around your neck and smooch you with its bilabial stop.

I was pronouncing it wrong which led to my distaste for the word. In M-W’s Word of the Day podcast for last April, it quotes from a review of a book about Calvinism’s fissiperous history. Which reminds me of one of my favorite jokes.

A woman makes a withdrawal at the bank and the teller says, “What denomination?” The woman replies, “Oh, my! Has it come to that? I’m a Baptist.”

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