Visual: The x is likely to leap out. They always do. The two i’s stand up like lit cylinders. The word starts with mo and ends with on, a near-symmetry at the extremities. It looks like a mixture of odd parts, about which more below.
In the mouth: The word starts and ends soft with the nasals /m/ and /n/, but in between it has a certain catch and burst. The /ks/ near the start and the /stʃ/ near the end give a sound like a lighter being flicked, and the /bʌ/ (/bʌs/) in the middle is percussive in a dull, solid way.
Etymology: This truly is a mixed bag. The bustion is the end of combustion, and so is from Latin – splitting an original root, combu- (referring to burning up). The moxi does not come from the same root as moxie, nor is it related to amoxicillin (the amoxi there comes from amino and oxy). No, it is more related to mugwort – the herb, not the word. It comes from the word moxa, which is not mocha – it’s a soft wool made from the down of the leaves of certain plants, notably mugwort. The word moxa comes from Japanese mokusa, which is a variant of mogusa, ‘mugwort’, which has no relation other than coincidence to the word mugwort; rather, it is from Japanese moe-kusa, meaning ‘burning herb’. So the word starts with a burn, reduced and transformed, and ends with the cut-off tail of a burn, plus a noun suffix (tion).
Collocations: This is not a common word. Where you do see it, typically in articles, one word that you’re likely to see near it, though not next to it, is technique.
Overtones: This word has moxie. Never mind the etymology; you can’t disregard its strong flavour in the opening. You may also get a taste of maxi and perhaps mix. The x is a little sexy, like a Roxy roller, or perhaps a little radical and independent like Moxy Früvous. Its exceptionality is axiomatic. The short bus in the middle gets lost in the conflagration, the rumbustious burst of combustion. Somewhere in the background you may hear mock Sebastian, but while Saint Sebastian was pierced with arrows, there is no puncture in this word. Not quite.
Semantics: No puncture? No, moxibustion is something you may do as an alternative approach for acupuncture. Instead of putting needles in key points in the body, you light a pointed paper tube filled with moxa and hold the point of it where you would put a needle. You may remove it before the skin is burned, or you may hold it there long enough for the skin to be burned at the point, to blister and burst thereafter. The aim is to stimulate circulation and improve flow. Sure you wouldn’t like a needle instead?
Where to find it: You will find this word pretty much exclusively in articles on “alternative” therapies. They will explain that moxibustion is a technique involving [etc.] and used for [etc.] and so on.
Serve with: Are you the sort of person who likes to put whole peppercorns in salad dressing so that your guests may, every so often, be taken unawares by a burst of black pepper in the mouth? Then you may enjoy popping this word into your prose for its sound and obscure reference. Just once. See if you can find a place to do it sometime this week. Don’t explain. Just word-bomb. “The service cuts are a sort of civic moxibustion, leaving blisters and just a hope of efficiency improvements.” “He was not so much smoking the cigarillo as performing moxibustion on his lips with it.” “‘Shingles or moxibustion?’ she said. ‘Freckles,’ I said, and pulled my shirt back on quickly.” Your turn. If you’re on twitter, tweet me your sentence: @sesquiotic.