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Reading this article by the fantastic Douglas Adams I came across this interesting quote:

‘[I]nteractivity’ is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television... We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.

This got me thinking — not just about what that word might be (unikef? monocap?), but also how new words are constructed.

My two first thoughts above were that the word would be constructed from either Greek or Latin roots (mono and uni, respectively), and I assume that most newly constructed words would follow a similar structure. That is - they would take previously prescribed pieces of a language (classical or otherwise) and shape those pieces to fit the needs of the new word.

But which language would be more likely? Greek? Or Latin? Or, since the concept of having to describe someone with only one head antedates both of these languages by so much, would it be inappropriate for a new word to have a classical root?

I would appreciate it if any readers who do have multiple heads could let us know authoritatively how you refer to us one-headed folks.

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40  
You only have one head? Then the word for you, my friend... is FREAK! –  MT_Head May 24 '11 at 8:30
57  
May I suggest 'non-zaphodic'? –  e100 May 24 '11 at 13:30
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I was going to suggest something more outlandish: normal. Honestly though, I'd expect there to be a word for this only in languages that are spoken by multiheaded species. –  JYelton May 24 '11 at 15:36
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+1 especially for "I would appreciate...". –  msh210 May 24 '11 at 16:47
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If I had two heads, I'd call the rest of you "half-wits". –  Erick Robertson May 24 '11 at 19:46

10 Answers 10

up vote 75 down vote accepted

The point that a word should make is that it has to be an adequate symbol for what it represents.

This is, in essence, arbitrary and pragmatic and what ever work (as a symbol) will make its way into memories and experience of individuals, then a subculture (jargon) and then culture (spreading from common spoken use to use in periodical publications to the moment these words are added to dictionaries).

It can follow patterns from Greek or Latin, and you will find many example in this and last century — we had to invent many new words to deal with advance of information technology.

If you read up on neologism you will find other ways of constructing new words mentioned — combining existing words (regardless of etymology), abbreviating, rhyming, etc..

  • urban dictionary almost exclusively shows neologisms (even fictional)

  • Here you can see new words in journals

  • You can also look at lists of words added to a dictionary, such as this sample from Merriam-Webster

As you examine these lists you will see progression from less adopted words to more standard words and you might see some patterns that make them accepted into the language.

EDIT:

  • There is polycephaly - which refers to general condition of having more then one head
  • In case of words prefixed with poly-, the usual counterpart is mono- and so your best bet is monocephaly

After I constructed the word, I looked it up and it exists:

mon·o·ce·phal·ic

Bearing one flower head, as in the scape of a dandelion.

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You didn't know that word before today? Just wondering... –  Alenanno May 24 '11 at 8:56
    
@Aleananno, no :) –  Unreason May 24 '11 at 9:02
    
Well I guess you got what the OP was asking. I thought of that word but I wasn't going to answer yet... so +1 for you :) –  Alenanno May 24 '11 at 9:04
    
+1, and a brilliant answer! –  Andy F May 24 '11 at 18:50
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+1 for monocephalic which is what jumped into my head on reading the question. –  hippietrail May 25 '11 at 0:34

A variant would be monocephalous:

  1. Having only one head; in botany, bearing a single capitulum or head.
  2. Specifically, having the character of a monocephalus.

or monocephalus:

  –noun

1. In teratol., a double monster having only one head but two bodies. Also called syncephalus.

See also syncephalus:

  –noun

1. In teratology, a double monster with more or less fusion of the heads: same as monocephalus.

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+1, esp for the links and details –  Unreason May 24 '11 at 9:36
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I don't think monocephalus on syncephalus quite fit; both depend on double bodies, unlike monocephalous. The original question assumed double heads on a single body. But thanks for "teratology". Now I need to engineer a conversation into which it can be forced... –  PSU May 24 '11 at 14:58
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what about unicephalot(us|ic)? –  jcolebrand May 24 '11 at 20:27
    
@PSU "What is this teratology?" (use generously in place of "sorcery" or of course, "monstrosit") haha –  Paul Amerigo Pajo Dec 3 '12 at 4:00

We don’t have a specific word yet for people with one head, but botanists and other similar scientists have long needed such words. Google Ngrams shows that one-headed, monocephalous and monocephalic have all been used significantly over the years. (Edit: bill weaver points out in comments that single-headed is indeed more frequent than any of these.) Monocephalus also appears, but only very rarely as an English noun: it seems to always be either in scientific names of plants, or else a typo for monocephalous. Unicapital, monocephalon, and various other variations I tried found no hits.

Speculating, I think one-headed would probably dominate everyday use. As a noun-form, one-head is obvious, but could easily become pejorative/derogatory; one-headed person/people would then be the politically correct phrase. Monocephalous would, like many similar classical formations, remain mostly associated with medical usage.

ngrams graph of one-headed, monocephalous, monocephalic, monocephalus

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This is very interesting: it seems that there has been a growing need to describe things as one-headed since the turn of the last century. Which coincides with the rise in popularity of the word "Mutant". I wonder if I'm missing something... –  Andy F May 24 '11 at 11:11
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Newbie question: Why did you exclude "single - headed" from the Ngram? ngrams.googlelabs.com/… –  bill weaver May 24 '11 at 15:15
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@bill weaver: because I didn’t think of it :-P Good call! –  PLL May 24 '11 at 17:42
    
ah, ok. Thanks! It seriously dampens those other signals, so i thought there might be something about that phrase i was missing... maybe a meaning i was overlooking or some such. –  bill weaver May 24 '11 at 18:04
    
Impressive that you were able to keep at least some focus on the explicit literal question (what's a word for people with only one head?). My vote for a noun form would be monocephalite. –  John Y May 25 '11 at 3:04

I wish I had come sooner. You see, my good reptilian sister was to put your race in its place, but, alas, she was slain by a sacrilegious buffoon:

enter image description here

As a classicist, I'd begin with what words the Ancients used themselves. The following two are (most probably) the only options in both languages—that is, Lewis & Short and Liddell, Scott, Jones have only these words.

