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Take it all off

Writing at his World Wide Words newsletter, Michael Quinion credits H.L. Mencken with a notable addition to the American lexicon: ecdysiast.

Mencken came up with it in response to Georgia Sothern, a notable stripper of the 1940s in Baltimore, who asked him to “coin a new and more palatable word to describe this art.”

Mencken obliged, working with ecdysis, the technical term for molting, derived from the Greek ekdudis, “shedding” or “molting.”

Ecdysiast for “strip-tease artist” did not catch on, though it turns up occasionally in a jocular tone.

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Posted by John McIntyre at 12:55 PM | | Comments (3)


I knew the word, but I did not know that Mencken coined it. One thing I did learn from cataloging many books owned by or given away by HLM, is that he appreciated a pretty face.

"Shedding," not "shredding." And "ekdusis," not "ekdudis."

Given your recent note on the etymology of apocalypse, I think it's time for a reference either to the ecdysiasts of the End Times or to Sally Rand's apocalyptic performances.

I wonder how many of the younguns here recognize the name Sally Rand? When I was little I discovered in the back of my father's secretary (as in furniture, not people) a flip book of Sally Rand doing a fan dance.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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