This is a word that seems suited to a skeleton. It has the racket of erect and rickety (a word that may suggest rigidity by sound, but actually rickets, the disease it’s named for, involves softening and bending of the bones) and a hint of rigid and strict, perhaps the unbending spininess one thinks of with cactus… It also has a rhyme of ictus (the downbeat of a measure of rhythm) and perhaps a hint of Alan Rickman. But the weary sneer of the latter does not exemplify the object of this word. If you’ve seen this word, you’ve probably seen it referring to the grin on a skeleton, or to some similarly rigid grin; there’s even a death metal trio called Rictus Grin. One might expect that it comes from a word for “grin” or perhaps has some relation to rigid. Actually, it comes from the Latin word rictus (comes from? is, borrowed unaltered), meaning “open mouth” or “open jaws,” and that in turn is the past participle of the verb ringi, which means – wait for it – “open the mouth wide.” So the key feature of a rictus is the gape, as of one with lockjaw. Which is a little ironic in that one can’t say rictus with jaws agape; in fact, the /kt/ in the middle manages to force a full-tongue press to the palate, and the rest of the word requires a strictness of stricture. Scramble this word and you get rustic… but rictus seems less sticks than Styx.
Songs of Love and Grammar
Word Tasting Notes Google groupGet just the word tasting notes daily by email – join the Google Word Tasting Notes group.
I speak, too!I am available to do presentations on language and editing, and I can even lead a word tasting session for your group. For more information, contact me at an email address which is my first name (James) at my last name (Harbeck) followed by a period and the letters ca. (The preceding roundabout expression is for avoiding address harvesters for unwanted emails.)
- 365 words for drunk
- Commas before quotes
- Among other things, it's a sentence adverb
- Can a metaphor be hyperbole too?
- I plight thee my troth
- Index, icon, symbol: a tale of abduction
- E.g., this kind of thing, etc.
- Two weeks' notice?
- Whoever tells you to always avoid splitting infinitives is wrong