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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: caryatid

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:


After a month of distractions, I am back with a word of the week for you, this one from architecture.

A caryatid (pronounced kar-ee-AT-id) is a draped female figure that serves as a supporting column in an entablature.

(An entablature is a horizontal, continuous lintel, comprising architrave, frieze, and cornice. You can look up architrave, frieze, and cornice on your own. I’m not going to do everything for you.)

The word comes from the Greek karyatides, priestesses of the Temple of Artemis at Karyai in Laconia. There is a male equivalent, an atlantes, from Atlas, the Titan who held up the sky on his shoulders.

Example: From “Vogue’s September cover issue boosts spirits, economy,” Washington Post and Denver Post in 2012: “This September’s Lady Gaga cover is as stately as a caryatid, a shapely column holding up the entablature that is the magazine’s masthead.”

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