Ampoules and Vernicles.

From Barbara Newman’s LRB review (17 August 2017, pp. 29-30) of The Medieval Invention of Travel, by Shayne Aaron Legassie (which sounds like an interesting book):

Further down the socioeconomic scale, pilgrims eagerly collected the mass-produced lead badges or ampoules (flasks for holy water) on sale at every shrine. Each saint had his or her own distinctive badge. Those who sought St James in Galicia wore the scallop shell, while the ‘Rome-runner’ could display St Peter’s keys and the vernicle, or Veronica’s veil – a celebrated image of Christ. Well-travelled pilgrims pinned or sewed these badges onto their hats, like the palmer satirised by Langland:

A hundred ampoules sat on his hat,
Signs of Sinai and shells of Galicia,
And many a cross on his cloak, with the keys of Rome
And the vernicle in front, so people would know
And see by his signs which saints he had sought.

But not all badges were pious. Some were even gleefully obscene, depicting winged phalluses or vulvas in the garb of pilgrims – offering their own brand of parody on the institution of pilgrimage.

I was vaguely familiar with the word ampoule, though I couldn’t have told you what it was (you can see images at Wikipedia; M-W just takes it back to Latin ampulla, while AHD tells us the latter is a diminutive of amphora — I refuse to pronounce it /ˈampyo͞ol/, since there is no justification for the /y/); the delightful vernicle was new to me. OED (entry not fully updated since 1917):

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Old French vernicle, = Old French veron(n)icle, variants of veronique, < medieval Latin veronica the sudarium of St Veronica: see Veronica n.2 and compare veronicle n., veronique n. On the change of –ique to –icle see the note to chronicle n.

1. The picture or representation of the face of Christ said to be impressed upon the handkerchief or sudarium of St Veronica (see 2); any similar picture of Christ’s face, esp. one engraved, painted, or worked upon a vessel, garment, ornament, etc., used for religious or devotional purposes; an ornament or token bearing this as worn by pilgrims.

1362 Langland Piers Plowman A. vi. 14 Moni Cros on his cloke and keiȝes of Rome, And þe vernicle [C. fernycle] bi-fore for men schulde him knowe.
c1405 (▸c1387–95) Chaucer Canterbury Tales Prol. (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 685 Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare A vernycle hadde he sowed vp on his cappe.
[…]
1901 Athenæum 27 July 131/3 The vernicle, or face of our Lord, appears in the centre of the paten.
[…]

2. The cloth or kerchief, alleged to have belonged to St. Veronica, with which, according to legend, the face of Christ was wiped on the way to Calvary, and upon which His features were miraculously impressed.
This cloth is preserved at St. Peter’s, Rome, and is venerated as a relic.

a1400 Stac. Rome 59 Whon þe vernicle schewed is, Gret pardoun forsoþe þer is.
[…]
1845 J. Saunders Cabinet Pictures of Eng. Life: Chaucer 14 Thus originated the Sudarium or holy kerchief—the Veronica—and, by corruption, the vernicle.

If I ever get a chance to work it into conversation, I will.

Comments

  1. Russian ампула, small sealed container for liquid drugs, is an everyday word. Or at least it was when the thing itself was an everyday thing.

  2. @D.O.: It’s an ordinary English word in that meaning as well, the normal term for a vial from which a syringe is filled.

  3. Trond Engen says:

    In Norwegian, the meaning of ampull is extended to e.g. the replaceable ink container in a fountain pen, and by further extension a color cartridge in a plotter and the [… googling …] dye pack in a batch of stolen money.

  4. David L says:

    I remember ampoules from chemistry class but I don’t recall coming across them, or the word, in any other context.

  5. The rectum follows the shape of the sacrum and ends in an expanded section called the rectal ampulla, where feces are stored before their release via the anal canal. An ampulla is a cavity, or the dilated end of a duct, shaped like a Roman ampulla.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rectum

  6. There’s also the ampullae of Lorenzini, the little vase-shaped electrosensitive organs on the noses of sharks.

    And the scallop shell is still worn by pilgrims to the shrine of St. James; I’ve seen them in the Pyrenees.

  7. Trond Engen says:

    Wearing scallop shells on the road to Santiago must be a new thing. They were by nature proof of completion, worn as badges of honour by returning pilgrims — though there was no doubt money to be made by selling proofs of completion along the way, and the price of the shells would increase with the distance from Santiago de Compostela.

  8. I don’t remember ever seeing “ampule” or hearing /ˈampjuːl/, but they would seem to go together. OTOH, AHD puts the spelling “ampule” before “ampoule” but the /-puːl/ pronunciation before /-pjuːl/ ; whereas MW reverses both.

  9. I don’t remember ever seeing “ampule” or hearing /ˈampjuːl/, but they would seem to go together. OTOH, AHD puts the spelling “ampule” before “ampoule” but the /-puːl/ pronunciation before /-pjuːl/ ; whereas MW reverses both.

    If you’re going to write “ampule” it makes sense to say /ˈampjuːl/.

  10. per incuriam says:

    ampoule

    *moment ampoule*

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Ampule” (the more common spelling variant in the US, I think) v. “ampoule” (the more common in the UK, I think) somehow feels like an instance of the color v. colour etc. pattern, except a different letter gets dropped in the simplification process.

  12. Huh. It’s a word so little familiar to me that I had no idea of the US/UK difference.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, the “AmEng” and “BrEng” subcorpora in google books need to be used with some caution because the process by which texts got sorted into them seems to have been far from perfect, but subject to that they do confirm my hunch, which was based on nothing more than the fact that “ampule” looked standard to my American eye while “ampoule” looked weird.

  14. Hang on – what’s the relationship between “veronica” and the word “varnish”? Quick googling shows varnish first came from… Benghazi? Which was named “Berenike” back then? Too many connections between random things to process at once…

  15. … also, I think I learned “ampoule” from, among other places, Agatha Christie novels. For example Poirot dies (spoiler alert?) because his ampoules of amyl nitrate are out of reach when he has a heart attack.

  16. AJP Crown says:

    According to the wiki article, an ampoule is a sealed vial of a liquid from which all the air has been evacuated to avoid contamination. So it’s definitely not for syringes, which will only suck up chemicals properly when air is pushed into the vial to keep the pressure up.

    I’ve never heard of a spelling difference between England & America, but it’s not a subject that comes up as often as color, humor or flavor. Oh, and I say amp-yule. When I try ‘ampool’ it sounds like ample.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Poirot dies (spoiler alert?)

    I did not know he dies.

  18. AJP Crown says:

    He retired over eighty years ago. It’s been on the cards.

  19. According to the wiki article, an ampoule is a sealed vial of a liquid from which all the air has been evacuated to avoid contamination. So it’s definitely not for syringes, which will only suck up chemicals properly when air is pushed into the vial to keep the pressure up

    No, it definitely is for syringes. You break the ampoule open at one end – normally it’s shaped to allow this to be done cleanly – insert the needle of the syringe and draw up the contents. The point is that it keeps the contents uncontaminated right up to the point of breaking (which is also the point of use, so there’s not much chance of it getting contaminated after breaking), as well as ensuring that you don’t accidentally give too much, because an ampoule is one dose. Morphine, among other drugs, is often still supplied in ampoules.

    Not to be confused with a syrette, which is basically a tiny toothpaste tube with a needle on the nozzle; you uncap it, stick the needle into the patient, and then roll up the tube to squeeze the contents into them.

    Until recently, both had been largely replaced for field use by autojectors – you uncapped them and smacked them into a large muscle, and the needle would automatically pop out, followed by a spring automatically squeezing a tube inside the autojector to deliver the drug.

  20. Wearing scallop shells on the road to Santiago must be a new thing. They were by nature proof of completion, worn as badges of honour by returning pilgrims

    Hmm. Well, that’s changed. There were definitely plenty people heading to Santiago with scallop shells dangling from their rucksacks. I believe it was a symbol of authentic pilgrim status which entitled you to accommodation in monasteries along the way, unlike us secular amblers who weren’t.

  21. AJP Crown says:

    Ajay,

    Until recently? What happened recently?

    I accept your ampoule explanation for single dose syringe use, it makes sense but I will continue to call the syringe things vials, or phials (because German?), and keep ‘ampoules’ for the amyl nitrate and cyanide containers.

  22. What happened recently is they replaced morphine autojectors with fentanyl lollipops. Well, officially “lozenges” but they’re on a stick so basically lollipops. The casualty puts it in his mouth and sucks. Pain relief is faster because it’s absorbed through the mouth lining rather than intramuscularly, and it also means that it’s more difficult to overdose because an unconscious patient can’t keep sucking a lollipop. Another advantage is that being autojected is really quite painful – a big needle slams about an inch into your muscle and then injects a bolus of liquid quite rapidly. And if you do it the wrong way round by mistake the needle goes through your thumb instead if you aren’t careful.

    Autojectors are still used for atropine, administered as a treatment for nerve agent poisoning.

    Vials/ampoules are still used in a hospital context, for morphine and other drugs, I believe. I don’t think anyone still uses syrettes. They’re very much a WW2 technology.

  23. The EpiPen and its analogues are probably the sort of autojector that most people are most familiar with.

  24. AJP Crown says:

    Aha. Yes, I have Epi pens. I still use vials/ampoules of insulin from the pharmacy for filling up a pump cartridge using a syringe.

  25. Stu Clayton says:

    # Following the patch, a flavoured lollipop of fentanyl citrate mixed with inert fillers was introduced in 1998 under the brand name of Actiq, becoming the first quick-acting formation of fentanyl for use with chronic breakthrough pain.[80] #

  26. Syrettes and autojectors were both explained on the Israeli Civil Defense brochures during the 1973 Israeli-Arab war, for nerve gas antidotes.

    My experience with ampoules is watching videos of bromine diffusion in air and in vacuum, which are plentiful wherever fine internet videos are available.

  27. AJP Crown says:

    A flavoured lollipop, and then there’s chronic breakthrough pain au chocolat.

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