What’s the origin of the word carapace?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: carapace…

When brand new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why he made some 50% of his cabinet female, he quickly commented, “because it’s 2015.” (You can see a group photo of cabinet ministers in the image at the top of this column.)

Many people — including me — thought it a particularly clever response. It was at once dismissive and sharp, suggesting, perhaps, that the problem lay with the questioner. Here is part of what Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson had to say about the exchange in a column in last Saturday’s paper:

Some spontaneity must be part of the political actors repertoire because without it everything seems staged, spun and phony, as if a carapace had been deliberately built around the politician’s true self.

Of course I already knew that a carapace is an exoskeleton or shell around crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs. But I love that word! And I particularly appreciate it when it’s used in a metaphorical sense, as Simpson did here. This made me curious to learn the terms’s etymology.

Interestingly, it comes from the French carapace, which means “tortoise shell.” In turn this word comes from the Spanish carapacho or the Portuguese carapaça, which is of uncertain origin and thought perhaps to come from the Latin, capa meaning “hooded cloak.”

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