I’m up against a postponed deadline and I got nothing. So I set about this morning looking for an appropriate subject that might be fun to write about for the upcoming “Road Less Traveled”.
Frankly, on 68th time at bat here (plus or minus a few) I don’t always have a long list of possiblities that I once did, and I’ve been one busy boy lately and have too many plates spinning sometimes.
But where I settled for this morning’s ramble was to look at the history of handwashing. I’ll post the piece here next week. I sort of enjoy the hunt when working on something like this, because I almost always squirrel away some little nugget of knowledge or language that is thoroughly useless except that it enriches my inner conversation and my understanding of the world of language and thought in some small way. And of course, one never knows when some obscure but perfectly good word might be just the missing part for nuancing a sentence just so.
While reading a paper describing research done in Vienna in the 1840s that sought to better understand the cause of “childbed fever” (guess what: hand washing solved the problem) I ran across the new words “ichor” and “ichorous”. Here’s what I found:
Ichor is also a rarely-used name for bile; the name for the yellowish-green colour of bile; and a general term for a watery or blood-tinged discharge.
In Greek mythology, ichor (Greek ?) is the mineral that is the Greek gods’ blood, sometimes said to have been present in ambrosia or nectar. When a god was injured and bled, the ichor made his or her blood poisonous to mortals.
And though I haven’t been able to nail this down, don’t you suppose that this might be the source for the word we exclaim upon seeing something repugnant and vile: ICK!