9.648 skiamorphic recursions

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 22 Mar 1996 19:26:47 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 648.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: DARWIN@steffi.uncg.edu (32)
Subject: Skiamorph/vestige

[Humanists may recall a discussion about technological vestiges, for
which a newspaper columnist had found the term "skiamorph"
("shadow-form"). The following note I have extracted with thanks from the
discussion group DARWIN, where discussion on the topic has continued. --WM]

Following up the discussion we were having a little while ago about the
idea of "skiamorph", it would seem to me that one of the most general terms
that captures this notion is "vestige". Is there a general term in
historical linguistics for linguistic vestiges; silent letters, for example,
that once were pronounced but are no longer, and yet persist in writing
through inheritance?

Some people mentioned the term "exaptation" -- this term was coined by
Gould to refer to the familiar case of a feature that originally served
one purpose being taken over for a second purpose. This doesn't seem to
me to capture the meaning that the writer of the skiamorph essay was trying
to communicate, however, which was much more the idea of a vestige: a
formerly-functional thing that no longer functions but persists through

I went to look up Darwin's discussion of vestigial organs in the _Origin_,
and my memory had failed me slightly because I saw that he used the term
"rudimentary organs" rather than "vestigial organs" (Origin, chapter 13).
In my dictionary, "rudiment" carries more the connotation of something
beginning to develop, in contrast to "vestige" which comes from the Latin
meaning "footprint" (something left behind; a trace of something from the
past). It occurred to me that perhaps Darwin was specifically avoiding the
word "vestige" because of its possible association with Chambers' _Vestiges
of the Natural History of Creation_. Do any of our historians know whether
this might be so? Has anyone previously commented upon the different
connotations of "rudiment" and "vestige"?

Knowing the etymology of "vestige" also shed light suddenly on another
Victorian work of natural history: Hugh Miller's _Footprints of the Creator_,
which was written as a rejoinder to Chambers' _Vestiges_. Rather clever
of Miller, no?

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Cornelia Strong College, 100 Foust Building
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.