estiércol

Estiércol, the Spanish word for ‘fertilizer,’ traces back to Latin stercus, with stem stercor-, which meant ‘dung, excrement,’ and also, based on the use to which that was put, ‘fertilizer.’ The ancient Romans created gods for lots of things, and one of those deities was Stercutus, the god of manuring. He seems to have been more important than you might have expected because he was also known as Sterculus and Sterculinus.

While Latin stercus left the ground of common English vocabulary infertile, it did lead to some fancy technical words in English. One keeps us in the realm of the gods: In Christian theology, stercoranism is ‘the belief that the consecrated Eucharistic elements, the bread and wine, are subject to decay and pass through the body like other ingested things.’

In the sciences, we have stercolith, ‘a hard mass of fecal matter.” Stercoraceous means ‘relating to, being, or containing feces.’ Botanists created a plant family called Sterculiaceae, a name chosen because of the smell given off by some of the plants in that family. Will it spoil your enjoyment to learn that chocolate is in that family? Oh well, you can mask any unpleasantness by telling people that the kind of chocolate you’re offering them is sterculiaceous and letting it go at that.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim R
    Aug 25, 2018 @ 07:16:41

    Not a common word. I am curious what led you to it.

    Reply

  2. shoreacres
    Aug 29, 2018 @ 19:55:53

    Stercoranism is brand new to me. I’ve never heard the word. It must come from Roman Catholic theology. My hunch is that it’s tied up with the doctrine of transubstantiation, but Luther threw that baby out with a whole lot of bathwater and a few snippy remarks about Aristotelian ‘pseudophilosophy.’

    Anyway: it’s an interesting word. A friend has a friend whose husband was in India a few months ago, consulting with the people at Sterlite, a copper smelting business that’s part of a metals and mining comglomerate. It looks to me as though the protests against Sterlite might have turned stercoraceous.

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Aug 29, 2018 @ 22:16:17

      Yes, stercoranism must have originated in pre-Protestant Christianity in relation to transsubstantiation. Whether stercoranism was confined to the Roman Catholic Church or also found in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I don’t know.

      You’d not heard of that word, and I’d not heard of Sterlite and the protests against its copper smelter in Tuticorin, India. The company’s name reminded me immediately of “Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight….”

      Reply

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.

©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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