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Quincunx

Definition:
A geometric pattern of five points forming a cross; in other words, a pattern in which the outer four points define a square, with a fifth point in the center, as demonstrated with the number five on a dice. The word quincunx can also refer to the Galton board, a method for determining probability.

Pronunciation:  Kwin-kuncks

Origin:
Quincunx was constructed in the 1640s and originally referred to astrological formations. It derived from the Latin word quinque, meaning five, and uncia, meaning an ounce or twelfth part (derived from the word unus, meaning one). It gained its current meaning in the 1660s.

Why this word?
Personally, this word appeals to me for several reasons. I can always use another q word for use in Scrabble games. I also love words of Latinate origin. Finally, who doesn’t need a word to refer to obscure geometrical arrangements? I can’t think of the number of times I’ve wondered if there was a name for the way the dots were arranged on a die. I can’t recall how often I have sat and pondered what seemed to me to be an unknowable truth. Oh, wait, I can. It’s never. I never once wondered that, much to my personal chagrin. But now that it’s been pointed out to me, I can’t help but wonder if there are words for other things that I’ve been taking for granted. For example, is there a specific word for a half-empty roll of toilet paper? Or for the sadness one feels upon viewing an outdated technology such as the 8-track? To the best of my knowledge there is not, but I also did not know about the quincunx.

How to use the word quincunx?
“He placed the evidence on the table, nonchalantly forming a quincunx of accusation with the photographs and bank statements.”

“She had an obscure form of obsessive compulsive disorder that compelled her to constantly trace geometric designs on the table with her fingers. My favorite of these was the quincunx.”

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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.

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