Wednesday, 17 March 2010


The second chapter of Wyndham's novel (p.41 of this edition) includes this digression on naming the titular motile vegetables:
Now that walking plants were established facts the Press lost its former tepidity, and bathed them in publicity. So a name had to be found for them. Already there were botanists wallowing after their custom in polysyllabic dog-Latin and Greek to produce variants on ambulans and pseudopodia, but what the newspapers and the public wanted was something easy on the tongue and not too heavy on the headlines for general use.
We're then given a list of possible names, all playing on 'tri', in reference to the tripled pseudopod foot of the creature's root.

I like the way this is deliberately tricky (hah! tri-ckey; but then tricor is the Latin for 'to make difficulties, to play tricks'). It pretends to be a list of non-latinate names, when every name there is from a latin root ('tricuspus', 'having three points'). Some of these names contain hidden poison ('trigenates', for instance, are cyanide acids); some are gloriously random ('trigon', apart from being a three-pointed-shape, after the manner of pentagon or hexagon, is also a kind of neume). 'Trilog' looks like a crashing vegetal pun ('log'), but doubtless has more to do with a truncated 'trilogy', a sort of literary in-joke. 'Tridentates' is, since no plants have 'teeth', splendidly misdirecting. 'Tripeds' and 'Trippets' play games with pronunciation; for whilst we know we're supposed to read the first of these as 'TRIpeds', we can hardly help seeing the word as 'TRIP-ets'. But most of all, I like the way that Wyndham has simply incorporated in the body of his novel what looks very like the sort of list an author comes up with when thrashing out his/her ideas prior to writing. 'What shall I call my three-pronged ambulatory plants? Here, I'll make a list.' That this lists includes 'tripods' is the best gag of all.

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