Penexpeller.

In the Russian novel I’m reading, there’s a reminiscence of a squalid house in Kazan (around the time of the First World War) in which part of the description is “на окне в столовой стоял пенэкспеллер” [on the dining room window stood penexpeller]. The last word was obviously not Russian, and it wasn’t in any of my dictionaries, but Google came to my aid (how did people figure these things out before the internet?) — it’s Pain Expeller, a nostrum from the late 19th and early 20th century. You can read about Friedrich Adolf Richter’s here (“By 1907, analytical pharmacists had determined that nondoctor Richter had created his Anchor Pain Expeller by ‘doctoring’ chili, black, and Guinea peppers with galangal root, astringent rhatany, and the oils of thyme, clove, rosemary, and lavender”; we discussed galangal back in 2005) and see a very classy-looking example of Loxol Pain-Expeller here. It’s interesting that it was known in Russia under that name, which must have sounded impressive.

Comments

  1. Huh! This is the first time I’ve ever seen the literal usage of “nostrum”; always assumed it was a prayer or something liturgical.

  2. It sounds impressive today and must have sounded impressive then, but it was long before the Iron Curtain (which is mostly post-WWII). That is, before jazz was first promoted, and then discouraged and before “foreign” began to sound as a Playboy-reading fobidden fruit. In 1910s exoticity was just as popular as in 2010 and foreign names were common.

    This perception was famously expressed in this poem.

  3. “Astringent rhatany” (Krameria lappacea)? It’s from Spanish ratania. Several sources say it’s from Quechua, perhaps meaning ‘creeping bush’. The plant’s Quechua WP page lists a number of names, none resembling ratania. The neame was first mentioned in the late 1700s, from Huánuco. A recent dictionary of Huánuco Quechua, only lists “ratanshu ∼ ratamshu ∼ ratanya, type of large burr”. The plant is used quite commonly there.

  4. Thanks for investigating that — I had thought of looking it up, but it went right out of my head (as so many things do these days).

  5. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the literal usage of “nostrum”; always assumed it was a prayer or something liturgical.

    [discussing how to give medicine to sick horses] “These ingredients are then mixed together with Molasses, Turpentine, Legerdemain, etc., into a single pill, or Mare Nostrum…” Sellars & Yeatman, “Horse Nonsense”

  6. Thanks, that gave me a laugh! (Mare Nostrum, for those who aren’t familiar with the term.)

  7. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    It makes me think of something which is somehow the opposite of a propelling pencil…

    My office (which I’m not in) may be haunted by a pen-expeller, although more often it just turns all the black pens into red pens, which is no use unless everything is WRONG.

  8. Wasn’t it Douglas Adams who established long ago that there are special wormholes through which pens and pencils escape from our universe?

  9. John Cowan says:

    somehow the opposite of a propelling pencil.

    Lord Peter Wimsey, Murder Must Advertise (1933):

    “That’s very helpful,” said Parker, sarcastically. “It ought to be easy to identify a criminal who has bought a pound’s worth of goods at Darling’s within the last six months or so.”

    “Wait a bit; I said I had expert knowledge. This pencil–a natty scarlet, as you observe, with gold lettering–didn’t come from any of Darling’s branches. It’s not on the market yet. There are only three places it could have come from: one, from the pencil manufacturer’s; two, from Darling’s head office; three, from our place.”

    “Do you mean Pym’s?”

    “I do. This is the new pencil design, with an improved propelling mechanism. The old ones only propelled; this repels also, with a handy twist of the what-d’ye-call. Darling’s obligingly presented us with half a gross of them to try out.”

    So the term seems to be repelling pencil, though I do think retropelling would have been better. Alas, both Wikt and the OED have no opinion of this word.

  10. David Eddyshaw says:

    Wasn’t it Douglas Adams who established long ago that there are special wormholes through which pens and pencils escape from our universe?

    Biros.

    http://www.clivebanks.co.uk/THHGTTG/THHGTTGradio3.htm

    (End of Scene IV)

  11. Thanks!

  12. Trond Engen says:

    I have a lot of handsketches and calculations in red ink. I hadn’t thought of that, but they could just be completely wrong.

  13. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I have been using red pens ever since I got an original signed form back from Bolagsverket with an admonition to not send photocopies. (I had used a black gel pen on an ink-jet printed form, and it can be hard to see the difference. But even a color photocopy of red ink is very different from the original).

  14. @Hans, David Eddyshaw: The fate of pens in the Hitchhiker’s universe previously came up here.

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