What is a cicatrix?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

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: cicatrix….

I had heard extremely positive reviews of a new novelized account of the meeting of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, written by noted American writer Louis Bayard.

I put the book on my Christmas list in 2019, received it and had read it before the year had even ended. I wish I could say I found Courting Mr. Lincoln to be better written. But the historical detail is rich and fascinating. And it’s a relief to see Mary Todd presented in a more positive light than the one used by most accounts of her life.

And, best of all for me, the book gave me my word of the week: cicatrix. Here is how Bayard used it:

“And now this,” she said, pointing to the cicatrix just about his right eye.

From context, I guessed that a cicatrix would be a birthmark of some description. Close, but no prize. In fact, it’s the scare of a healed wound. Intrigued by this fact, I did a little research to determine how or when Lincoln might have been scarred.

It turns out that, twice in his life, Lincoln had life masks made from plaster casts of his face. (The reason for him having gone to such lengths is assumed to have been political.) Laser scans of these masks have shown the 16th president’s unusual degree of facial asymmetry. The left side of Lincoln’s face was much smaller than the right, an aberration known as cranial facial microsomia.

When Lincoln was a boy, he was kicked in the head by a horse. No one knows for certain, however, whether it was the kick that caused Lincoln’s lopsided appearance.

The etymology of the word is Latin, meaning “a scar or scar-like mark,” from cicatrix (accusative cicatricem ) meaning “a scar.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Jan. 8/20.

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