What does ‘chthonic’ mean?

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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: chthonic…

When I read the novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, I was puzzled to encounter a word that I not only didn’t know but that seemed absurdly impossible to pronounce: chthonic. Here is how Groff used the word:

Chthonic,” he said, booze letting loose the pretension at his core, which she still found sweet, an allowance for the glory.

If I’d done my degree in English (instead of the political science that I’d chosen) or had had a fondness for heavy metal bands (see: Chthonic), I would have known the word meant “concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld.”

The etymology is Greek, from khthonios, meaning “of the earth, in the earth,” from khthon “the earth, solid surface of the earth” (mostly poetic). Chthonic has a precise technical meaning in Greek, referring primarily to the manner and method of offering sacrifices to specific deity or deities. Interestingly, a similar word is found in structural geology: allochthon describes a large block of rock that has been moved from its original site of formation, usually by low angle thrust faulting.

In terms of pronunciation, the initial ch of chthonic is silent. Here’s how a dictionary will tell you to say the word: ˈTHänik/

I must say, I rather like the clunky look of the word and the harsh, hard sound it produces.

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