ecdysis, ecdysiast

Summer is indeed here! (And a little “sorry” on the side for my readers in New Zealand and Australia.) Unless the day is insufficiently sultry, you can expect an general exodus to the exterior, especially the sandy strand but also the concrete edge of the pool, for a general ecstasy of ecdysis. When chocolate, ice cream, and perhaps even people are quickly molten, it’s time for moulting.

This is not to say that beachgoers are the ones typically intended by the term ecdysiast. That’s normally reserved for those whose stripping is meant to tease – and is done indoors, in contexts more figuratively than literally sultry. The word was introduced into English for just that purpose, by H.L. Mencken in 1940, in a supplement to The American Language: “It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way … to the associated zoölogical phenomenon of molting… A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecdysis, produces both ecdysist and ecdysiast.” The latter, which has come to be the preferred word, is pronounced like “eck dizzy assed,” and I suppose some dizziness of the ass may come from twerking or swinging on the pole, but I would not want this word to be thought of as derogatory. Indeed, it seems more enthusiastic if anything.

Ecdysis, on the other hand, is pronounced like “eck da sis.” It comes (since 1867 in English) straight from Greek ἔκδυσις ekdusis, which is from the verb ἐκδύειν ekduein ‘put off’. It refers to moulting, but principally to sloughing not feathers but cuticle (as with crustaceans) or dead skin (as with caterpillars and snakes). This is a suitable simile in the summer season: peel off your winter clothes, and your indoor clothes, and hit the swelter in your fresh skin – probably clad in a bathing suit, but whatever. If you happen to be where complete disattirement (not to say excoriation) is allowable, doffing your togs down to the epidermis does not make you an ecdysiast unless you do it gradually for an appreciative audience – or, I suppose, even one that is put off by your putting off. But it is, I would say, ecdysis: the annual self-revelation, the ecstasy of exposure. After all, ecdysis does rather sound like ecstasis, from ἔκστασις ekstasis, ‘standing out’ or ‘placing outside’, from ἐκ ek ‘out’ and ἱστάναι histanai (verb) ‘place’.

So place yourself outside! Stand out! Slough your old skins! No need to strip altogether if you don’t want; just desist from your extra clothing. No one needs an anorak in the summer.

One response to “ecdysis, ecdysiast

  1. hi! i just love the way you write. i was hoping to get a little help on my first post? just wanted an unbiased opinion. i would really appreciate it😀

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