Can a “Chimera” be Real?
Skip Piper asks:
chimerical? How would you use this word?
Chimerical [kī-mĕr’ĭ-kəl] is an adjective used to mean “imaginary” or “highly improbable.”
The noun chimera [kī-mîr’ə] comes from a Greek word for “she-goat.” In Greek myth the Chimera is a hybrid creature made up of more than one animal. Figuratively, a chimera is “a figment of the imagination.
In the Iliad, Homer describes the Chimera as:
a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire”.
Hesiod describes the Chimera as having three heads:
…one of a grim-eyed lion; in her hinderpart, a dragon; and in her middle, a goat, breathing forth a fearful blast of blazing fire.
The adjective chimerical is often used as a synonym for “imaginary,” “impossible,” or “unrealistic.”
India and Pakistan have warred twice over Kashmir in their pre-nuclear lives. A third war in their nuclear age is far from chimerical.
A few years ago the establishment of seaside laboratories would have been thought chimerical.
The rewards that Alexius IV had promised to the forces of the Fourth Crusade for assaulting Constantinople in July 1203 and placing him on the throne of the Byzantine Empire in his uncle’s stead proved chimerical.
The words chimera and chimerical are also used as medical terms. I recall a C.S.I. episode that featured a killer who escaped detection because he was a “chimera.”
chimera: an individual, organ, or part consisting of tissues of diverse genetic constitution occurring especially in plants and most frequently at a graft union, the tissues from both stock and cion retaining their distinctness in the chimera –Merriam-Webster Unabridged.
I forget the explanation, but the killer had more than one set of DNA; a mouth swab produced a different result than semen.
Using the techniques of recombinant DNA technology, scientists are producing chimeras in the laboratory. These GMOs, “genetically modified organisms,” are hybrid plants and animals that, like the mythical chimera, combine characteristics of different species. For example, mice that glow because they’ve been implanted with jellyfish DNA.
Here comes another retronym. Possibilities: “a real chimera,” “a scientific chimera,” “a medical chimera.”
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