C is for Cynosure

C is for Cynosure — Write Right“Cynosure” sounds like it could be the name of a dinosaur, but the word literally means “dog’s tail.” When capitalized, cynosure always refers to Ursa Minor, particularly the North Star set within the constellation. The word’s other uses relate to it being the northernmost star; a cynosure can direct or guide and, in some instances, serve as the center of attention—perhaps explaining all the wishes wished upon it.

With the direction set due north, here are a few more “c” words to recall or add to the vocabulary.


Noun. (1829) Partnership, league; usually used in the plural. <in ~s with the devil>

(I don’t know about being in cahoots with the devil, but if any two year olds become eerily silent, they’re usually in cahoots with one another. Check on them, and check on them now.)


Adjective. (1601) Governed or characterized by caprice: impulsive, unpredictable. Synonym: inconstant.

(Many things can be capricious, from ships on the seas to Irish faeries. Considering the word dates to 1601, it probably saw some use during the Salem witch trials.)


Noun. (1796) A dessert consisting of a filling (as of fruit, whipped cream, or custard) layered with or placed in a mold lined with strips of bread, ladyfingers, or biscuits.

(As a dish, “charlotte” sounds delicious. A dowager of the same name might not appreciate being told she’s a dessert, though.)


Noun. (1400s) Disposition to be merciful and especially to moderate the severity of punishment due; an act or instance of leniency; pleasant mildness of weather. Synonym: mercy.

(Clemency usually recalls priests, but I think of Portia. She could as easily have said, “The quality of clemency is not strained…” Shakespeare, though, chose well by selecting “mercy.” The word better suits the occasion and maintains the rhyme scheme.)


Verb. (1609) To dispute or oppose by reasoning <~ a point in a discussion>; to engage in controversy.

(Controvert seems apropos with the current state of social media. Twitter should be renamed “Controverter,” no?)


Noun. (1300s) A piece of plate armor for the front of the thigh.

(I’m not sure when a person would use the word “cuisse” anymore except when writing about knights or putting on some mental armor prior to a difficult conversation.)


Noun. [cybernetic + organism] (c. 1962) A human being who is linked (as for temporary adaptation to a hostile space environment) to one or more mechanical devices upon which some of his vital physiological functions depend.

(Some type 1 diabetics, myself included, joke about being cyborgs. We may not travel to “hostile space environments,” but we certainly rely on “one or more mechanical devices” to keep “vital physiological functions” running.)

What are your favorite “c” words? Share them in the comments.

Catch up on the first two letters of the alphabet:

Image: Ryan Wick (Creative Commons)