Word of The Day for Monday, February 28, 2011


de•cus•sate (verb: di-KUHS-ayt, DEK-uh-sayt, adjective: di-KUHS-ayt)

verb tr
to intersect or to cross

1. intersected or crossed in the form of an X
2. arranged in pairs along the stem, each pair at a right angle to the one above or below

decussately adverb

1658; from L. decussatus, pp. of decussare "to divide crosswise, to cross in the form of an 'X,'" from decussis "the figure 'ten'" (in Roman numerals, represented by X) from decem "ten." As an adj., from 1825.

Synonyms: cross, bisect, crisscross, crosscut, intersect
Related Words: December, decimate, decimal

Sentence Examples:
• How I wished then that my body, too, if it had to droop and shrivel, for surely everyone's did, would furl and decussate with grace to sculpt the victory of my spirit. -Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter, J. Nozipo Maraire

• EThe simplest illustration of this arrangement is seen in the case of decussate leaves, where those organs are placed in pairs, and the pairs cross one another at right angles. -Vegetable Teratology, Maxwell T. Masters

Why This Word

The word originated from Latin "as" (plural asses) which was a copper coin and the monetary unit in ancient Rome. The word for ten asses was decussis, from Latin decem (ten) + as (coin). Since ten is represented by X, this spawned the verb decussare, meaning to divide in the form of an X or intersect.
Samuel Johnson, lexicographer extraordinaire, has a well-deserved reputation for his magnum opus "A Dictionary of the English Language", but as they say, even Homer nods. He violated one of the dictums of lexicography -- do not define a word using harder words than the one being defined -- when he used today's word and two other uncommon words in defining the word network:  Network: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. And what is "reticulated"? Again, according to Johnson:
Reticulated: Made of network; formed with interstitial vacuities.

Sources: Wordsmith, Online Etymology

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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