AZYGOS.

I just discovered that there is an adjective azygos, meaning “not being one of a pair : single <an azygos vein>” (per M-W). No, not “azygous” (which is an alternate spelling), azygos. Very weird; does anybody know how such a perverse word came to be? I mean, English adjectives just don’t end in -os.
I found this word via Memidex, an interesting “free online dictionary/thesaurus”; the About page says “The original Memidex database was derived from the high-quality WordNet database developed by Princeton University, and used by Google and others. Several features have been added or exposed, and tens of thousands of additions and corrections have been applied to the initial database.” It’s published by Serge Bohdjalian, who was good enough to send me the link to his site.

Comments

  1. My guess is that it is related to zygote.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygote

  2. From attributive use of the noun, which appeared earlier? It is bizarre.

  3. Medical terminology. So either Greek or Latin.

  4. According to my Webster’s New [as of 1981] Collegiate dictionary, this word comes from Greek: a- + zygon, which is yoke, so “unyoked.”
    “Zygote” also comes from zyg- words. (I had the same initial reaction to this word as zhoen.)

  5. It looks as though it is taken directly from Greek, leaving the -os ending. The medical use probably explains why it was taken from Greek without being changed.
    α alpha privative “not” + zygos (Ζυγος) meaning “yoke” turned into an adjective = “not yoked”

  6. zygos is the Greek cognate of the English yoke, and a- is the privative prefix, meaning “not”, so the word itself is not particularly unusual.
    preserving the -os ending istead of replacing it with -ous is bizarre, as LH says. According to wikipedia, there’s an azygos vein in the body:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azygos_vein

  7. Folks, I don’t think LH was asking about the “a-” or the “-zyg-“, which are pretty obvious. The question is how an English adjective ended up with “-os” at the end, rather than the “-ous” you’d expect.
    Plenty of Greek-derived medical adjectives end in “-ous”. Are there any others with “-os”?

  8. In the OED, the quote from 1681 (the date Merriam-Webster uses for the first occurrence of the adjective) uses the phrase “azygos vein”, which could be an attributive use of the earlier noun “azygos”. The quotes from the 1800s use the spelling “azygous” and have other contexts (like “azygous organ”). I’m not retyping it all, but presumably someone with access to an online OED will come along eventually.

  9. Well, the azygos vein (azygos phleps in Greek) can be traced back right to Galen of Pergamum, which may be why it kept its original Greek form.

  10. Bathrobe says:

    Not knowing anything of Greek, would ‘azygose’ have been a possibility?

  11. Damn good Scrabble word.

  12. 1646 SIR T. BROWNE Pseud. Ep. 183 The Azygos, or vena sine pari.
    1681 tr. Willis’ Rem. Med. Wks., Azygos vein, is a branch of the upper trunk of the vena cava, arising on the right side.
    1859 TODD Cycl. Anat. & Phys. V. 81/1 The pancreas is an azygous..organ.
    1870 ROLLESTON Anim. Life Introd. 38 An azygos orifice in the abdominal walls.

  13. Fun new word, thanks. Also, re Memidex, I’ve had it on my list of links for several months now and Serge is one of the few to have reciprocated when he emailed asking me to add Memidex. Plenty of sitessay they will return the favour, but few do, and none as quickly as Serge did. That shows good character, methinks.

  14. Interesting. I searched my dictionary database and the only other adjectives with “-os” and not “-ous” endings I found are “apropos” and “malapropos” (derived from French).
    (Of course, most nouns can also be used as adjectives, but I don’t think that counts here.)

  15. Azygous is listed here as a synonym for azygos.

  16. Azygous is listed here as a synonym for azygos.
    Also in my post.

  17. The -ous ending generally (if not always) reflects an underlying Latin adjective in ôsus. L&S does not record any such Latin adjective, so the “reinterpreted nominal compound theory” looks good.

  18. I had bet myself that MMcM would have cleared up this mystery before I got to the bottom of the comments, but I lose. I guess he’s playing polo.

  19. I was in a meeting all day and it looks like it’s mostly cleared up already.
    With my apologies to the poor OED’s database servers, it only has apropos, malapropos, unapropos, azygos, gros (< Fr.), pos (abbrev. for positive), and monoousios (= monoousian).
    Since it’s really medical jargon, I’d favor the theory that ἄζῠγος φλέψ > vena azygos, which was enough for it to survive alongside the properly naturalized azygous.
    I believe ἄζῠγος really is an adjective, though its declension doesn’t make that obvious (φλέψ is feminine).

  20. I believe ἄζῠγος really is an adjective.
    I was surprised at that, but my (abridged) Liddell & Scott agrees, and lists ἄζῠγος as an adjective meaning ill-matched or unmarried, and says nothing about there being a noun of the same form.
    What no one seems to have mentioned is that the “natural” adjective if the word were being coined today would be azygotic, not, as everyone seems to be assuming, azygous, by analogy with zygotic. However, maybe that’s a false analogy, as zygote is very much alive as a noun, whereas azygote isn’t.

  21. I believe ἄζῠγος really is an adjective, though its declension doesn’t make that obvious (φλέψ is feminine).

    azugos, like many adjectives starting with privative a, is a two-termination adjective, so its fem. declension is identical to the masc. forms: h azugos phleps, ths azugou phlebos, thi azugwi phlebi etc.

  22. A more standard transcription of lukas’s phrases: hē azugos phleps, tēs azugou phlebos, tēi azugōi phlebi (‘the single vein, of the single vein, to the single vein’).

  23. David Marjanović says:

    azugos, like many adjectives starting with privative a, is a two-termination adjective, so its fem. declension is identical to the masc. forms:

    So that’s where the silly claim that “Latin grammar is logical” comes from. My head spins!

  24. Is “synonym” the same as “alternate spelling”? Webster’s Seventh treats it as one word, an adjective and (this looks odd to me) a noun:
    az·y·gous or az·y·gos \’az-i-gəs\ adj [NL azygos, fr. Gk, fr. a- + zygon yoke] : not being one of a pair : SINGLE – azy·gous n

  25. Based on my one year of Classical Greek 49 years ago, it looks to me like the -os is themasculine, nominative, singular form of an adjective of the consonant declension that was taken over in its Greek form. This may represent an instance of borrowing directly from Greek without a Latin intermediary in which the -os would be changed into -us or -ous. This is just a thought, I am not speaking ex cathedtra.

  26. dearieme says:

    Could it have been influenced by American spellings – labor, honor, and so on?

  27. komfo,amonan says:

    Wikipedia is claiming that the French & Spanish forms are veine azygos & the stranger vena ácigos respectively. If this is true, then it strikes me that perhaps there’s something about this particular word that is resistant to standardization in modern language borrowings. That Spanish form is particularly remarkable: the root of the word takes on a less foreign-looking spelling (with no change in pronunciation from leaving it at the usual Latin transliteration), while the ending retains its Hellenic nature. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the sole Greek-derived adjective in -os in each of the three languages.
    This is odd & has bugged me for two days.

  28. This is odd & has bugged me for two days.
    Another satisfied customer!

  29. komfo,amonan says:

    Ahaha indeed.

  30. parvomagnus says:

    Athel, zygote’s from a different word, ζυγωτός, a slightly different derivation of the same word. ‘Azygotic’ gets about 2300 ghits, about half for ‘azygotic meiosis’.

  31. ‘Wikipedia is claiming that the French & Spanish forms are veine azygos & the stranger vena ácigos respectively. If this is true, then it strikes me that perhaps there’s something about this particular word that is resistant to standardization in modern language borrowings.’

    First of all, the word is only used by medics, who are well-used to recondite arbitrariness; I personally don’t find its form odd in that context. Secondly, the Spanish word is perfectly regular in its spelling in that language, something admirable and typical of Spanish.

  32. D. Wilson says:

    Where can we find another word which is analogous? Oh, there’s one maybe ….
    Compare:
    Greek “azygos” > Latin “azygos” (sometimes “azygus”) > English “azygous” (sometimes “azygos”)
    Greek “analogos” > Latin “analogus” (sometimes “analogos” > English “analogous” (sometimes “analogus”, in the old days)
    Greek words adopted into Latin can be either fully Latinized or not (e.g., Latin “theatron” vs. “theatrum”, “atomos” vs. “atomus”). In the case of “azygos”, I suppose it is “new Latin” rather than classical Latin.
    The adjective “azygous” meaning “unpaired” is surely infrequent. There is another infrequent equivalent, “impar”. I think even in most medical/technical applications, “unpaired” is the usual choice as a general adjective. As for specific jargon, there are a few instances where “azygous” is usual, e.g., “azygous anterior cerebral artery” (a particular anatomic variant).
    “Azygos” per se almost always has reference to the azygos vein (vena azygos). E.g., the azygos lobe [of the lung] is not an ‘unpaired lobe’ but rather a lobe related to the azygos vein. [There are other applications of “azygos” even in human anatomy, quite esoteric ones, rarely encountered: “musculus azygos uvulae”, “arteriae azygoi vaginae” (note the persistence of Greek declension in the plural).]
    If I were proofreading a manuscript and I saw “The liver is an azygos organ” I would instantly ‘correct’ it to “… azygous organ” … pace MW, OED, et al. And I would ‘correct’ “analogus” to “analogous” too. Others of course might disagree.

  33. There’s no real analogy, because “analogus” is simply incorrect—it’s not in the dictionary at all. I’m not sure what you mean by “sometimes ‘analogus’, in the old days,” but if you check the variant spellings in the OED you can find pretty much any word spelled in pretty much any imaginable way. Azygos, however, is the primary spelling in the dictionary. You can dislike it, of course, and “correct” it all you like, but you are “correcting” a perfectly correct form. The question is how such an odd spelling got to be the standard one in the first place.

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