Friday, May 1, 2009


This comes, once again, from Adrian McKinty's always enlivening blog, 'The Psychology of Every Day Life'. (I know, I know--you want the link. Just be patient will you?) The review is for Amira Lakhous's excellent novel Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in the Piazza Vittorio. The quote is:

"Suspicion falls upon the saintly Amedeo who has gone missing and who seems to be the only one keeping order among the fissiparous residents of the run down block of flats in the otherwise charming Piazza Vittorio."

So of course I have no idea what 'fissiparous' means. If someone had asked me without context, I would have hazarded two guesses as to the meaning--phosphorescent, as in soda, or piscene, as in fishing. As may be evident, I am not that good when it comes to blind guessing.

However, in context I will venture that it means something like 'combative' or 'retaliatory'. What are you all going to throw out there? Not asking you to make public your blind guesses, but think about it for a moment...

Okay. It doesn't mean anything like that. It means 'reproducing by fission' or 'Tending to break up into parts or break away from a main body; factious.'

As there is no reproduction involved in this novel that I can remember, I think we must take the second meaning. I would like to say that that 'p' in fissiparous really threw me. But as 'fission' itself is a mystery to me, even getting it right wouldn't have helped so awfully much.


  1. I think I heard this word first describing political parties in Northern Ireland. In most political systems parties fight for the centre ground, but in sectarian cutlures like Quebec or Ulster of Fiji, politics is centrifugal not centrist - the extremes dominate and control the agenda and out there on the fringes it gets fissiparous.

  2. Very interesting. I wonder if that's also what happens in a place like Santa Cruz, where the left has dominated the city council for decades now, and there's a need for the candidates to somehow differentiate themselves from each other. I'm not sure that's quite 'fissiparous', though, as by and large they fail to do so.

    That should have been Amara Lakhous, by the way, not Amira, for anyone out there reading this blog who hasn't already heard of Clash of Civilizations, etc. It's good.

  3. Great word, one I was unacquainted with. I just hope I'm able to memorize and preferably use a few of these words at some point.

  4. No kidding, Brian. I am writing all this stuff up so you would think I would have a good handle on it afterwards. But the truth is, no, sadly not. Luckily, I do know where I can find it now.

  5. I like the way in which you come across these words, they reveal the wide variety of your interests.

    Political parties everywhere have a fissiparous nature, at least they do here in India. Maybe power and control of power brings out our fissiparous tendencies.

  6. That's very kind of you, Sucharita. I do think it shows the wide variety of my ignorance more than anything else, though.

    Indian politics must be very fissiparous. I am not sure how anyone really has the time to keep track of it all...

  7. Seems like it means an uppedy group of individuals, but I really think it means taking a fizzy sip of brew after its best by date is up.

  8. I'm liking your definition, Liam. That's one of the problems with this blog, though. It turns out that the alternate meanings often sound just as valid as the correct ones. I'm afraid that none of this is edifying, least of all to me.

  9. I know, I fart around to much. Try looking it up on I use that sucker all the time when I'm writing, esspecially for its thesarus.