Although the Latin word vorare (devour, swallow quickly) is no longer very familiar to many of us, we see its root hidden in plain sight in several common words. Some, such as devour and voracious, retain the sense of greediness or great hunger; others, such as herbivore, carnivore and omnivore, refer more neutrally to the act of eating and in particular to the type of food.
The –vore suffix has been especially productive in scientific terminology, where it’s a standard way of describing a life form’s dietary preferences. The three terms just mentioned are well known. In more technical contexts we may also come across words like insectivore, piscivore, nectarivore, frugivore (fruit-eater), detritivore, and granivore (eats seeds, not grandmothers), and their adjectival forms: insectivorous, etc.
In these cases, –vore signals the act of eating, and what precedes it indicates what is eaten. But more recent coinages work differently, signalling a shift (or lapse) in how the suffix is used. One of these is locavore, sometimes localvore. Although superficially it has the same form as the traditional –vore words, it does not work quite the same way: it has nothing to do with eating locals.
Locavorism is about sourcing food locally. The word is part of green English vocabulary. Locavores prefer food that is grown or farmed by the locavores themselves or by someone in the surrounding area. Fewer food miles generally implies a lower carbon footprint – and hence a lower cookprint, which is “a measure of a meal’s environmental impact”.
Still more unorthodox is femivore. You might guess that the fem– part has to do with female or feminism, and you’d be right – it’s the latter – but the word’s meaning is still far from obvious. This NYT Magazine article about femivores describes the efforts of a small group of feminists seeking to reconcile feminism, home-making, and eating ethically and self-sufficiently.
The concept is fine, but I don’t think femivore is a well-formed term: it joins two familiar affixes in a cryptic fashion that requires considerable elaboration. Even ‘reading into’ the word, we’re left guessing about it, and there’s a strong probability of misreading it. More –vore words are likely to be created given our love of both food and wordplay. It would be worth our while to make them make sense.Email this Post