What does ‘fissiparous’ mean?

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: fissiparous…

From time to time, I like to read books that I’d describe as unchallenging but engaging. Political thrillers fall into that category for me, and Robert Harris is a master of the genre.

In his 2017 book MunichHarris tells — in a lightly fictionalized way — the story of the signing of the 1938 agreement between British PM Neville Chamberlain and Adoph Hitler. In addition to giving me several hours of reading pleasure, the book also gave me my word of the week: fissiparous. Here’s how Harris used it:

Colonel Oster, the deputy head of military intelligence, [was] a cavalryman of charm, who was their leader, in so far as so fissiparous a group could tolerate such a thing…

I had never before encountered the word but it’s an adjective meaning, “inclined to cause or undergo division into separate parts or groups.” The word came into use in the mid-19th century (earliest documented use is 1835) and comes from the Latin,  fissus, past participle of findere meaning ‘split,’ and -parous meaning bearing or producing.

Although it strikes me as a somewhat obscure word, I note that it is used regularly in publications like The Economist and more rarely by the New York Times. 

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on June 6/18.

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