There’s A Word for That: Engastrimyth

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOne of the most famous comedians from the 1930s to the late 1950s was a real dummy by the name of Charlie McCarthy. And when I say dummy, I don’t mean he was dumb — he was literally a dummy, like Pinocchio — made of wood. He was a mischievous, wise-cracking boy, dressed in his iconic tuxedo, top hat, and monocle. He was far more famous than his partner, Edgar Bergen who was engastriymyth, or in more common terminology, a ventriloquist — an entertainer who projects his or her voice, without moving the lips, so that it appears that the dummy is speaking. Engastrimyth, pronounced “en GAS tre mith,” is derived from the Greek words en (meaning “in”), gaster (meaning “belly”) and muthos (meaning “speech”). So literally, it means speech coming from the belly. This is the exact same meaning as ventriloquist which comes from the Latin words venter (meaning “belly”) and loqui (meaning “speak”). 

For the Greeks, engastrimyths did not refer to an entertainer with a dummy on his or her lap, but rather the term referred to soothsayers and prophets (like the Oracle of Delphi) who seemed to speak without appearing to speak (eg, projecting the voice of the gods or someone who had died long ago).

Bergen and Charlie made their final appearance in The Muppet Movie, released in 1979. Bergen died soon after filming was completed; Charlie’s final resting place is the Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington, D.C.

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