Wacky Word Wednesday

Onychophagist – Wacky Word Wednesday

The week is halfway over, friends and fellow logophiles, and that means it’s time for another edition of Wacky Word Wednesday, a weekly celebration of some of the wackiest and most interesting words from around the world.

Today’s wacky word is: onychophagist.

The definition from TermWiki.com:

quo top

on·y·cho·pha·gist

[on-uhkofuh-jist]

-noun

a person who habitually bites their nails

quo botOnychophagist

Onychophagist comes from the Greek word for claw or nail, onyx, and the neoclassical element -phagy, which refers to the action of eating the substance that precedes it. Technically speaking, an onychophagist is someone who suffers from onychophagia, which is a condition that leads people to bite their nails as a result of psychological distress. Regardless, we humbly suggest using it as an interjection to scold any nail-biters within your general vicinity, e.g., Hark, you foul onychophagist! Cease that nail-bitery, post haste!

While researching this word, we couldn’t help but think of Struwwelpeter, a 19th-century collection of children’s stories meant to scare the crap out of German kids with bad habits, like not eating soup, not watching where you’re going, playing with matches and fidgeting at the dinner table. And then, of course, there’s the eponymous story of Shaggy Peter himself, who nobody likes on account of his lack of hygiene.

Among the stories in Struwwelpeter is that of Little Suck-a-Thumb who, incidentally, has a rather nasty habit of sucking his thumbs. While not entirely tantamount to biting your nails, thumb-sucking is at best frowned upon in most cultures, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share the story of Little Suck-a-Thumb for the hygienic benefit of our readers and fellow onychophagists alike.

Here it is, the English translation of “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb” from The Project Gutenberg website:

One day Mamma said “Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
Don’t suck your thumb while I’m away.
The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys who suck their thumbs;
And ere they dream what he’s about,
He takes his great sharp scissors out,
And cuts their thumbs clean off—and then,
You know, they never grow again.”

Mamma had scarcely turned her back,
The thumb was in, Alack! Alack!

 

The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissor-man.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.

 

Mamma comes home: there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;
“Ah!” said Mamma, “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.”

Alack! Mamma’s lack of a reaction to her son’s thumbs getting cut off by a giant scissor-wielding stranger is a bit disconcerting, you’ve got to admit. But then again, proper decorum was pretty important back then—especially to Germans.

In any case, if that story (including this really creepy illustration of the sadistic tailor and his thumb-snipping scissors) didn’t convince you to stop biting your nails (or sucking your thumbs, for that matter), then here are three real reasons why onychophagia is bad for your health:

  • According to Oralanswers.com, biting your nails can chip your teeth—or at least damage their enamel. So unless you want to slowly grind away those dazzling pearly whites, you gotta’ keep your fingers out of your mouth.
  • Here’s a case report from PubMed.gov, showing that onychophagia can be linked to cases of gingivitis in children. You might be able to avoid this one by investing in gallons of Listerine, but you’d be better off (and save a few bucks) if you just stopped munching on your claws.
  • We don’t have a link for this one, but just think of the amount of gunk that gathers beneath your fingernails throughout the course of the day. Dirt, grime, germs—and yes, feces. Refraining from biting your nails, therefore, is one step toward making yourself a lot more kissable. And that’s a fact.

Thus ends one of the more revolting Wacky Word Wednesdays we’ve had to date. You don’t happen to know of any other fun words for bad habits, do you?

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  • Very interesting to read about those children’s story to scare them~

    In addition of you 3 reasons not to bit your nail, I would like to say that by eating all those gross things you have under your nail you may develop this sort of worms into your stomach which will make you feel always hungry, but you could also give you the appendicitis which is well known to be really painful.

    So children or adults do not eat your nails…keep them well as it gives you nice hands as well 🙂

  • Surely onychophagists are evolutionary survivors? I’m just thinking, back in the days when there weren’t any nail scissors – or even nail files – the caveman with the short, bitten nails would be better at hunting, fighting and winning the ladies than his curly, four inch-long nailed compatriot. Just a thought 🙂