Epidemic.

I knew that epidemic was from Greek ἐπιδήμιος (ἐπί- + δῆμος ‘people’), but I wasn’t aware of the details of its development in Greek, well laid out by Marcel Detienne in Dionysos at Large (tr. Arthur Goldhammer), via Michael Gilleland at Laudator Temporis Acti:

In Greek, however, the word “epidemic” belonged to the vocabulary of theophany. Emile Littré, the nineteenth-century French lexicographer, was aware of this when he introduced the word into the French language.⁶ It was a technical term used in talking about the gods. “Epidemics” were sacrifices offered to the divine powers when they came to visit a region or a temple or attended a feast or were present at a sacrifice.⁷ Symmetrically, “apodemics” were sacrifices offered upon the gods’ departure. For there was a traffic of the gods, a traffic that became particularly heavy during Theoxenia, occasions when a city, individual, or god offered hospitality to some or all of the deities.⁸ The gods came to the place and lived there for a time; they were actually present,⁹ or “epidemized.” Being resident but not sedentary, they resembled the Hippocratic physicians, itinerant practitioners who composed what were called Epidemics: sheafs of notes, brief protocols or, rather, minutes relating the course of the disease—a careful record of the symptoms, the crisis, the care administered, and the patient’s reactions.¹⁰ The technique was that of a reporter, practiced by Ion of Chios, an intellectual of the fifth century B.C., in his work entitled Epidemics: a series of sketches, portraits, interviews with artists like Sophocles and politicians like Pericles and Kimon of Athens.¹¹

The footnotes are at the link, along with relevant entries from Liddell-Scott-Jones and a correction from Robert Renehan’s Greek Lexicographical Notes. (The relevant OED entries haven’t been updated since 1891.)

Comments

  1. Interesting stuff. The quote seems a bit misleading though in implying that the Greek word was primarily a religious term; the religious use is at most a slight specialization of the general sense (as the LSJ entries show). The Hippocratic use presumably arises from the idea that geographical and climatic features of a place can give rise to specific diseases.

  2. David Marjanović says:

    Ion

    “Wanderer”?

  3. “Ionian”, rather. No clear etymology, but it can’t be fron the “go” root; Mycenaean has iawone(s).

  4. PlasticPaddy says:

    What about Proto-Hellenic *ihwós > ἰός = arrow. The name would then be an abbreviation of arrow + (something), e.g., “swift as an arrow”. This type of abbreviation is common, see
    https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onomastica_greca
    “Una seconda macrocategoria di nomi erano i nomi abbreviati (ipocoristico, in Germania Kosenamen) a partire da nomi composti. Fra i numerosi nomi che iniziavano col prefisso Kall- (κάλλος “bellezza”), come Kallinikos “di una bella vittoria”, troviamo i nomi abbreviati Kallias e Kallon (maschile) o Kallis.”

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Is it always i-a-wo-ne, or is -ha- (“a₂“) sometimes used? Or is it only attested once…?

  6. Trond Engen says:

    ἐπιδήμιος (ἐπί- + δῆμος ‘people’)

    The second element is δήμῐος “public”, a deravation from δήμος. The meaning here is rather nominalized as “community”, and I guess it could take on shades of “home”. The feast when the gods came to town (ἐπιδήμιος) was “homecoming”, and the feast when they left “homeleaving”. The doctors of the travelling hippocracy were coming home* to people (but I learn from Wiktionary that a public physician could simply be a δήμιος “public”). A travelling disease would also find people at home.

    *) visiting, as it were, with a Latin word with a similar semantic range. The Latin word can also mean “haunt” or “search closely”, Norw, kroppsvisitasjon “body search”. A bishop’s annual visitation to the parish is an occasion for celebration, but it’s also a close inspection. and in ecclesiastic Latin the word even means “apparition by God or a saint”.

  7. @Trond Engen: Visitation, meaning an appearance by an apparition (not necessarily saintly or divine, in fact frequently malignant), is standard in English as well. I think I first encountered it with that meaning as the title of a Peter Davison era Doctor Who story. (The serial is best known for featuring the destruction of the sonic screwdriver.)

