Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Word Wednesday: toxology

Toxology is an old word that figures largely in some well-known, well-traveled stories. If you're thinking about Socrates, iocaine powder, or the Gom Jabbar, you're a bit off the mark — you're thinking of toxicology.

The stories of Robin Hood and William Tell are much more toxological.

The recognizeable -ology ending marks the word toxology as a branch of study, which is true. The toxo- comes from the Greek toxon, a bow. Not the kind you wear, put on a gift, or perform in front of royalty, but the kind you fire arrows from.

Hence Robin Hood and William Tell.
Wilhelm Tell Denkmal Altdorf um 1900 Detail.jpg
Master toxologist William Tell and his son, Altdorf.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Toxology, as any good fletcher knows, is the study of archery, or, more broadly, the study of projectiles and trajectories.

Granted, if poison-tipped arrows are your thing, you might be interested in both toxology and toxicology. Etymologically, though, listing both is a smidge redundant.

As it turns out, the toxico- root of toxicology developed ultimately from the same root as toxology. From toxon was derived toxikos, "of bows and arrows," which became the basis for the noun toxikon, "poison for tipping arrows."

During the Middle Ages, this concept was incorporated into Latin as the word toxicum, which came to denote any type of poison, and from which we get a whole slew of English words, like toxic, detoxification, and antitoxin.

So the next time you're downing shots and heading toward intoxication, take a moment to raise a glass to those ancient warriors who were ducking them.