Weird Words — ossicusp

Last week I got a query (directed to my other blog, but really more suited to this one), about whether or not there was a special word for someone who studies giraffes, the way people who study reptiles are called herpetologists.
Odd and disappointing as this may seem, this was not something I knew off the top of my head, so I went into research mode. First I did an "advanced search" in the OED, searching for any entry that contained the word giraffe in the definition. That didn't turn up any likely words, so I went to Google Book Search, looking for various strings including the words giraffe, scientist, zoologist, study etc.
That turned up Pursuing Giraffe: A 1950s Adventure, which looked amazing … and whose author, Anne Innis Dagg, was living and teaching in Canada.
So, a few more searches and I had an email address for Professor Dagg, and she replied, very graciously, that there were so few people studying giraffe (giraffe can have the same form for singular and plural, like deer) that there wasn't a special term that she knew of, although people have jokingly used giraffologist.
So that's one word query down (and roughly 500,000 still outstanding). The best parts of this query, as always, were the things I learned along the way: I've added Pursuing Giraffe to my to-read list (books on women's struggle to be taken seriously as scientists are always gripping reading) and I learned the word ossicusp — which is a very rare term for the skin-covered horns on the head of a giraffe (or an okapi).
How many times have you looked at a giraffe and never wondered if those funny horns had a special name? Now you know, and you'll never look at a giraffe (or, presumably, an okapi, should you run across one) the same way again.
[SECRET MESSAGE TO LITERARY SOJOURN ATTENDEES: The secret word is ossicusp. Write it down!]


7 thoughts on “Weird Words — ossicusp

  1. Just last week I asked a friend that works at the zoo if those were called horns, antlers or what-nots. We hypothesized ‘horn nubs’ but ossicusp is much more fun – and accurate! Thanks!


  2. erin – you don’t know me, but I’m another erin… who has recently become a huge fan of this blog (a friend sent me the link to your TED talk, and I found you from there). I was in south africa last year and when we saw a giraffe, I asked not one but BOTH of the questions you answered in this post: what’s a person called who studies giraffes?.. and do the “horns” have a special name. Our guide gave an answer to the second question (it wasn’t ossicusp, though!) but not the first.You just made my day!


  3. Off the top of my head, I have a suggestion for a title for people who study giraffes:Camelopardologists.It’s from Latin, it’s suitably obfuscatory, and it’s fun to say.


  4. Ossicone, which means the same thing, is even rarer than ossicusp, it seems; 511 ghits for the latter, only 286 for the former.


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