or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Not Too Bright

This medical article (less interesting than I thought it would be) from The New Yorker is about pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition which sometimes occurs in pregnant women. (If it develops into full-blown eclampsia, it can lead to seizures and coma.)

Now, looking at the word, you'd think--okay, I'd have thought--that it's based on the word "clamp" somehow, and that this is a reference to those seizures. Doesn't that make sense? Isn't that a reasonable assumption?

Not a chance. I should have known: the best-laid folk etymologies of mice and men gang aft agley and so forth.

"Eclampsia", and this should have been my first clue, starts with "ec-", which is the Greek equivalent (Anglicized from "ek-") of Latin "ex-", "out of". And after "ec-" we have "lamp", of all things, and this in fact is the core of the word. English "lamp" is from Greek "lampein", "to shine". "Eklampein", therefore, is "to shine out" or "to shine forth".

And what does this have to do with a medical condition? In a lovely metaphorical leap, Greek "eklampsis"--"eclampsia" is the Latin form--is a noun which means not only "a shining out" but also "a sudden development", which is the perfect description for eclampsia, which attacks without warning.


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