in Wacky Word Wednesday

It’s the day before Thursday, which means it’s time again for Wacky Word Wednesday, a weekly celebration of the wackiest and most interesting words from around the world!

Getting right down to business, today’s wacky word is: novercal.

Here’s the definition from

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of, like, or befitting a stepmother

quo botNovercal

The etymology of this word is pretty straightforward, having originated from the Latin word novercalis, meaning stepmother. Because it’s an adjective, novercal can only be used to modify nouns or pronouns.

As most of us are aware, modernity has brought with it a new form of family composition. In the United States alone, one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. Among remarriages, 65 percent involve children from previous marriages. With this phenomenon of marriage, divorce, then marriage again, a new category of family has come about: the stepfamily, otherwise known as the blended family.

This modern new family is not without backing—fictional backing anyways. For as long as we can remember, stepmothers have had a maleficent presence in children stories, such as the classic story of Cinderella, or Snow White and the Wicked Queen (who also happened to be her stepmother). All around the mythical world, stepmothers bring wickedness to those around them, so much so that the “wicked stepmother” is a well-documented, historical trope in literature. (Even Euripides, the Greek playwright circa 480 BCE, is known to have written “Better a serpent than a stepmother!” in his play Alcestis.)

Not only are stepmothers portrayed as evil, but in some stories, the biological mother contrasts this by being a symbol of goodness and love. For example, the Kashmir tale of The Wicked Stepmother begins with a mother who is forbidden to eat without her husband by her side. After years of obedience, she gives in to temptation and takes a bite of food… and then she turns into a goat. After her husband remarries, goat-mom stays outside, tied to the gate. From this vantage point, she witnesses the new stepmother abuse her two children, watching them becoming thinner and thinner from a lack of food. Though a goat, the mother still wins the hearts of readers as she finds ways to keep her children from starvation, protecting them from the malevolent stepmother.

Before we forget, here are a couple examples of novercal used in a sentence:

  • Gertrude was sick and tired of her stepchildren treating her like a novercal witch, so she poisoned the lot of them, then ground their bones to make her bread.
  • Catherine was never one to succumb to stereotypically novercal whims. Sure, her stepchildren were butts sometimes, but she knew that they loved her—and she loved them.

For more on modern families in modern times, look no further than the show produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Modern Family. This six-time Emmy award-winning series has had much success, showcasing three families intertwined in a mess of extended familial relations, including a blended family with a May-December interracial marriage, a “traditional” family, and a same-sex couple with their adopted Vietnamese daughter.  We’ve yet to see any wicked stepmothers show up among this motley crew, but we’ll make sure to keep an eye out for ya’ .

In closing, we’ve just got to ask: what is it with everyone picking on stepmothers? Do you think there’s a reason why, historically, this novercal bunch has been picked on left and right in stories around the world? Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts.

(Oh, and with all this talk about families, we want to wish everyone in America a very Happy Thanksgiving with their loved ones! For everyone else, happy—erm—Thursday with your loved ones too.)

If you’re interested in learning more wacky words, make sure to visit!

  1. “You know, there’s something about my stepdaughter’s smile and laugh which make me…well…make me want to vomit. I’ve asked her to do neither in the household. And she calls me novercal!”

  2. I was checking out the link to the Literary Tropes site above, and it says that some scientists posit that the literary mistreatment of stepmothers was devised by children as a mechanism to redirect or contain the things that they hate about their mothers in a separate vessel, so to speak, “so they can continue to regard Mother as perfect.”

    I don’t know if that’s necessarily an accurate take on things, but it is an interesting idea.

  3. Oh my gosh – this is so funny! I love this post. Now I have a word for this behavior. I’m sure Cinderella wishes she had this back her day (ha ha!) I have to see mine tomorrow. I hope she’s acting un-novercal. Cheers.

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