Greek: μονοκέφαλος

  • From this, correct formations would be monocephalic, monocephalous, and ?monocephalus. The latter is not used in English, I think, but only in medicine or biology, which use Latin in those cases, not English (they'd be italicized). The first one being the most common and analogous to most other existing -cephal- words, I'd pick monocephalic.

Latin: uniceps

  • From this, correct formations would be *unicapital and *unicipitous. Because neither form exists so far in either the Oxford English Dictionary or Google Ngrams, I'd simply stick with monocephalic to describe your pathetic race.

New words based on a word from another language normally follow the way in which older English words from the same stem/root have been formed. Whenever English first adopts a foreign stem, it is converted into an English stem to make appropriate derivations from. This is to some degree an arbitrary process, and there are often several methods by which it may come about; in most cases, one or more of those become established soon after the word is first adopted, and new words based on the same stem are from then on expected to follow the pattern. If a new stem to be converted is similar to a stem that has already been converted, formation usually proceeds analogously as far as possible.

It is generally preferred that a compound word be made from stems that all come from the same language, though hybrids may be necessary if no single language can provide all parts, or if the language that is used in related words cannot provide them. It should first be checked whether a compound already exists in the language of origin, in which case that should be adopted as a whole; only if such does not exist should one create a new compound.

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+1, dear sir if you had came sooner my answer would not be on top. highly educational, not only in the quality of references, but from formatting to style. –  Unreason May 26 '11 at 10:58
    
@Unreason: You are too gracious. I suppose a picture works, but quite honestly I only posted an answer because I felt obliged to make my presence known, as I had little to add to your monocephalic. –  Cerberus May 26 '11 at 13:12
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+1 for username. Although you really blew the opportunity to directly address the asker "I would appreciate it if any readers who do have multiple heads could let us know authoritatively how you refer to us one-headed folks." –  Patrick M Jun 27 '13 at 20:23
    
@PatrickM: Haha, yes! You poor monocephalics... –  Cerberus Jun 27 '13 at 23:47

How about something like "unicapital".

From unus L. one + capitis L. head

The unicapital inhabitants of the Sol System consume comparatively few facial tissues.

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The caput*/*capitalis Latin root is used in English in words like capital, decapitation, … The Greek root kephale is used for scientific terms. –  F'x May 24 '11 at 9:23
    
@F'x : Ahh, good info. –  trideceth12 May 24 '11 at 9:24
    
… I've now made a full-length answer to show the difference between the uses of the two roots. –  F'x May 24 '11 at 9:38
    
+1 for the example sentence –  JYelton May 24 '11 at 15:41
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…: I don’t know whether to read your example sentence as about blowing noses, or eating brains… –  PLL May 24 '11 at 22:48

The Greek root for the head is kephalē. It is the root used for scientific terms, including the following English words (dates are from Etymonline):

  • hydrocephalus (1660’s)
  • acephalous (1731)
  • cephalopod (1826)
  • encephalitis (1843)
  • microcephalic (1856)
  • cephalization (1864)

It's also seen in Bucephalus, the name of Alexander the Great’s horse.


The Latin root for head is caput, with capitalis meaning “of the head” or “related to the head”. Common words were derived from it, through Old French, early in the evolution of the language (modern creations favour the Greek root kephale):

  • capital (adjective first, then the noun)
  • cattle
  • capitulation
  • decapitate
  • occipital
  • captain, corporal
  • chapter

Finally, it is worth noting that both Greek kephale and Latin caput derive from the same Proto-Indo European root, kaput- (which means “head”, of course).

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Certain activists in the polycephalic community refer to monocephs as "cephalotypical".

I know it stings. It's meant to.

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+1 for a non cephalotypical answer! –  Arjang May 25 '11 at 6:26
    
+1 for the touch of satire. I love it! –  Andrew Neely Oct 25 '11 at 11:39

I'd run with "cykopf", taken from "cyclops", and the German "kopf" for "head" of course.

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In this kind of situation, the first prominent person with two heads would come up with a word now and then to describe his/her single-headed counterparts. Whichever one caught on with the masses would be the word.

Since that person would most certainly be Zaphod Beeblebrox, I'd expect the word roots to be from intergalactic slang, alcoholic drink names, or some combination of the two. The word would definitely not Latin-based or anything sophisticated.

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6  
Belgians?...... –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen May 24 '11 at 22:03
    
You mean it might be a stupid meaningless word like 'Morlocks', or 'Forshizzle'? –  MVCylon May 25 '11 at 12:39
    
@Doug - exactly, but I would expext some negative form of the adjective froody, like frood-prude. Maybe Frood Blaster. –  Eric May 25 '11 at 16:12

Would unicephlic or unicephliacs be used in place of one-headed or one-headedness?

Unicephlitic sounds like a condition that one might suffer from rather than being grouped under.

Down voting without a comment is a noncephlic activity.

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protected by F'x May 25 '11 at 8:31

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