or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, October 23, 2005


So it's a rainy, nasty old Sunday, and we have to stock up on Diet Coke (breakfast of champions), and so we're in a big-ass Shoppers Drug Mart, which is not your grandfather's drug store, unless he was a visionary; it's a drugstore, a perfumery, a grocery store, and a health-food store all rolled up into one. We're kind of poking around the aisles, like you do, and I notice a jar of pomade and instantly (of course) wonder where the word "pomade" comes from. Jim is of the impression that it must be related to "pomander" somehow, and I agree that they're related, however distantly.

"Pomander", as you might guess if you know anything of the Romance languages, is related to French "pomme", "apple". In fact, it's a corruption of "pomme d'ambre", "apple of amber", because the original pomander was a ball (roughly apple-shaped) of spices and perfume ingredients, including ambergris, used to scent the air--this in a time when the air, the ground, and the citizenry were not particularly sweet-smelling. (Nowadays when pomanders are hand-made, they're usually oranges studded with cloves and cassia, hung in a closet to scent it.)

How, then, is "pomade" related to apples? It originally was a skin cream or ointment, of which apple pulp was an ingredient; by the mid to late nineteenth century it had come to mean a hair cream. (No apples.)

The Diet Coke was all for Jim. I don't drink it any more; if you've read enough of me you can just imagine how much I can talk when my motor really gets running, and caffeine revs me up to an almost unimaginable degree. (It also keeps me jarringly, insomniacally awake.) So no caffeine. And no theobromine, either, which means no chocolate. I can live without it.

"Caffeine" is so self-evidently derived from "coffee" that no further comment is required. "Theobromine" (a chemical relative of caffeine), however; that's interesting. The "theo-" part is exactly the same as that in "theology"; that is, "god". The "bromine" part might appear to be from the element of the same name, but that's where etymology fools you; "bromine" comes from "bromos", the Greek word for "stench", because bromine stinks up a storm, but the "-bromine" in "theobromine" is actually from another Greek word, "broma", meaning "food"; "theobroma" is a genus of trees (one of which is the cacao tree, whose beans are used to make chocolate) whose name literally means "food of the gods". Whoever named that really must have liked chocolate.


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