Life without life

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy discovering new words when I’m reading. Words like pulvinate and catena, oscitant, and equitation and toxophilite. Reading Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File recently I came across a description of a character as looking thin and weak, with a voice sounding “like a whisky ad.” In what amounts to a summation he is later tagged with the adjective “azoic.”

If you check a dictionary you’ll see azoic defined as “lifeless,” which is its literal translation from the Greek. I think its primary meaning is as a way of designating a period of geologic time, the Azoic Age being the period of the Earth’s history before the appearance of life. Since the date of the first appearance of life keeps getting pushed back, it has been a fluid label. It has also been largely replaced by the term Archaean.

A secondary meaning azoic has is of a type of dye. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used to describe a person before, and I think Deighton was having a bit of fun. Well played!

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