In a word: ecdysiast

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:

ECDYSIAST

In addition to his contributions to the understanding of American English as a dialect in its own right, H.L. Mencken, whose birthday is today, contributed a word to his native tongue in 1940.

Ecdysiast (pronounced ek-DIZ-ee-ast) derives from a Greek verb, ekduein, “to strip off,” and the noun ekdusis, “a stripping.” An ecdysiast is a stripteaser.

The usage is always jocular.

The English word from the Greek that may have inspired Mr. Mencken’s coinage is ecdysis, “the shedding of an outer integument or skin, as by insects, crustaceans, and snakes” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Example: From Ben Brantley, “Curtain Up! It’s Patti’s Twin,” a review of a Broadway revival of Gypsy published in The New York Times in 2008: “The title character, after all, is a burlesque queen, embodied here in the charming flesh of Laura Benanti, who obliges with examples of the ecdysiast’s art in the second act.”

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