or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thyme And Again

As soon as you look at the word "thyme" and start to try to figure out its origin, you are probably, as I did, going to guess that it somehow has something to do with the self-evidently Greek "thymus", because "thyme" looks like the French version of "thymus".

It isn't (the two words in French are "thym" and "thymus", respectively), but regardless, the words are related, which is a huge relief, because it's hard to imagine how they could have come about independently. "Thyme" is from Greek "thumon" through Latin "thymon", and is apparently from the Greek verb "thuein", "to burn as sacrifice", suggesting that thyme was burned at altars as incense. (The Latin botanical name for the herb is "thymus vulgaris".) "Thymus" (a gland in the throat which in young animals, humans included, is part of the immune system but which in adults dwindles to insignificance), according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is so named because of an imagined resemblance to a bunch of thyme, which is pretty hard to see, because the thymus looks like nothing so much as a bunched-up wad of indeterminate flesh.

Animal thymus is one of the organ meats, known as "sweetbreads" (along with the pancreas). For all I know, it's delicious, but if someone offers me some, I'm going to politely decline.


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