  8. Is it always i-a-wo-ne, or is -ha- (“a₂“) sometimes used? Or is it only attested once…?

    Twice apparently, both times as i-ja-wo-ne; though Nikolaev (see below) mentions a “new reading wi-ja-wo-ne”.

    What about Proto-Hellenic *ihwós > ἰός = arrow

    The -a- (which is long, as shown by both Homeric scansion and borrowings such as Hebrew Yāwān ‘Greece’) would be a problem, I’d think. Though Beekes does say that “An interesting attempt was recently made by Nikolaev 2006, who suggests an original meaning ‘die Kräftigen’, starting either from *uiH- ‘force’ or from *h₁ish₂-, to which a suffix * -āwon- was added.” That paper is here, but is in Russian, with an English blurb. In any case the prospect of etymologizing a proper name whose only lexical material is the phoneme /i/ doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

  9. If I might abuse Hat’s open-door, since I’ve gotten shown out the door elsewhere …

    Thank you to David M for the observation about Sweden in that other place. Let’s see how long it’s allowed to remain. The other place has a perfectly linguisticy observation around neologisms for the government handling of COVID-19; but a whole lot more tendentious/contentious observations about governments.

    I made a small comment along the same lines as David M in my one post that’s still standing — that paragraph got deleted. I supplied separately ‘Selected Reading’s of evidence from recent news stories — whole post deleted. I tried to comment that if the moderator doesn’t want non-linguisticy commentary, as per recent reiteration of etiquette, then don’t put non-linguisticy content in the post — especially opinionated, contentious, facts-free content — my comment rejected.

    Increasingly with VHM’s ‘guest post’s he seems to paste in the whole of (what is probably personal/informal) correspondence with no editorial trimming. I appreciate that restricting comments on a major global event to only the linguisticy bits is hard work. Then don’t go posting tendentious nonsense. VHM has ‘form’.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    My comment is still there, but based on what you’re saying, I now expect it to be gone by tomorrow…

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think I can see where Mair’s coming from. These guest posts seem often to come from personal friends and/or protégés. When they contain nonsense, he gets upset when people call out the nonsense, on account of loyalty to the poster. (The lack of editing is probably to be explained similarly.) On a purely personal level, that’s admirable, though it’s probably not an optimal strategy for Language Log.

    It’ll no affeck me. Ah bide in Pairth. (Punchline of a story from Edinburgh.)

  12. These guest posts seem often to come from personal friends and/or protégés.

    Sure; and it is respectful to compliment/thank friends/protégés for linguisticy tidbits by posting them. (LLog is getting thin on content, so everything is welcome.) Where Mair could come from (why doesn’t he?) is that LLog has a policy of ‘sticking to the knitting’ of Language — because as we all know, without a policy things can rapidly get out of hand. Then it’s not disrespectful to trim a personal communication of the more personal bits.

    Anyhoo there’s now more comments calling out the gratuitous political opinionating. We’ll see …

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe my comment was deemed nicer, in tone, than AntC’s, on criteria that are beyond me.

  14. AJP Crown says:

    ‘sticking to the knitting’

    Now I’ve got nightmare images of jam sandwiches.

  15. Mair is absurdly thin-skinned, as bad as Pullum (who has had the grace to step away from the Log). I like them both as people, but as internet personalities…

  16. John Cowan says:

    Just six comments now, but AntC’s original and David M’s are among them.

    Of course the obvious point is that the successful countries are islands (in South Korea’s case, its only land border is highly militarized and quite impermeable). Alas, NYC’s islandhood is merely geographical and to some extent sociological, not epidemiological, even if I do enjoy telling peple that I live on a small island off the eastern coast of the U.S.

  17. Good lord, this post is pathetic and embarrassing. How can a person who makes his living from language and helps run a blog about it be so clueless about the state of his own native tongue? He sounds like someone who tottered in from 1890.

  18. David Eddyshaw says:

    Mair knows a very great deal about some aspects of linguistics, and quite astonishingly little about others. He seems somehow to have bypassed learning the basics. (I expect my trainees feel the same way about me.)

  19. AJP Crown says:

    Still, I like this, assuming it’s true: Persian “chai” arose from Mandarin “cha” because the former eschews open syllables in articulation, for which see Appendix C (on the linguistics of “tea”) of Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh, The True History of Tea…

    V. Mair writes in his tea book: And who was the beautiful Emma Hart, immortalized by George Romney in his painting The Tea-maker of Edgware Road?

