|Saturday, January 20, 2001||
WHEN a person is inoculated, the doctor literally ‘plants’ a small seedling of the virus or germ that causes the disease in order to give immunity. The word inoculate began life as a purely horticultural term and meant to insert an eye or a bud in a plant for propagation. It came from the Latin in (into) and oculus (eye). When inoculation against smallpox was introduced, it came to be applied in the present sense. The usual symbol for medicine is a serpent twined around a staff. This is the sign of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. The serpent was taken to represent medicine because it is the symbol of youth and eternal life , as it gets a new skin every year. Asclepius had a daughter called Panakeia, ‘the all-healing’. From her comes the word panacea.
The ancient Romans
owed their government certain ‘gifts’. However, a few citizens
would be exempted from giving these ‘gifts’. Munia was the
Latin word for these gifts or obligations. A person who was exempted
from making a particular gift of money or service was immunis.
In English, the word became immunity, meaning freedom from something
burdensome, a legal obligation or an illness. Toxin comes from the
Greek toxon, meaning bow because arrows were often poisoned
with what the Greeks called toxicon pharmakon or poison of the
When pain is the subject, palliative can’t be too far. Pallium was a rectangular woollen cloak draped over the left shoulder and the body, the traditional garb of the ancient Greek philosophers. From the word pallium, Latin derived palliatus which meant ‘covered with a cloak’. This led to ‘palliate our sins’ or ‘cover with a cloak’ so that they will seem less offensive. A palliative reduces the severity of pain and makes it less severe, in a sense, cloaking it.
The evolution of meaning is indispensable to language users as, due to this process, word meaning acquires an elasticity which makes words handy and user-friendly. If there was a word for every single concept, the memory would collapse under the burden of so many words. The extension of words and the evolution of meaning run side by side, thus helping the memory and stimulating the imagination. Surely, it is more simple and enjoyable to learn pind, a lump, pindaa, a body, pindli, calf of the leg, pinna, a cake of mustard, pinni, a kind of sweetmeat, pindalu, a kind of root, pindi, a mass of sand, and pinda, oblations, all derived from the same root pind, which is a lump or mass, than to memorise eight different words with different sounds, derived from different roots.