Edward Jenner (1749-1823) developed the smallpox vaccination after noticing that milkmaids who had caught cowpox were immune to the more serious smallpox. Vaccine is from the Latin vacca, cow. Inoculate is from the Latin oculus (eye or bud). Until the early 1700s inoculate referred to the grafting of plants. Modern inoculation, dating from the early 1700s, puts a bud of a substance into the patient’s body.

Syringe is from the Greek surigx meaning pipe or channel. A related English word, syrinx has meant both pan-pipes and a narrow gallery in an Egyptian tomb. In the Egyptian galleries of a museum you may come across Canopic jars, named after Canopus, a town in ancient Egypt, and used to store organs from an embalmed body. Mummies get their name from mumiya an Arabic word meaning pissasphalt or embalmed body, and/or from the Persian mum (wax). And if you are wondering about pissasphalt, pissa is Greek for bitumen, asphalt or pitch, with which mummies were coated.

New Internationalist issue 376 magazine cover This article is from the March 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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