    Emma Hart, later Emma, Lady Hamilton, was called ‘the fair tea maker of Edgware Row’ in a letter of Hamilton’s to his nephew Charles Greville. She lived at 10 Edgware Road and was painted many times by Romney, but afaik there’s no George Romney painting with Mair’s title.

  20. David Eddyshaw says:

    [Persian] eschews open syllables in articulation

    It doesn’t, needless to say. I’m having some trouble thinking of any language at all of which this is true.
    Perhaps he means “eschews open syllables in monosyllabic full words.” Even that is false: cf do “two”, se “three.”

  21. Stu Clayton says:

    Chewing open syllables ? 30 years ago I was told I did that to German vowels.

  22. Mair knows a very great deal about some aspects of linguistics, and quite astonishingly little about others.

    But this isn’t even about linguistics! All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open! How can a sentient human be so utterly unaware of “sup” and “welp”?

  23. Stu Clayton says:

    I’d never heard of them. Depends on what you read and who you talk with. I don’t hear much English spoken, contemporary or old-timey. In context I would have figured out sup and welp fast enough, without making such a prissy fuss about it.

  24. David Eddyshaw says:

    I did that to German vowels

    I thought that was the right way?

    I recall as a wee laddie learning German being informed that I was not pronouncing German u correctly. I’d naturally assumed that the vowel with the cool diacritic must be the peculiar one, but my usual “foot/food” vowel was actually much more like ü. Years later I had a conversation with a Saudi colleague about Arabic pharyngealised consonants, in the course of which I suggested that English speakers found them hard because we don’t have them. He was astonished, as he heard that as our default pronunciation: as far as he was concerned, what we don’t have is the corresponding non-pharyngeals.

  25. In context I would have figured out sup and welp fast enough, without making such a prissy fuss about it.

    Yeah, I guess what I meant was not that everyone should have run into them but that if/when you do, you should be able to figure them out easily enough, especially if you call yourself a linguist.

  26. SFReader says:
  27. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Persian for “foot”, now I think of it, is پا . Mair is prone to embroidery

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    Carelessness, I should say. Not the same thing. I’m sure this is either simply failure to check his facts, or failure to explain what he means adequately.

    Perhaps the famed Appendix C really does justify his statement. Anyone seen it?

  29. you should be able to figure them out easily enough, especially if you call yourself a linguist

    He doesn’t. He thinks about himself as a philologist. But anyway, it’s a bit like “linguist is a one who knows many languages” approach. We usually do not require of mathematicians to be good at mental arithmetic (though many are) or doctors to give you off the cuff advice about some random ailment (though many probably could, if it’s sufficiently common).

  30. But this is like a doctor saying “Whoa, I just discovered there’s some new flu that’s really hard to treat, what’s up with that?” or a mathematician exclaiming about a famous theorem that was proved a couple of decades back. It’s not like you’re expected to know everything, but it seems odd to keep your head in the clouds to that extent.

  31. AJP Crown says:

    Reagan used to toss his head and say Welp. This is the first time I’ve seen it written, though.

    The True History of Tea
    I like the title. As opposed to my other books, which are a pack of lies.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    require doctors to give you off the cuff advice about some random ailment

    I have discovered Stephen Potter’s approach to be the best in such cases.

    When asked even the simplest medical question, you pause just for a second (this is important) and then say: “Alas, we just don’t know.”

  33. AJP Crown says:

    my usual “foot/food” vowel was actually much more like ü
    Is that a Scottish accent?

  34. I agree that it’s surprising to be unaware of ‘sup until recently (I never noticed welp and, if asked point blank before today, would suggest that it is a bland of whine and yelp). I just not am [sic!] sure that linguists are required to be better about such things then the rest of us (though many certainly are).

  35. David Eddyshaw says:

    Is that a Scottish accent?

    Yup. (Or possibly, Och, aye, the noo.)

  36. AJP Crown says:

    I had a Scottish grandmother so we’re probably related.

    prone to embroidery

    Tea and embroidery. And baking scones. Very 1890.

