Palpate - palpitate

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Do not confuse the similar verbs palpate and palpitate.

  • The verb 'to palpate' is used in medical and anatomical contexts. It means 'to examine by touch [using the hands or fingertips]'; 'to press [gently, one hopes] with the fingers to determine some characteristics of internal organs'. It is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable: 'palp-ATE', IPA: /pæl ˈpeɪt/.
    • The noun to label the act of palpating, or an occasion of its use, is palpation. Few outside the health professions are likely to need it.
Etymological note: 'to palpate is derived from the Latin palpāre, "to touch softly, pat, caress, coax, flatter" (OED). This comes from palpus, 'the soft palm of the hand', which came also to mean 'a feeler' in post-classical Latin - as did the later sense, perhaps by confusion with pulp (OED s.v. pulp, n 2.), 'the fleshy pads under the fingertips'. In the study of invertebrate animals, palp is used to label organs situated near the mouth, usually in pairs, which serve as organs of touch or of feeding, particularly in aquatic animals. Pedipalps (sometimes called simply palps), in arthropods, are pairs of organs in front of the first pair of legs, which they sometimes closely resemble, used, for example, for tasting and smelling; for copulation in male spiders; as pincers in scorpions; and as simple organs of touch in other species.
  • There is also an adjective palpate, meaning 'having palps', This is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: 'PALP-ate', /ˈpælp eɪt/
  • The verb 'to palpitate' (with stress on the first syllable, IPA: /ˈpælp ɪt eɪt/ means (literally of the heart) 'to beat repeatedly, rapidly or irregularly'; 'to tremble, quiver or throb'; and often figuratively as physical sensations aroused by strong emotion,
    • The associated noun is palpitation - usually in the plural palpitations.
Etymological note: it's one of the curiosities of etymology that palpitate, which AWE urges you not to confuse with palpate, should share its root: palpāre with the suffix -itāre denoting repetition of the main element.
    • The adjectives palpable and its negative impalpable, together with their corresponding adverbs palpably and impalpably are also derived from palp. Palpable originally meant 'that can be detected by palpation', and broadened into 'that can be felt' or 'tangible', as when Osric cries, at the fencing match in Shakespeare's Hamlet "A hit, a very palpable hit!"; it has come to be used predominantly figuratively to mean 'perceptible [by the mind]', and usually 'obvious'. A teacher who says "That is a palpable error' means, disparagingly, 'That is a glaring mistake.' This might also be expressed as 'This is palpably wrong.'
    • Impalpable is not the exact opposite of palpable. It implies that there is something there, even if, in the colloquial phrase, "you can't put your finger on it."