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AWADmail Issue 536A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language
From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: Pat Street (patstreet aol.com)
Years ago I was ghost-writing a medical journal article for a physician. He gave me some rather flowery notes he had dictated to his secretary, and I was amused to see that she had typed "the symbol of medicine, the staff of S.Q. Lapius".
Pat Street, Orlando, Florida
From: Jim Ball (jbball1 yahoo.co.uk)
I live in Rome, from where the story of the snake around the staff of Aesculapius comes. There was a great plague in Rome, so the people sent to Greece, where all the best doctors were in ancient times. When the ship carrying the doctors reached the island on the Tiber (Isola di Tevere) where ships docked for Rome then, a snake was seen to jump off the ship -- and from that time the plague stopped. It was tough on the Greek doctors, but the snake got the credit and ever since has adorned the staff of Aesculapius!
Jim Ball, Rome, Italy
From: Robert Reeves (reeves-robert att.net)
The Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus), a widespread species in Europe, is thought to be the inspiration for the snake coiled around the Rod of Aesculapius.
Robert Reeves, Texas
From: Robert Payne (dziga68 sbcglobal.net)
Condemned to die by the state (for impiety and "corrupting the youth"), Socrates was forced to drink poison. As he lay dying, he said to one of his followers, "Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt."
These words can be open to a number of interpretations, but their most basic meaning is that Socrates saw his death as a cure for life's ills, so he needed his followers to make a sacrifice to the god of healing. Since Socrates wasn't known for his religious observances (hence the charge of "impiety"), his invoking of a god may have given his final words welcoming death a double irony.
Robert Payne, Los Angeles, California
From: Dr G. Nadarajan (kshemaraja gmail.com)
As a surgeon I have seen a lot of surgical instruments by a company called Aesculap.
Dr G. Nadarajan, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
From: Richard Snyder MD (rns22 cornell.edu)
I would submit that the staff is not wrapped by a snake, but depicts a wooden twig or pole used to capture and slowly extract the Guinea worm, aka Dracunculus medinensis.
It is a major parasitic scourge in Africa, but once was also found around the Mediterranean, before water hygiene interrupted transmission by humans who no longer ingest the water fleas (copepods) that are the vector. Very debilitating to the victims, especially when the female migrates to lay eggs, usually emerging around the ankle and prolapsing a "loop" after a skin blister breaks, where the uterus can send forth the eggs into shallow water.
The worms have a very long migratory path under the skin. They can be up to a meter in length. The technique is still used as a treatment today in many villages. Simple filtering of drinking water through a fine mesh screen is a very cheap and efficacious way to help eradicate transmission. I believe the UN/WHO has a program to support this.
Richard Snyder, MD, Los Angeles, California
From: Linda Parkes (brokendrum 29ah.co.za)
Also the root for the species of flower indigenous to South Africa, and the national flower of the country, the protea, known for many forms and variants. Now, too, the name given to the national cricket squad, which may also be said to have many forms and roles.
Linda Parkes, Centurion, South Africa
From: David Rubin (lalaw21752 hotmail.com)
New Orleans is, of course, world famous for its food, music, and culture. In one of the oldest sections of the City there are streets named after all nine Muses: Terpsichore, Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Erato, Polymnia, and Urania. Laissez le bon temps rouler.
David Rubin, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Brings back Monty Python's Flying Circus with John Cleese in the Cheese Shop declaring that the music being played did not bother him since "I delight in every manifestation of the terpsichorean muse." This is then followed, after considerable frustration in not finding any cheese available for purchase (of course), by "Shut the bloody bouzouki off!" To which the shopkeeper responds, "Told ya."
Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland
From: Fazeela Mollick (fmollick gmail.com)
We speak English in Trinidad, an island in the West Indies that I call home but in our dialect, the word bacchanal has come to mean a public row, a scandal, quarreling, or a big party. When a political scandal occurs, we call it bacchanal; if two neighbours are at it hammer and tongs, we say "look bacchanal", and Carnival is our "bacchanal time". :)
Fazeela Mollick, Tunapuna, Trinidad
From: M Henri Day (mhenriday gmail.com)
And those Morphean dreams are notoriously protean and may well involve both terpsichorean and bacchanalian elements. And depending upon how they were induced, they might also require the intervention of an Aesculapian.
M Henri Day, Stockholm, Sweden
From: Sonya Cashdan (SHCashdan aol.com)
I LOVE this week's theme, and must underline its relevance. Half a century ago, when I was in the 7th grade, my reading teacher immersed her 11- and 12-year-olds in a superb six-week unit on mythology, including, of course, the contributions of Greek and Roman mythologies to English terminology.
On her list of challenging projects was an in-depth study of brand names, product names, inventions, and process names derived from myth. To compile our lists, we wordlovers dived willingly into magazines and newspapers; we read billboards; we took notes about TV commercials [tiny screens; B/W], and we soaked up the fattest dictionaries and thesauri available to us.
Now for the relevance part: the terms I learned in that unit not only helped me six years later to ace my college entrance exams, but they also helped me all the way through to my PhD in English, as familiar terms acquired layers of meaning and/or led to understanding of unfamiliar terms.
But the most significant relevance (don't ya love that rhetoric?) had already occurred in the midst of the unit, in the midst of a class. Ms Deardorff had just taught us about another mythological character. As she was speaking, I connected the name to several words which I already knew; and I broke out in physical shivers of delight at having made the connection FOR MYSELF. Exactly at that moment, I knew that I wanted to spend my life making others FEEL that same delight in knowledge. My 35+ years in the classroom derived directly from one unit in mythology -- and I had the unique privilege of watching decades of students "catch" the contagion of learning begun in me when I was 11 and studying the gods.
Sonya Cashdan, Paso Robles, California
From: Anna Christina Ribeiro (annachristina.ribeiro gmail.com)
I receive your email daily with great pleasure, but I never write back. Today, given your description of this week's theme, I had to reply, to share with you something I wrote just a few days ago.
Not If, But When
It must be the prayers. The endless
Anna Christina Ribeiro, Lubbock, Texas
From: Robert St John (saint781 gmail.com)
In 1966 we had a foreign exchange student from South Africa spend a year with us. She is now a cancer specialist and a grandmother in SA. I contacted a woman who had written a comment to A Word a Day from South Africa, and it just happened that she knew our former student who had treated her father for cancer! You are making a small world smaller. Thanks.
Robert St John, Lake Oswego, Oregon
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:A lexicographer's business is solely to collect, arrange, and define the words that usage presents to his hands. He has no right to proscribe words; he is to present them as they are. -Noah Webster, lexicographer (1758-1843)