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In Latin it means "open mouth," whereas in English it denotes "how open your mouth can get." What word is it?

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Answer: rictus

The width of your mouth is your mouth's rictus. In Latin the word rictus means "open mouth." Note: the width of the anus is NOT called the rictum.


Re: moot-jacko debate - possibly in Latin the form rictus can be used as both noun and adjective? rictus, -a, -um = "open-mouthed," as in ricta agricola, "open-mouthed farmer"
slundgren at

This was a difficult question! I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your questions - I think some of my favorites were about the Punic war and the mujahidin :) Thanks for sending them. I hope you continue to come up with more and more questions. Regards,

[Mootguy: Thanks Nadia. Glad to hear you enjoy the questions.]
nadia.toromanova at

Your answer, "rictus," is a noun; however, the phrasing of your questions leads one to believe that the response should be in adjectival form ("How open can your mouth get?" "Extremely open.").

[Mootguy: But it's the same as this question: "It's a number and it stands for 'how tall you are.' What number is it?" And this question doesn't lead you to believe that the response should be an adjective.]
jacko at

Re: "It's a number and it stands for 'how tall you are.'" First of all, were it not for the "it's a number" telling one what sort of word to look for, you could easily be led to think you should be looking for and adjective.

Secondly-- and this is the clincher-- just parse the questions grammatically by putting them into the syntactic form of an assertion: "Your mouth can get how open?" or "You are how tall?" "How open" and "how tall" are clearly both adjectival phrases which demand an adjectival response. (The "how"s are adverbs that modify the adjectives "tall" and "open.")
jacko at

I guess rictus sardonicus refers to how it looks rather than what it literally is? Sorry, no. That's risus sardonicus. Another word altogether.
mre at

Oh, pleeeezzze. Latin puns:)?

[Mootguy: Sorry. Couldn't resist it.]
dcallen at

The first comment posted mentions rictus, -a, -um = open-mouthed.

I'm no expert, but I believe that Latin nouns are usually basically listed giving their nominative and genitive forms, so that rictus is nominative and ricta is genitive (and rictum - I dunno).

In that case, ricta agricola might literally mean "a farmer with an open mouth", and hence "an open-mouthed farmer". This would be a case of a noun (via its genitive) functioning as an adjective. This doesn't happen as much in English, because usually when a noun is used as an adjective (e.g. tennis ball, dinner plate) it is unchanged.

Now, English doesn't properly have a genitive case - the closest we get is the possessive, donated by an apostrophe. Although consider fool's gold - the gold doesn't belong to any fool; rather, "fool's" describes the fallacious apparent value of the stuff.

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