Fecundity – A Endearing Enigma
Fecundity: the capacity of abundant production.
I am in love with this word – but I can’t quite explain why.
Perhaps it’s because I first came across it when reading George Orwell’s 1984, which, as well as being a perceptive and enjoyable read by one of my very favourite writers, inspired David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album. What’s not to love.
Perhaps it’s because it’s one of those lovely nouns which has a technical sense as well as a metaphorical one. So, ‘fecundity’ doesn’t just describe ‘the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or new growth’ but ‘the ability to produce many new ideas’. I love to think that a creative writer or speaker sometime back in the 14th century decided to use a relatively clinical term in an innovatively figurative sense, and everyone else liked the idea of intellectual, as well as physical, fecundity.
Perhaps it’s because, as always, this mass noun has a pretty cool etymological history. It’s derived from the Latin ‘fēcunditās’, meaning fruitfulness or fertility, and entered late Middle English at some time around the turn of the 14th century. A mix of the Latin ‘fecundus’ the French ‘fécond’ (both meaning ‘fruitful’) also gave birth to ‘fecund’, the adjectival counterpart of ‘fecundity’, which entered the language at the same point. This Anglo-French version replaced the Middle English ‘fecounde’. And even more interestingly, the original Latin was formed when the adjectival suffix ‘cundus’ was added to ‘fe’ – as in ‘fetus’ (or ‘foetus’).
Or perhaps it’s because ‘fecundity’ is sort of redundant, since it effectively means ‘fertility’, which even begins with the same two letters. Though it isn’t widely used, the English language and its speakers have decided to retain this alternative; hopefully because it’s such a jolly good one. Whether its novelty or its way of rolling off the tongue lends it the endearing flair which has given it staying power against this opposition, I’m not sure – but the fact is that we have it, and I think it’s well worth keeping.