  37. I just not am [sic!] sure that linguists are required to be better about such things then the rest of us (though many certainly are).

    Of course they’re not; it’s not that I expect him to know everything, but the whole tone of his post is one of benign astonishment: “Look what these crazy kids get up to! What normal person could ever have imagined such a thing?” It’s the response of some Rip van Winkle / Andy Rooney combo, not of someone who calls himself a linguist. God knows I’ve run into all sorts of linguistic phenomena I’m mildly embarrassed not to have known about, and I post about them, but my attitude is very different. And I don’t even call myself a linguist.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    eschews open syllables in articulation

    It doesn’t, needless to say. I’m having some trouble thinking of any language at all of which this is true.

    There doesn’t seem to be any – but Old Chinese in Karlgren’s reconstruction (1950s) had almost none, and Old Chinese in Li’s reconstruction (1970) had none at all whatsoever if (unlike Li, but apparently like most of his students) you took *-b *-d *-g literally and not as a merely notational device for unknown features.

    This has been completely abandoned, though from the comments to Mair posts I’ve learned that Chris Button wants to resurrect some kind of *-[ɣ] or at least *-[ɰ] for a lot of syllables that are currently thought to have been open.

    How can a sentient human be so utterly unaware of “sup” and “welp”?

    Several commenters in the thread have confessed to the same…

    I thought that was the right way?

    If “chewing” means “diphthongizing”, then no…

    ears later I had a conversation with a Saudi colleague about Arabic pharyngealised consonants, in the course of which I suggested that English speakers found them hard because we don’t have them. He was astonished, as he heard that as our default pronunciation: as far as he was concerned, what we don’t have is the corresponding non-pharyngeals.

    I suspect this is about English alveolars (other than /s/, mostly) being apical, while they’re laminal in most of the rest of Europe and, in my cursory impression, the world.

    …though the Old High German monophthongization makes a lot more sense if the alveolars were apical there, too, even though in today’s German that’s a very northern feature. But if laminals are a Romance (or Celtic) substrate feature, they showed up oddly late and have spread oddly far…

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wikipedia suggests (very sensibly) that what has actually happened in Persian is that the form chāy is the result of reanalysis of chā (which is also attested) plus the possessive suffix ezafe, which is e after consonants and ye after vowels.

    Mair is talking through his hat.

  40. Several commenters in the thread have confessed to the same…

    Yes, I rephrased it in a later comment.

  41. Mair is talking through his hat.

    I suspect we’re dealing with morbus scholasticus of the type so trenchantly diagnosed in the case of Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol:

    There’s no knowledge but I know it.
    I am Master of this College,
    What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    More likely just specialization: “learning more and more about less and less till you know everything about nothing”.

  43. AJP Crown says:

    Poor Jowett & Curzon, nowadays remembered only by the snide rhyming of jealous Balliol undergraduates.

  44. More likely just specialization: “learning more and more about less and less till you know everything about nothing”.

    No, because that’s perfectly compatible with admitting your ignorance about everything outside your specialty. We’re dealing here with a particular morbus.

  45. AJP Crown says:

    Call me an old fart but I prefer my teachers to speak with assurance, as if they know what they’re talking about. I’m not getting my money’s worth with ‘We just don’t know’.
    Perhaps that’s not what you mean. I never liked the ones who ridiculed the class, but I haven’t met one of those since I was about fourteen.

  46. No, that’s not what I mean. I mean scholars who pretend to know what they don’t, and/or pretend that what they don’t know, nobody else knows either. Nothing to do with confidence in teaching.

  47. AJP Crown says:

    Nobody likes a bluffer. It’s not a very scholarly attitude. Are you sure Jowett was actually like that, not just in the rhyme? I’ve never read a biography. I can’t imagine Florence Nightingale liking a such a man, although perhaps it’s part of what Lytton Strachey was on about in Eminent Victorians.

  48. This is not about Jowett, it’s about Mair. I cited the rhyme for context.

  49. AJP Crown says:

    I see.

  50. John Cowan says:

    I can’t remember the name of the academic in question, but Leo Rosten said of him that he never admitted personal ignorance of any question. At most he would say “We know little of this”, meaning by “we” the entire human species.

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