Tag Archives: medicine
scurvy

scurvy

  photograph: Australian Skin Institute     Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds, which particularly affected poorly nourished sailors until the end of the 18th century.   One of the earliest attestations of the word is in The Principall […]

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placebo

placebo

  William Cullen (1710-90)     The word is from classical Latin placebo, meaning I shall be pleasing (or acceptable), from the verb placere, to please. In post-classical Latin, placebo, the first word of the first antiphon of vespers in the Office for the Dead, was used as a name for that service. In the Vulgate, […]

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rosemary

rosemary

  Rosmarinus officinalis - Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (1887), published by Franz Eugen Köhler     Rosemary is an evergreen aromatic shrub of the mint family, native to southern Europe. The narrow leaves are used as a culinary herb, in perfumery, and as an emblem of remembrance. (Scientific name: Rosmarinus officinalis, family Labiatae)   The word is apparently a folk-etymological […]

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oxymoron

oxymoron

  L’ultimo bacio dato a Giulietta da Romeo (1823) by Francesco Hayez     An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which a pair of opposed or markedly contradictory terms is placed in conjunction for emphasis. For example, sweet sorrow is an oxymoron used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (published in 1597): Juliet: […]

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midsummer madness

    The expression midsummer madness means foolish or reckless behaviour, considered to be at its height at midsummer, the period of the summer solstice, about June 21st. It first appeared in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Or What You Will (circa 1600). An earlier form, midsummer maze, was used in 1523 by the English poet John Skelton in A ryght delectable […]

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don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

  An Indian judge is checking the teeth of a horse during a horse show in Dholera, some 110 km from Ahmedabad on 8th January 2012. Some 150 horses from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan states of India participated in the event. To showcase the pedigree and raise awareness about the breeds, the equestrian club of […]

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a little bird told me

a little bird told me

  Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid) Honoré Daumier (1808-79)     The phrase a little bird told me is used to indicate that the speaker knows something but chooses to keep the identity of their informant secret.   The earliest occurrence of the phrase that I could find is in The Chapter of Accidents […]

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mad as a March hare – as a hatter

mad as a March hare – as a hatter

  The March Hare and the Hatter dunking Dormouse (illustration by John Tenniel - 1865 - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)       Phrases associating animals with madness – in the sense of lunacy or angriness – have long existed. For example, in The Comedy of Errors (around 1594), Shakespeare used the phrase (as) mad as a buck: It would make a man […]

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on the side of the angels

on the side of the angels

  Benjamin Disraeli, photographed by Cornelius Jabez Hughes – 1878         The phrase on the side of the angels means on the side of what is right.   It was coined by Benjamin Disraeli in an 1864 speech at Oxford University.   Intense controversy was then in progress over the implications of […]

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hidebound

hidebound

  Frontispiece to Sylva Sylvarum, Or, A Natural History, in Ten Centuries by Francis Bacon       The adjective hidebound means unwilling or unable to change because of tradition or convention.   The word dates back to the mid-16th century as a noun denoting a malnourished condition of cattle.   In Thesaurus Linguæ Romanæ […]

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