Bookshelp header image for page World Wide Words logo

Apozem

Pronounced /ˈæpəzɪm/Help with pronunciation

A founding principle of old-time doctoring was never to call a thing by an ordinary name when a highfalutin one would impress the patients more. This satire on such medical obfuscations appeared some 250 years ago and is worth quoting at length for the variety of obscure terms trotted out by a quack apothecary:

Upon a more particular inquiry about the symptoms, he was told that the blood was seemingly viscous, and salt upon the tongue; the urine remarkably acrosaline; and the faeces atrabilious and foetid. When the doctor said he would engage to find the same phenomena in every healthy man of the three kingdoms, the apothecary added, that the patient was manifestly comatous, and moreover afflicted with griping pains and borborygmata. “A f--t for your borborygmata,” cried the physician; “what has been done?” To this question, he replied, that venesection had been three times performed; that a vesicatory had been applied inter scapulas; that the patient had taken occasionally of a cathartic apozem, and between whiles, alexipharmic boluses and neutral draughts.

The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves, by Tobias Smollett, 1762. Atrabilious: affected by black bile, melancholy; comatous: comatose; borborygmata: rumblings in the guts; venesection: opening or cutting a vein, phlebotomy; vesicatory: an irritating ointment or plaster designed to raise blisters on the skin; inter scapulas: between the shoulder blades; alexipharmic: a substance intended to ward off poisons. The missing letters in the imprecation f--t are presumably a and r, since “a fart for your ... ” was a dismissive comment at the time and “a fart for your borborygmata” is a witty riposte to the apothecary’s maunderings.

Any ordinary person would describe an apozem as an infusion, or perhaps a decoction. It comes via French from the late Latin apozema, which in turn derives from Greek words meaning to boil off completely. The term is obsolete.

Share this page
Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon Google+

Search World Wide Words

Support World Wide Words!

Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 13 Jun. 2009

Advice on copyright

The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-apo3.htm
Last modified: 13 June 2009.