Daily Archives: January 4, 2012

carapacity

I’m going to be a bit capricious today: my word is not to be found in a dictionary. But I’m not the first to use it. Indeed, a very likeable poem is to be found on the web titled “Carapacity,” and I think it expresses the ethos of this word quite well – see it at bluemoonhuntress.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/callous/. The word itself is crisp and flavourful, with its full set of voiceless stops caroming the tongue across the mouth, added to by the quick liquid of the /r/ and the passing hiss of the fricative /s/, and it presents several overtones – which will caper about on my page shortly.

This word is not derived from car capacity, nor is it a merger of capacity and rapacity. But cars of whatever capacity do have a notable carapacity – and a certain rapacity. I have seen many a car rape a city, while subway cars are crammed to capacity and certain politicians thicken their hides and hide thickly. Thicken their hides? Indeed, they have not mere hides but carapaces – the exoskeletons of turtles, lobsters, crabs, and so on. The word comes to us from French, which took it from Spanish carapacho “upper shell of a tortoise”; it may or may not be ultimately related to Latin capa “cape”.

So. We know what rapacity is: the condition of being rapacious, which is to say, greedy, predatory, devouring, like a raptor or a rapist. Raptors are often admired – a basketball team has been named after them (actually after velociraptors, which are dinosaurs; raptors are birds, for example falcons, eagles, goshawks, kestrels), and so has a movie star (Noomi Rapace, who with her husband took the name from the French for “raptor”). Rapists, not so much. Some say greed is good; others, not so much.

Capacity, on the other hand, is seldom seen badly. Physical capacity is almost always a big boon; the more the merrier. It’s one of those things, like having long fingers, that have almost no downsides. Too much stomach capacity may result in overeating, but it’s better than too little. Mental capacity – which adds perspective to increase perspicacity – has no downside at all that I can think of; perhaps I lack the capacity to conceive of it. No one wants overload, of passengers or of information; overmax your lines and you may blow a capacitor and be incapacitated.

By analogy, then, with the other bearers of acity – of which in total there may be, if not a city full, then at least a capacity crowd (there are nearly 100 in Oxford, from audacity to voracity) – carapacity is the condition of having a carapace, or the extent to which one has one. Is it admirable or detestable? I think it’s a matter of context and perspective. It can be good to be thick-skinned as long as one is tender-hearted, though impervious obduracy is seldom a virtue and can often produce craptacular results.

For me, I would rather soften my shell a bit and relax with a carboy of ripasso (not that I advocate crapulousness) and a plate of carpaccio.