expiscate

I am a lexical escapist; this is perspicuously the case. Each evening I pick a specific lexeme, expiscate it from the lexicon, and explicate it luxuriantly.

In the above paragraph, my copy of Microsoft Word puts a squiggly red underline beneath exactly one word. I suspect the same word hooked your eyes as they tried to swim past it. As David Astle (@dontattempt) tweeted last month, “There’s no autocorrect on god’s green earth that will recognise expiscate – to fish out.”

And yet it has all the right parts: ex – ‘out’; pisc – ‘fish’; and that suffix that makes it an act, a verb, ate (which may also be what happened to the fish after its extraction). You will have seen that pisc swimming through various words, though sometimes a fish out of water: an Episcopalian has no more fish than opals, nor are there fish in the flashes of an episcotister; there is nothing literally fishy about concupiscence, and pisco does not taste like fish (it’s Peru’s answer to grappa); but pisciculture, piscicide, and Pisces are all truly fishy.

But expiscate is not used much. A lad with a rod strolling down to the stream will not tell his mother “I’m going to expiscate”; he would get farther saying he was going to figure skate. The TV news talkers, describing a depleted fishery, will not say “It has been expiscated”; indeed, even if it were a technical term, they would not do one of their “It’s called expiscation” schticks on it.

Why not? Because they couldn’t fish it out of their mouths successfully. The sound of the word swims back and forth on the stream of /s/ between hard rocks at back /k/ and front /p/ and back /k/ again, and in the effort the tongue flops and flounders like a freshly caught trout. (Or it trouts like a flounder, as you wish.) If you can say this word ten times in a row without vexing and perplexing your lips and tongue, your lexical organ is indeed dexterous. It is such a crisp and succulent word, echoing spice and pixies and sex and expiate and so many others, it ought anyway to be reserved for such rare occasions, poetry and fine language, as merit the exercise.

But also, fish out is perfectly fine for something as earthy, watery, slippery, and smelly as dealing with real fish. A word such as expiscate escapes the surly literal bonds. Incidental expectoration notwithstanding, it sparkles best in a more figurative setting. It is a word for fishing out as you would fish a word out of a dictionary (or your Twitter feed). And I am happy to report that, while a dictionary is a fine pond for expiscating, it is unlikely to be depleted to the point of expiscation – being fished to empty. There will always be more excellent delectables to extract from the lexicon, as witness this word.

One response to “expiscate

  1. Interestingly, a formal discipline of expiscatology does not appear to have arisen… yet. I see an opportunity for an enterprising university to introduce a cross-disciplinary program, write some grants, support some post-doctoral students…. and perhaps bring in a visiting scholar or two.

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