Morning names: naked mole rat, Penn Palestra

A double-header this morning. I have no idea where the naked mole rat came from. The Palestra at Penn was undoubtedly prompted by the music of Palestrina, which was playing on WQXR when I woke — though it turns out that palaestras and Palestrina have nothing to do with one another etymologically, nor has either of them anything to do with palisades.

The naked mole rat. A famously ugly creature:


From Wikipedia:

The naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) also known as the sand puppy or desert mole rat, is a burrowing mammal native to parts of East Africa and is the only species currently classified in the genus Heterocephalus. The naked mole-rat and the Damaraland mole-rat are the only known eusocial mammals. It has a highly unusual set of physical traits that enable it to thrive in an otherwise harsh underground environment; it is the only mammalian thermoconformer. (A thermoconforming organism adopts the surrounding temperature as its own body temperature, thus avoiding the need for internal thermoregulation). The mole rat also has a lack of pain sensation in its skin, and has very low metabolic and respiratory rates. It is also remarkable for its resistance to cancer and its longevity.

(Note that the compound mole rat is not subsective: the mole rat is not a rat. It does resemble a rat to some degree, and it certainly resembles a mole, in several ways.)

On eusociality:

Eusociality (Greek eu: “good/real” + “social”), the highest level of organization of animal sociality, is defined by the following characteristics: cooperative brood care (including brood care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labour into reproductive and non-reproductive groups.

… Eusociality is mostly observed and studied in Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) and Isoptera (termites).

The Palestra at Penn. I start with a NOAD2 entry:

palaestra (also palestra)  (in ancient Greece and Rome) a wrestling school or gymnasium. ORIGIN via Latin from Greek palaistra, from palaiein ‘wrestle.’

On to Penn, but still on the etymological wrestling theme:

The Palestra, often called the Cathedral of College Basketball, is a historic arena and the home gym of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers men’s and women’s basketball teams, volleyball teams, wrestling team, and Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. Located at 235 South 33rd St. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, near Franklin Field in the University City section of Philadelphia, it opened on January 1, 1927.

… The building was completed in 1927 and named by Greek professor William N. Bates after the ancient Greek term palæstra, a rectangular enclosure attached to a gymnasium where athletes would compete in various sports in front of an audience. Penn’s Palestra was built adjacent to and today is connected to Hutchinson Gymnasium.

(Want to name a building? Call in a classicist! But note that Bates used the Anglicized spelling Palestra.)

Outside and inside:



Red herrings: Palestrina and palisades. From Wikipedia:

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 – 2 February 1594) was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He has had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony.

Notice the full name, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina ‘Giovanni Pierluigi from Palestrina’. So Palestrina is a placename. From Wikipedia:

Palestrina (ancient Praeneste; Ancient Greek: Πραίνεστος, Prainestos [adjective Praenestine]) is an ancient city and comune (municipality) with a population of about 18,000, in Lazio, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) east of Rome.

… The origin of Praeneste was attributed by the ancients to Ulysses, or to other fabulous characters variously called Caeculus, Telegonus, Erulus or Praenestus. The name derives probably from the word Praenesteus, referring to its overlooking location.

In any case, nothing to do with wrestling.

Once we’ve seen that palestra was originally palaestra, it seems unlikely that the word has any etymological connection to palisade, though it’s entertaining to speculate that early palestras were surrounded by walls of wooden stakes (Latin palus ‘stake’). On the descendants of Latin palus — palisade, the Palisades, beyond the pale, Palo Alto, etc. — see my “Palisade” posting of 10/11/13 (with photos).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: