Dear lotion pump manufacturer,
This may seem a strange request, but I am a writer who loves words, and I wondering if there is an industry term for the crusty glob of lotion that clogs the tip of a dispenser. Because you attempt to design products to prevent these clumps, I thought you might have a name for them. If so, would you mind sharing the term with me?
Sometimes I feel like a lunatic, like when, on the day I wrote a collage on Lunacy, I sent the above email out to several soap and lotion dispenser manufacturers. I have no need for the term. I’m not working on a piece about lotion or its dispensers; I have no place for the name once I have it. I just want to know: what is the word for that crusty bit?
When I sent out that email, I was researching lunar words for my Wednesday word work – moon, lunacy – when I came across this entry in the dictionary:
lu·nu·la n. A small crescent-shaped structure or marking, esp. the white area at the base of a fingernail that resembles a half-moon.¹
Who would have thought there was a word for that half-moon at the base of our fingernails? I was awed by this for some reason, that this seemingly useless body part (is it even a part?) would have a name. In a quest for a decent photograph of a lunula, I followed the word down the internet rabbit hole and, as I gagged over photos of thick, yellowed, and sometimes even green finger and toenails, I discovered that our nails are evaluative tools for doctors: the health of a patient’s fingernails can be indicative of nutrient deficiencies, diabetes, anemia. And it occurred to me, when a doctor evaluates, she needs a name for each body part; she can’t be writing a report and say “that little white thing at the base of the fingernail, the half-moon shaped bit, is not the right shape.” She’s a busy woman. She needs to have language to say “Lunula is malformed.”
This precision of language is my favorite takeaway from Strunk and White’s gem, The Elements of Style:
Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise.²
In order to be concise, writers, like doctors, need to have language that allows for this precision. We need to have words. We need to have names.
Everything has a name. Even the snipped tips of green beans. On a recent radio quiz show episode, a guest player canned green beans for a living. The host asked, What are the tips of green beans called, the end things that we cut off? I hate those things – surely you guys have a name for them. Snips. They are called snips once they’re snipped off (EVM when they are still on: extra vegetative matter).
When you need a name for a thing, you go to the people who work closely with that thing, like doctors for human anatomy, or green bean canners for green bean anatomy. And for lotion dispenser diagnositcs? You go to lotion dispenser manufacturers. In writing group, we talked about words, and precision of language, and how everything has a name. Like the globby chunk of dried lotion that clogs the dispenser. My friend Lesley said, There must be a name for that. I’ll bet people in the lotion industry have a name for it.
I have not yet received a reply to my emails, but that day, when I was under the lunar influence, I thought a good name would be operculum, like the door attached to a moon snail’s foot, the door that seals off the entrance to its shell. If I do not hear back from the lotion pump people, and if I ever have occasion to write about the crusty bit that clogs a pump’s tip, that is what I’ll call it. An operculum.
*log·o·phile n. a lover of words.³
¹ “lunula.” The American Heritage College Dictionary. Third Ed. 1993. Print.
² Strunk, William, Jr.; White, E.B. (2000). The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition). Boston: Pearson. p. 23.
³ “logophile.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 26 Mar. 2014.<Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/logophile>.