Piquant pecans at the pyknic’s picnic

Reading a book about Søren Kierkegaard yesterday, I came across a description of the Danish philosopher as “of the pycnic type,” something that “would lend a piquant touch to his psychological profile.” The word pycnic (more commonly spelled pyknic) completely stymied me. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before, and thinking it was a typo for picnic simply didn’t make sense given the context.

Pyknic is a word that’s very rarely used today. Derived from the Greek pyknos (for dense or thick) it refers to a body characterized as short and stocky, powerful but given to fat. It’s of recent vintage, with its first recorded use being in 1925. Since then I’ve heard that it’s been replaced by endomorph (a coinage from the 1940s), but it seems to me that endomorph — round and fat — isn’t quite the same thing.

As I say, it’s a term that’s fallen out of use, along with much of the science of classifying body types. I doubt I’ll have much occasion to use it, but it’s an interesting one to file away.


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