Word of the Day: nictitate

Wink Magazine Summer 2008 Cover

Word of the Day: nictitate

Nicitate banner
Source: unknown

Nictitate (verb NIK-tuh-tayt)


1 : to close and open quickly : to shut one eye briefly : wink

2 : to close and open the eyelids


“Dermaq’s third eyelids nictitated over his corneas as though to wash away the image, and momentarily he looked away, then back at his superior.” — Charles L. Harness, Firebird, 1981

“The hump shifted, raised a hairless head of chitinous scales. Almond eyes of burning gold nictitated to life. A broad chest of angular plates swelled with breath.” — Ian C. Esslemont, Night of Knives, 2004

Did You Know?

Nictitate didn’t just happen in the blink of an eye; it developed over time as an alteration of the older verb nictate, which also means “to wink.” Both verbs trace to the Latin word for winking, nictare. The addition of the extra syllable was apparently influenced by Latin verbs ending in -itare, such as palpitare and agitare (which gave us palpitate and agitate, respectively). Today, nictitate has a special use in the animal world. Since the early 18th century, scientists have used nictitating membrane to describe the so-called “third eyelid”: the thin, usually transparent membrane in the eyes of birds, fishes, and other vertebrates that helps keep the eyeball moist and clean.

My Take

Imagine my surprise when I saw this word. I had no idea what it meant, and when I read the definition, I thought to myself wow!

I mean, why have such a big word for ‘Wink?’

Sarah Palin Wink
Source: ar15.com

As I sat at my keyboard, I tried to figure out ways of using it. Was it an interesting term? It might be to some people. Was it a sexy word? Not to me. Can you image the famous image of Bettie Page nictitating at the base of a Christmas Tree? Or how about Sarah Palin’s nictitate so often imitated by Tina Fey? I also think some people ‘nictitate’ better than others. Case in point, George Clooney vs. Betty White vs. Beyonce? Who’s nictitate is better? It’s a matter of personal preference.

Wink Magazine Summer 2008 Cover
Source: pyramidgallery.com

So I say, let’s just use the word ‘Wink.’

It just doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t see me using the word. I predict that it will disappear from the English language within the next century. What do you think?

I hope you like the images I chose, as well as the sexy bonus pic you will get if you share this post via Twitter.

I love learning the different contexts of these words of the day. Do you? Please share your comments. I’m sure we would all like to read them.

Have a great day.

mw_logoBrought to you by Merriam-Webster, Word of the Day.

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