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for Monday, 12 April 2021

vibrissa

[ vahy-bris-uh ]

noun

one of the stiff, bristly hairs growing about the mouth of certain animals, as a whisker of a cat.

 

What is the origin of vibrissa?

Vibrissa, “one of the stiff hairs growing about the mouth of an animal, such as a cat’s whisker,” is restricted pretty much to (human) anatomy, ornithology, and zoology. Vibrissa is the singular of the Late Latin plural noun vibrissae, a word that occurs only once, in a work by Sextus Pompeius Festus, a Roman grammarian and lexicographer who flourished in the late 2nd century a.d. Festus defines vibrissae as “the nose hairs of a human being, so called because when they are pulled out, the head shakes (caput vibrātur)” (vibrissae does in fact derive from the Latin verb vibrāre “to shake”). This “human” sense is the original meaning in English in the late 17th century, but it is no longer common; the more general zoological and ornithological meaning arose in the first half of the 19th century. The singular form vibrissa first appears in English in the first quarter of the 19th century.

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Last updated: 12 April 2021

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