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May 26, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-05-26  |  865 hit(s)

In the US, we're coming up on a three-day weekend. For us, that mostly means that much more time for home improvement, oh boy. And for words!

Today's new-to-me word is not new, but it's pretty obscure: iatromisia. This refers to an intense dislike of doctors or doctoring i.e. medicine. It's a rare enough term that I found definitions for it only in medically inclined dictionaries.[1]

Since this is a medical term, of course it uses classical roots. The iatro bit is Greek for "healer," and by extension, medicine. A slightly less obscure instance is in the word iatrogenic, which means "doctor-caused," as in, you got sick because of treatment. The misia part is also Greek, a word meaning "hate," which we know from terms like misogyny and misophonia.

There's something vaguely amusing to me about a medical condition that involves dislike of medicine. ("Doctor, what is it?" "Well, you appear to suffer from iatromisia.") It also makes me wonder whether there are, or should be, similar terms for other professions. Redactomisia? Dislike of editors or editing. Hmm.

For surprising/delightful etymology today, I have two. First, I watch a lot of British crime drama, and it eventually occurred to me to wonder where the word constable comes from. There isn't an obvious origin if you just look at the word … or is there? The facile answer here is that constable is a count of the stable. Which sounds a little funny, no? But it's a little more, what, elegant than that. The word derives from Latin comes stabuli, a "count or officer of the stable." As with knight, the concept described by constable climbed the social ladder until it came to refer to the chief officer of a (royal) household or court. The term had developed the sense of being a police(-like) officer by the 14th century, although it also kept its elevated sense for a long time (e.g. Lord High Constable in England).[2] Douglas Harper has a few more in-between details if you're interested.

Fun fact: marshal shows a similar development; it, too, started life as a term for a groom-like person and moved up the ranks (e.g. field marshal).

The second etymology is a one that I saw on Twitter this week. The word peach comes ultimately from Latin Persicum malum, "Persian apple." I guess it tickles me how apples have worked as a kind of Ur-fruit. Here are a few more words that directly or obliquely refer to apples, which includes the Latin stem mal, the Greek stem mel, and the word for apple (pomme/pomo) in some Romance languages:
  • marmalade (via Portuguese from Latin malomellum, "sweet apple")
  • melon (Greek for "apple")
  • pineapple (because it looks like a pinecone)
  • pomegranate ("apple of Granada")
  • pomme de terre (French, "earth apple" for potato)
  • pomodoro (Italian, "golden apple" for tomato)
Update Merriam-Webster has a Word History column on the history of pineapple and on the use of apple generically.

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[1] I can't remember where I got this—Twitter, probably, and if so, apologies to whoever I should be crediting. Speaking of Twitter, there's some fair wordplay with the word iatromisia.

[2] I suppose I should note that the word cop does not derive from "constable of police" or "constable on patrol" or any other acronym.