Word of the day: Animalcules

I came across this word in Barbara M. Stafford’s book ‘Good Looking’. My first reaction was to burst out laughing. Are animalcules a cross between an animal and a molecule? Is this an older term for microorganism? I thought it was a really cute way of thinking about microorganism and immediately inspired a wacky series of mental images. So what are animalcules?

 Animalcule A 19th century encyclopaedia writes: “A term etymologically applicable to any very small animal, and limited in actual use to those which are microscopical. Animalcules exist in prodigious numbers, and of many different kinds, their size being such that multitudes of them find ample space for all the movements of an active life within a single drop of water; and they abound almost wherever there is moisture, at least wherever organic matter is present.” — Chambers’ Encyclopedia, 1875

What animalcules currently refer to I can so far only guess. Apparently, the term is still used to describe organisms – and even a certain band. However, it is not used to describe sperm as it was during the 18th century. Has anyone got more information?

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