Tag Archives: greek myths

Jinx

Hello,

This week’s word is jinx with thanks to the excellent Haggard Hawks twitter account. They mentioned a while back that the jinx was originally a bird and it intrigued me so I dug a little deeper.

The first thing I found is that this word has entered the English language twice – once in the USA and once in England but at very different time periods.

In the 1690s, jynx was used to describe a spell or charm. It was sometimes also spelled as jyng (the Tudors were erratic spellers). The word arose from iynx in Latin and in Greek which was a bird used in witchcraft and divination.

A shell bat in the Vendee, France – symbol of witchcraft

The jynx, or wryneck as it’s known these days, is a small woodpecker bird with dull brown and grey plumage native to Europe whose ability to turn its head through 180 degrees gives rise to its modern name. I wasn’t able to discover exactly how it was used in divination (although given the ancients’s love for reading entrails I fear the bird might not have survived the rites), but it features in Greek mythology too. In one story Lynx was a nymph, the daughter of Pan and Echo. She cast a love spell on Zeus and Hera turned her into a bird called the iynx in revenge. In another story she dared to pit her musical talent against the muses and was turned into a bird for her presumption. The bird could be used to create love through witchcraft.

In British English that connection with misfortune (although not always in love) persists. If I say I don’t want to jinx something it means that I don’t to cause it to fail.

Jinx only appeared in American English around 1911 and it arose originally as baseball slang.

The New York Mets, City Park

If a player or team is subject to a jinx then they will have a losing streak until they can shake it off. It’s unclear if the Greek myths, the bird, or some other source brought jinxes to baseball, but there they have stayed.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Caduceus – Greek myths and modern medicine

Hello,

This week’s word is caduceus (pronunciation here). I came across this most recently in the Percy Jackson series of books which I read to my children, but if you look around you may spot the symbol at pharmacies or medical centres too and it got me thinking about how an ancient symbol for the god Hermes from Greek mythology comes to be in our everyday lives today.

Caduceus

 

The caduceus is a symbol of a winged herald’s staff entwined by two snakes. The word itself comes via Latin to English from the Greek word karykeion meaning herald and is linked to the Sanskrit word karu meaning singer.

Encyclopaedia Britannica explains that the staff represents the one carried by Hermes as a symbol of peace. Basically it was a badge of diplomatic immunity for heralds, the ambassadors of their day. Hermes was the messenger or herald of the gods. So that makes sense.

The original caduceus was a rod or olive branch ending in two shoots and decorated with ribbons. Which explains why we talk about offering the olive branch of peace to this day. Later the ribbons turned into two entwined snakes. Hermes (in Roman mythology his equivalent is the ever speedy Mercury) had winged shoes to denote his speed so that explains the addition of the wings.

This makes the caduceus the symbol of rapid diplomacy but where does medicine enter the picture?

For that you have to look at Asclepius who was the Greek god of medicine and healing. He kept it in the family with his daughters – Hygieia (Hygiene – goddess of cleanliness), Iaso (goddess of recuperation), Aceso (goddess of the healing process), Aglaea (goddess of beauty – there’s always one kid that won’t follow the family business, I suppose), and Panacea (goddess of the universal remedy). He carried a staff as his symbol too, but this one didn’t have wings and had only one serpent wound around it.

This similarity led to Hermes’ symbol, the caduceus being adopted by the medical community, including the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

Fun fact – the original Hippocratic Oath began “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …”

Until next week happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace

Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, and LinkedIn or sign up for free e-mail updates from this blog in the top right-hand corner of the page.