The Devil’s dictionary updates

more entries in the Devil’s Dictionary: today including applanate, apterygial, cyanophil, onychium, mystax, and Elmer’s organs

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.


all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2019 by Russ Hodge

applanate an adjective used to describe an organism or ecosystem that has been flattened, such as the turtles my grandmother used to run over with her car, microbiomes living on chairs, spiders caught out in the open, or Western Kansas after a tornado.

apterygial   a category comprising animals without wings or without fins. Thus the Animal Kingdom can be divided into apterygials (including most humans, at least those I know, and housepets such as dogs, cats, sheep, cows, and aardvarks, but not parrots, chickens or ostriches) and anapterygials. Anapterygials can be further subdivided into winged anapterygials that do not have fins, and finned anapterygials that do not have wings, and full anapterygials, which have both wings and fins. The only full anapterygials I know are flying fishes and sportsmen who combine hang-gliding with scuba diving. A few full anapterygials can be found in the fossil record, but they went extinct about as quickly as most hang-gliding divers.

cyanophil a person or organism that experiences an unnaturally strong attraction for the color green, such as those stuck in line at a stoplight, or blues, such as John Lee Hooker. A cyanophil with colorblindness may rush toward the color red as well, which may account for the behavior of most people operating automobiles in the city of Naples, Italy.

mystax the word animals use for “mustache”. Not to be confused with mystics, although they often have mustaches that appear to be animal in origin. Also not to be confused with myxo-, a prefix placed in front of a word to indicate that something is slimy. Myxomud, for example, refers to mud; other instances include myxolawyer and myxolitic, the name of a musical scale that some Medieval authorities deemed slimy, or vulgar. Myxo- and mystax are occasionally combined to form myxomystatic, describing animals with a runny nose, and occasionally myxomystatic mystics, which is technically incorrect, but you get the point.

onychium   what you find if you pop open a fingernail and check under the hood.

Elmer’s organs glands found in the snouts of moles or the snoots of very nosy people. Their function is unknown, but it probably has something to do with the sense of touch. If someone tells you that Elmer’s glue was originally derived from substances extracted (somehow) from Elmer’s organs, which would have been hard to do without suffering some wounds, it’s probably not true – but rather just an amazing coincidence.

If you liked the Devil’s Dictionary, you’ll probably also enjoy:

Searching for Oslo: a non-hypothesis-driven approach

On the publication of “Remote sensing” by the magazine Occulto


Published by


I am a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, author of fiction and popular science books, an artist, and a professional musician who performs on the viola da gamba and Medieval and Renaissance stringed instruments. I edit manuscripts of all types and teach the full range of scientific communication skills. I am doing theoretical work in this subject - see for example

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.