From art to geckos

The previous post looked at the term díptica/diptych, which arose ultimately from Greek diptukha ‘folded into two [parts],’ from di- ‘two’ and ptukhe ‘fold.’ Following the same pattern, but increasing the number by one, we have the three-part work of art known as a tríptico/triptych. Add another unit and we have the (not very common) tetráptico/tetraptych. Also rare is pentaptych, which the 1913 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary explained is a fine arts term meaning ‘A picture, or combination of pictures, consisting of a centerpiece and double folding doors or wings, as for an altarpiece.’ I searched briefly online for pentáptico but all the hits I found initially were for Portuguese; I did eventually find the word in Spanish. More generally, as we find in the American Heritage Dictionary, a polyptych is ‘a work consisting of four or more painted or carved panels that are hinged together.’ The Spanish counterpart is políptico, for which Spanish-language Wikipedia even has an illustrated article.

Leaving the world of art altogether, unless nature’s handiwork be considered art, we find the following in Wikipedia: “Ptychozoon is a genus of arboreal gecko from Southeast Asia, known as Flying Geckos or Parachute Geckos. They are characterized by cryptic coloration and elaborate webs surrounding the neck, limbs, trunk, and tail.  These membranes help to conceal the gecko against trees. When the gecko leaps into the air, the flaps are used to generate lift and allow the gecko to control its fall. It can fly up to 200 feet (60 meters). Also it does a swoop at the end of its flight to land softly. A similar adaptation is found in the gecko Cosymbotus. There are six described species in this genus. They are often kept as pets.”

Presumably the ptych- ‘fold’ of the genus name was chosen to represent the webs or membranes of these geckos. The more familiar root zo- is also Greek and means ‘life,’ as we see in a term like protozoo/protozoon, literally ‘first life.’ Given all the membranous geckos and all the multi-panel artworks in the world, we have to assume that at some point a Ptychozoon has crawled on a diptych, triptych, or polyptych.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Jun 19, 2012 @ 23:18:01

    I’ll be darned. The cosymbotus is the house gecko. When I first came across them I thought they looked fairly spooky, but then I discovered they eat mosquitos – all to the good. I won’t say the cosymbotus that prowled the house in Liberia were exactly pets, but we tolerated each other. No polyptychs for them to crawl on, though.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jun 19, 2012 @ 23:26:05

      People have a similar attitude toward house lizards in the Philippines: the animals perform a useful function in eating insects. There’s some sort of similar creature that hangs out at times on the outside of my computer room window at night, and I’ve seen it lunge at close-flying insects. But I’ve never seen a polyptych outside my window.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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