Word Confusion: Eunuchs versus Unix

Posted January 30, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

WARNING: One of the Word Confusion images is a graphic example of a eunuch.

I actually haven’t run across this as a Word Confusion, but I did like the juxtaposition of the words and the sense of time I had from them. A eunuch is a person most commonly read of from the past, from history, whereas Unix is definitely a contemporary machine code.

It could be fun, though, to imagine a Unix guarding a harem door. If any of the women can program a back door into the software, they’d be able to escape! On a more contemporary note, I know I’ve felt like a eunuch often enough when faced with a computer problem.

These days we call a politician who is coming to the end of his or her tenure, especially one whose successor has already been elected, a lame duck. I guess calling a senator or congressman a eunuch is less dignified. Then there are the famous castrati, young boys who castrate themselves to sing those high notes. Technically, they’re eunuchs too.

I must confess all this talk of castration has me thinking back to an anecdote of my ex-husband’s when he was buying a capon at the grocery store, and the cashier asked him what it was. His reply? A castrated cock, dear.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Eunuchs Unix
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“A eunuch of Qing Dynasty” is courtesy of the authors, K. Chimin Wong and Wu Lien-teh. The photo is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

History of Chinese Medicine: Being a Chronicle of Medical Happenings in China from Ancient Times to the Present Period, Second edition, Shanghai: National Quarantine Service, 1936, plate XIX after p. 202.

Original caption: “A young eunuch undressed to show site of castration, taken in Peking 1901.” Online source.

“Unix-ed-shellscript” is a screenshot by No machine-readable author provided. Unbugged~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). It is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Singular: eunuch
A man who has been castrated, especially (in the past) and employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court

An ineffectual person

A man or boy deprived of the testes or external genitals

One who lacks virility or power

A boy who has been castrated to preserve a high pitched voice into adulthood (usually referred to as castrati)

[Trademark; computing] AS widely used multiuser operating system
a nation of political eunuchs

The sultan’s harem was guarded by fearsome eunuchs.

The last empress of China was carried in a litter by eunuchs.

Adopt 10 good habits that improve your UNIX(R) command line.

Use Unix commands in Windows’ built-in command prompt.

Adjective: eunuchoid
Noun: eunuchoidism
History of the Word:
First known use: 15th century

Old English, via Latin from the Greek eunoukhos, it literally means bedroom guard, from eunē (bed) + a second element related to ekhein (to hold).

1970s, from uni- (one) + a respelling of -ics, on the pattern of an earlier less compact system called Multics.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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