The Spanish noun surco, which means ‘a furrow made by a plow,’ evolved from the synonymous Latin sulcus (Old English had a native cognate, sulh, but it didn’t survive into the modern language). Although surco is a normal Spanish word, English sulcate, based on the Latin original, is not; this fancy biological term means ‘having deep, narrow grooves,’ which are seen metaphorically as if they were plowed furrows. The equally fancy adjective bisulcate means ‘marked by two grooves,’ or in zoology ‘cleft, cloven,’ as in the hooves of certain animals. Predictably, multisulcate is a biological term meaning ‘having several grooves or furrows.’ I could list a few more arcane English words from the same root, but you might start sulking, so I won’t. Instead I’ll switch back to Spanish and point out that the verb surcar can be used literally in the sense ‘to plow a furrow’ but also figuratively to mean ‘to make grooves or other structures similar to a furrow.’ Surcar can also be used with reference to a fluid, as when “una nave surca el mar,” which is similar to the way English speaks of a ship plowing the waves.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kathryningrid
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 12:28:38

    One of your grooviest posts yet.


  2. shoreacres
    Sep 23, 2013 @ 20:18:05

    Yes, I’m laughing. To sulk is to have “a furrowed brow” – at least if someone has a really good pout going!

    And now that I think of it, the word I couldn’t find to describe the outside of that purple leatherflower could very well have been “multisulcate”. The suface does look a bit like a plowed field.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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