Insignificant Linguistics Mystery: Funicular

A few years ago, I took first year Latin at PSU. I didn’t continue Latin because I got a job, and it turns out I hate declining nouns and adjectives. It is three times as much work. The professor was great, seemingly normal, but with a great unexpected affection for Elvis (pronouced Elwees in Latin). I really liked learning the new vocab and connecting it to modern words I know in English, Spanish and French. I also loved conjugating the verbs and learning the four principle parts like in the verb ‘regere,’ to rule or reign: Rego, Regere, Rexi, Rectum.

We read a very simplified play in class called Auricula Meretricula. It has the same plot as A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum. We learned that ‘-cula’ at the end of a word is a diminutive, meaning little. It’s similar to ‘-ita’ in Spanish as in señorita and chiquita. Auris means ear, and meretrix means prostitute. Auricula literally means ‘little ear’ but actually means pinky finger, because pinkies can fit in your ear. In the play, Auricula is the name of a young prostitute with a heart of gold.

There are many words from Latin with a ‘-cula’ ending. Very simply, particle means a little part. Hominis means man, so a homunculus is a little man. A homunculus argument says that inside your brain, there is a little man who sees what you see and pulls levers that cause you to act. This type of argument is always fallacious,  because it leads to an infinite amount of tiny men controlled by tinier men. Corpus means body, so corpuscle refers to the ‘little bodies’ of cells. In Spanish, película means movie. Pellis in Latin and piel in Spanish mean skin, so película means little skin, as in the thin fabric of a movie screen. Caliga in Roman times meant ‘a soldier’s boot.’ As a young boy, Gaius spent time with his father in the army, and tried to dress in boots like the soldiers, earning him the nickname Caligula, which stayed with him as he became emperor. Moles means mass, so molecule means little mass. How cute is that!

The Namsan Funicular

Anyway, this winter I went to Seoul, Korea to visit my brother. We went to the Namsan Tower, and on the way down we took a weird sideways elevator that my mom called a ‘funicular.’ WHAT IS A FUNIS? yelled my brain, angry at its lack of knowledge. Months passed with the word forgotten. Then last night, my mom and I went to the Shadowbrook restaurant in Santa Cruz which features an itty bitty funicular, so now the torture ends. Funis means rope. Funicular means little rope. The root ‘funis’ is also found in the word funambulist, which is the name for a tightrope walker, literally someone who walks on a rope. It has nothing to do with fun.

The Shadowbrook Funicular


May 15, 2011

in best post ever,career,etymonline,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,IPA,latin,morphemes,spanish,wordnik

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert May 28, 2011 at 4:26 AM

For to see Sacre-Coeur, when in Par-ee.

funicular is the thing for thee.

In my memory I see

like a white winged dove

Montmartre above

where art lives, and loves!

Californie sure has a lot of cool stuff. A funicular to a restaurant?

It looks so verdant and sunny.


Nootropics March 30, 2012 at 11:07 PM

This article has inspired me to carry on writing on my own blog


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