Medical English I: Origins & Idiosyncrasies

I speak French to my ambassadors, English to my accountants, Italian to my mistress, Latin to my God and German to my horse.

                        Frederick the Great of Prussia              SCAN0008 8.52.01 PM                       


Since the evolution of language some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, the history of language remains largely oral; only in the relatively recent past has a written record existed, allowing for a conditional dating of words. Hence, when a word first appears in those documents which have survived can be pinpointed, the word itself – and consequentg derivations – may have been used for centuries.


Appearing by 700AD, salve is one of the earliest medical terms recorded in English. Homer described their use for treating wounds in The Iliad, and Galen listed their ingredients. The legendary wealth of the Greek city of Laodicea was in part derived from Phrygian Powder, an eye salve combining olive oil and phrygian stone.

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The Poisons of Agatha Christie

Medieval medicine - treatment and death

Foul Toxins From The Queen of Crime

“Poison has a certain appeal,” wrote Agatha Christie in They Do It With Mirrors, “…it has not the crudeness of the revolver bullet or the blunt instrument.” Death by poison is more frequent in Christie’s world than in the works of any other mystery writer. More than thirty victims fall foul to a variety of toxins (while others survive attempted poisonings.) Christie’s knowledge was extensive, a result of her work as both a nurse and a pharmacy dispenser during both World Wars. (Perhaps this is why physicians often make an appearance as murders in her novels.)

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Ariadnes’ Thread

Ariadne’s Thread

Rolling over, I bumped into the wall and woke with a start – our bed isn’t against a wall. For a few moments, with the vulture of sleep hovering nearby in the darkness, I had no idea where I was. Vulture of sleep. Must add it to my list. I liked it, with its images of that guy who was forever having his liver pecked out, only for it to re-grow every night. Now that would be fun to sleep through. Not like he got an anæsthetic.
Still a bit dazed, I peered around in the darkness. Neither the light of the stars, nor a streetlight, filled the blank void. I actually hadn’t rolled into the wall; I wasn’t even in bed. I’d hit the back of the couch – the short one. My foot tingled from dangling over the armrest. The other, slightly more comfortable sofa had already been commandeered by the time I made it back to the common room.
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