In school, I discovered a word that seemed to capture a fairly important idea: That sometimes, especially with professional tradesmen, there is a proficiency using a tool such that it seems to be an extension of the body. The word referred to "glasses", a tool that extends the body, but I believe it more accurately referred to tools such as a hammer or a bat. We used it to include things like Google and cell phones.


"Peter's ___________ allowed his pencil to work deftly though the pile of papers."

I have found lots of articles talking about such 'extensions' but I can't seem to find the word we used. This has been bothering me for years. I often want to talk about the concept but always get stuck on the missing word.

  • 1
    How would you normally use the word? Could you write a sample sentence and leave a blank where the word would go? Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 19:59
  • 1
    Beware the attack of the cyborgs!
    – bib
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:02
  • 2
    appendage? augmentation? Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:04
  • The only words I can think of are augment and addendum. Have you dived deeply into the research of body schema? Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:10
  • Are you looking for media/medium as mentioned in this book?
    – ermanen
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:25

8 Answers 8


I first thought élan might be the word you're looking for, as quoted from John Muir's "How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive":

... with the Mechanical type, you must keep your foot on the accelerator with verve, élan and confidence, as it won't forgive inattention

but the definition didn't match the request. From Merriam-Webster and others:

élan: Vigorous spirit or enthusiasm; Enthusiastic vigor and liveliness; Distinctive style or flair.

Then I thought finesse might fit the bill, and came across prowess in the Thesaurus. Again, from Merriam-Webster:

finesse: Refinement or delicacy of workmanship, structure, or texture; Skillful handling of a situation : adroit maneuvering

prowess: distinguished bravery; especially: military valor and skill; extraordinary ability "his prowess on the football field"

Ah, but there in the definition of 'finesse' - the word adroit, with the usage being adroitness. From Dictionary.com:

adroit: Expert or nimble in the use of the hands or body; cleverly skillful, resourceful, or ingenious

Hopefully that is the word you're looking for.



Muir, John, and Tosh Gregg. How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot: 1200, 1300, 1500, 1600, 1700, 1800 & 2000. 16th ed. Santa Fe, NM: J. Muir Publications, 1979. Quote from Chapter 10; subsection "Rap On Timing"]


Perhaps the word was 'integral', adjectivally used in an 'integral tool', or 'integrant', likewise:

integral A. adj. 1. Of or pertaining to a whole. Said of a part or parts: Belonging to or making up an integral whole; constituent, component; spec. necessary to the completeness or integrity of the whole; forming an intrinsic portion or element, as distinguished from an adjunct or appendage.
integrant A. adj. Of parts: Making up or contributing to make up a whole, constituent, component; essential to the completeness of the whole....

["integral, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/97344?redirectedFrom=integral (accessed October 29, 2015) and "integrant, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/97350 (accessed October 29, 2015).]


Maybe prosthetic (or prosthesis).

noun 1. an artificial body part; a prosthesis.

  • This isn't generally used for tools that you hold, it's used for devices that are permanently (or nearly so) attached to the body: an artificial limb, a cochlear implant. No one would call a carpenter's hammer a prosthetic.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 20:00

I do not believe that there is a word for that type of behavior in English. The English word or idiom that most closely matches your question is SECOND NATURE. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/second%20nature) In regards to your EXAMPLE, the words aptitude, penchant, proclivity, predisposition, and other synonyms of these words come to mind.


Second Nature achieves the sense you describe in your question: the mastery of a task or behavior to such an extent that it appears natural and innate; a blacksmith's movements with a hammer would be "second nature."

OED (1) and American Heritage (2):

1. second nature (to one): to be as if natural or instinctive.

2. second nature n. An acquired behavior or trait that is so long practiced as to seem innate.

Examples from the New York Times:

"'I've been doing this since I was 6,' she explains as she hoists the wood onto her head with an experienced motion. When she was growing up in her home village in western Kenya, she had to walk even farther to gather firewood, up to eight hours a day. By now, at age 35, she says long journeys with heavy loads are second nature." (Improving the Way Humans Walk the Walk)

"'The navigation system currently used is a head tilting-to scroll and click,' Mr. Weintraub wrote this month. 'We are told it is very quick to learn and once the user is adept at navigation, it becomes second nature and almost indistinguishable to outside users.'" (Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year's End)

(1) "second, adj. and n.2". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press (accessed November 01, 2015).

(2) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. S.v. "second nature." Retrieved November 1 2015


Could it be "functional plasticity"?

Found it used in this article


Perhaps you're thinking of 'bionic' or 'bionics'. The word is generally used as an adjective, as in 'bionic hand':

Peter's bionic hand allowed his pencil to work deftly though the pile of papers.

However, the adjectival meaning is familiar to many with a substantive application, as mentioned in the following passage:

Kitts is one of “tomorrow’s people,” a group whose missing or ruined body parts are being replaced by devices embedded in their nervous systems that respond to commands from their brains. The machines they use are called neural prostheses or—as scientists have become more comfortable with a term made popular by science fiction writers—bionics.

(Emphasis mine. From "Bionics", in National Geographic, October, 2015.)

Pending further research, I've not yet found the substantive use attested in dictionaries.

  • I'd prefer Peter's dexterity allowed his pencil to work deftly though the pile of papers. but it's not what the OP's looking for, is it? Maybe the OP is thinking of ‘second limb’, or something along the lines of the craftsman's skill makes so that the tool operated is an appendage of him/herself.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 8:43
  • @Mari-LouA, I don't know what the OP is looking for. The question is vague enough--and probably necessarily so--it could be many things. I gave 'expertise' a shot earlier. 'Dexterity', as you say, is likely a better fit. Nobody had tried bionic/bionics, and it seemed worth a try, even though 'prosthetic' didn't summon the "that's it!" response.
    – JEL
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 9:21

"Exosomatic development" or "external scaffolding" could apply, as described by Kathleen Coessens in "Artistic Experimentation in Music: An Anthology," here.

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