Thursday, November 29, 2012


Meaning: nail-biter, or, if you're feeling etymologically technical, nail-eater.

Usefulness: 2 (I might use this in interviews, when they ask about my weaknesses: "In times of stress I become an onychophagist.")

Logofascination: 2 (Onycho- is from the Greek for nail, as in finger- or toe-nail)

In the wild: the not-very-wild World Wide Words discusses it, and a few other onycho- words, including, surprisingly, onyx.

Degrees: 3

Connections: onychophagist - onychomancy - onymancy

Which is used in: the regular Thursday -mancy chapter, in which Panurge consulteth Herr Trippa, Book the Third, XXV. Rabelais has onymantie, as does Cotgrave, and Sir Thomas translates this as onymancy.
By onymancy; for that we have oil and wax.
The common consensus is that Rabelais meant onychomancy  - divination by fingernail. Apparently it sometimes involved rubbing oil and soot or wax on the nail, and interpreting the symbols formed. Several sources refer to requiring an 'unpolluted boy' for this, but Rabelais obviously had no such concerns. Cotgrave has almost certainly picked up his definition ("divination by oil and wax") from Rabelais, and Sir Thomas adapted the English -mancy ending. 

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