The Etymology Trail

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), July 17, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Etymology Trail


New Delhi, July 17 -- Epistaxis. I had never heard of the word. Nor had I heard of or met the calm and confident ENT doctor until, on a visit to Delhi, my nose went epistaxic. Thus are long-standing associations formed - in a moment of sudden, razor-sharp emergency. The episode does not bear further recounting, for no one should be subjected to an account of gore. Let me just say that the noun has a Greek origin, no less, and is the medical term for something as banal, as utterly boring, and yet as horribly unsettling as - a nose-bleed.

'Epi...?' I asked, deciphering rather than reading the new word the good doctor had written out on the top of his medical report. 'Epistaxis...', he said, 'is the medical name for this condition'. I wanted to ask him what the word meant but that would have diverted his attention from the ruddy cataract and I opted for lexical poverty over haematological profusion.

But throughout the procedure that followed I kept trying to unravel the word, doubtless, to distract my mind from the reality of the lurid seep. And, as I lay in hospital, the thoughts developed somewhat like this...

Epi... must find out what the root of that word is... There are so many epi-s, of course. Ouch. 'Sorry, sir, slightly hurtful... the nasal cavity is sensitive... we are applying an anaesthetic...' Anaesthetic... must also have a Greek origin... an opposite of aesthetic? ...

If aesthetics are about sensitivity....anaesthetic must be about dulling that sensitivity... Must check...

Perhaps Aesthesia was a gorgeous Greek goddess, versed in the arts ...or embodying them like Sarasvati....and Anaesthesia a demoness... Must check...

Meanwhile... let me think of the various Greek sounding epi-s... There is, of course, epic...probably not connected to this epi... but to epoch... God knows... Epi... let me see how many epi-s I can remember... Episode! Of course....this very thing with me... a medical episode... Whatever 'epi' might mean, where in heaven does 'sode' come from? 'Are you quite comfortable?' 'Oh yes ...

I mean...under the circumstances of this episode...' 'Good...good...

Won't take long...' Episode... Wonder what 'epi' means in Greek anyway ...

Must check...

So... what are the other epi words... 'Sir, we will now do the filling....' 'Yes, please do.... Thank you, Doctorsahib...' I focused now more pointedly on Epi...

Epistle....no one writes epistles any more...our short letters now being not epistles but sms-es... ow r u... lol... Epigram...terse sarcastic saying... they are all but gone... Epithet... …

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