World O’ Words: A new meaning to the term ‘Walking Dead’

Barry Coulter

“They can bring long dead animals back from extinction, but they can’t grow hair on the top of a bald man’s head.” Barry Coulter

The word of the week is necrofauna — a brand new addition to the word hoard, with immense implications and potential for the future, yet with deep roots in the past, in so many ways I don’t know where to begin.

Necrofauna are animals that were extinct, but have been brought back into the world of the living, through human actions like cloning, genetic reconstruction, cross-breeding, or other fascinating developments on the animal husbandry front. De-extinction, this process is called; another groovy new word.

While its significance is modern, necrofauna’s roots are Greek — the same way we’ve been putting together words for centuries. “Necrofauna” is a portmanteau word (two words jammed together to make a new one) consisting of two morphemes: “Necro,” from the Greek prefix for death, and “Fauna,” Greek for animals of a particular time and place, which also became the name of a Roman goddess for the Earth and fertility.

Woolly mammoths have long been considered the best candidate for de-extinction, and in fact we’re all muttering “necrofauna” to ourselves because we’re on the verge of actually rekindling these pachydermous, with which we humanoids shared the earth for a bit. Mammothus primigenius vanished thousands of years ago, but scientists are now say ing they are on the verge of bringing him back, through a magnificent feat of genetic engineering. Perhaps even within a decade.

Critics are calling out the dangers of de-extinction. Introducing necrofauna, however genetically modified, into an environment profoundly changed since last time, may introduce curious new diseases, causing who knows what widespread havoc.

And there’s a moral issue as well. It’s been determined that we’re on the verge, or even undergoing the sixth mass extinction in earth’s history, in which three quarters of earth’s species could vanish, leaving us to lord it over the Planet of the Weeds. So should we not be using our de-extinction science to protect and help species like the mountain caribou to prosper once more?

I’ve heard the criticism that we humans are actually building an ark — we understand that Siberian tigers, leopard frogs, rhinocerii, blue whales are going the way of the passenger pigeon, while we’ll probably end up trying to save the lions, the bees, bears, elk, and perhaps wolves. So if we’re building an ark, wouldn’t it be unfair to let some species go extinct — the eventual fate of us all — while adding to the population of our ark with “the walking dead,” to coin a phrase?

And really, what’s the point of re-introducing mammoths back into our local biogeoclimatic zones, unless we’re going to hunt them with stone spears and make flutes out of their bones.

We could debate these questions for decades. Personally, I’m a fan of the Upper Paleolithic Period. I think it was a golden age for human species, of which there were several. Once the great ice receded, the climate was great. Food was plentiful. Diseases were relatively few. Our brains were emerging into full power. You could even make the case that humans were more intelligent back then.

Bringing back that time would add a certain frisson to our current time — the late Holocene epoch, or Anthropocene, as some have proposed calling the period dating from the commencement of significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

I imagine walking out my back door at dawn and instead of shooing away the deer or tripping over the skunks, I am sprung upon by Smilodon Fatalis — a saber-toothed tiger. What an epic way to go!

But enough about digging up the buried past. As a word, Necrofauna has great potential for colloquial usage. “You still here? You some kind of Necrofauna?”

Plus, this word passes another key test with an A-plus — how well it works as the name of a rock band.

“Tonight, on stage at the Old Supervalu Auditorium in downtown Cranbrook — Johnny Morpheme and the Portmanteaux. With special guests Necrofauna.

* * *

Yes, the Word o’ the Day is really paraskevidekatriaphobia , the fear of Friday the 13, which is today. So happy Paraskevidekatriaphobia, everyone. What could possibly go wrong?

* * *

A world-wide Word O’ the Day recently was Dotard. Kim Jung Un’s use of ‘dotard’ to describe President Donald Trump, in response to Trump’s calling Kim “Rocket Man,” certainly had us all chuckling at the use of this ancient word dating back to the Middle English of the 14th Century. It’s now generally considered archaic, not to mention a deadly insult. You don’t refer to anyone as a dotard anymore, you describe them as having dementia, and instead of “dotage” we now use the word “retirement.”

Actually, Kim Jong Un referred to President Trump as “neukdari,” a Korean word which translates better as ‘Old Lunatic.” I thank CNN for this information. I do not know why the English speaking world decided to go with “dotard” instead. Translation is a wonderful science.

Barry Coulter is Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman

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