Bill Long 10/6/05
Listening to the Language of Thomas Fuller
Let's begin with Fuller's use of sizy. In his discussion of "a pleuritic julep" he says that it is intended to "alleviate Thirst, refrigerate the Blood, dissolve sizy Coagulum, break through Obstructions thence proceeding, relax dolorific Crispations of the Membranes, recover due Circulation through the part, and promote Expectoration and Diuresis. Let 4 ounces be offered thrice a day."*
[*Sometimes a dosage can simply be "let 5 spoonfuls be given in the sick Fits" or "the dose is 6 spoonfuls at pleasure."]
I, of course, like the phrase "relax dolorific Crispations." Crispation is an interesting word, meaning "curled," and was first attested by Francis Bacon in the 1620s. Its medical usage began in 1710 with this same Dr. Fuller when he talks about "painful Crispations of the Fibres." A crispation, then, is "a light contraction of any part, morbid or natural, as that of the minute artery in a wound when they retract, or of the skin in the state called goose-skin" (what we would call "goose-bumps" today but of a harsher character). Since the nation is talking about Supreme Court Justices now, let's have a quotation from the future Supreme Court Justice OW Holmes in 1887: "Few can look down from a great height without creepings and crispations." Thus, Dr. Fuller's pleuritic julep will help both dissolve the thick coagulated blood as well as get rid of those painful ridges or bumps on the body.
A Further Detour on Blood
Speaking of blood for a moment, we ought not to overlook another 18th century word that is synonymous with "Coagulum," and that is crassamentum. Going back in English to 1657, the word crassamentum means "the solid jelly-like part of coagulated blood...; the clot, the coagulum." Bailey's 1730 definition is quite visual: "Crassamentum (with some Anatomists) the cruor of the blood, or that part which..forms the Coagulum, in opposition to the Serum in which it swims." And the cruor is "that portion of the blood which forms the clot; the gore." Thus, the terms "blood and gore" are not simply meant to be a hendiadys nor the Democratic ticket in 2008; they are meant to suggest two separate concepts.
One Other Remedy
Before leaving Dr. Fuller, let's look at one more remedy, this time the pearl antiphthisic julep. What is it supposed to correct?
"It's useful to refresh the spirits, support strength, retund the acid of the Stomach, and preserve its Tone; to dissolve the crude Tubercles in the Lungs, conglutinate the Mouths of the Vessels, sweeten the Acrimony of Humours, correct the colliquative Diathesis of the Blood..."
Quite a mouthful. Phthisis before the 19th century was associated with a wasting disease, usually called consumption, but was, by the 19th century used to describe tuberculosis or pulmonary disease. Thus, this julep was supposed to reverse the phthisic, as it was called. But it also "retunds" the acid of the Stomach. The verb is from the Latin, meaning to beat back or blunt the edge of, but also meant "to weaken." Fuller himself was one of the first to use it in a medical context: "The Pectoral Decoction...retunds the Acrimony of the Blood." So, his antiphthisic julep retunds, or weakens, the acid of the stomach. Aren't you glad he used "retund" instead of "weaken"?
It also claims to "dissolve the crude Tubercles in the Lungs." A tubercle, from the Latin for pimple or boil, is "a small firm rounded swelling or nodule on the surface of the body." A synonym is petechia which, though attested once from 1582 isn't really strongly attested until the end of the 18th century, and means "a small red or purple spot in the skin caused by extravasation of blood."** I see that the major attestation of the word is in 1794, and I know that the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush (see next essay) used the word in his treatise on bloodletting; perhaps its rise was due to the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793.
[**And, we can't let "extravasation" pass without due attention. It is "the escape of an organic fluid (e.g., blood, sap) from its proper vessels into the surrounding tissues." Thus the word is much gentler than "spurt" or "flow." It is more like "extrude" or "escape." Its origin, meaning "outside the vessel," is helps us visualize it. I wonder if a parental warning to a teen not to extravasate toothpaste from the middle of the tube would receive more than the blank stares that usually accompany parental commands.]
To "conglutinate" the blood vessels means, predictably, to "glue, cement, or fasten [them] firmly together." How can you tell if this is happening. Do you have an interior feeling where you say, "Yep, feels like the ole blood vessels are conglutinating"? Then, finally, it corrects the "colliquative Diathesis" of the Blood. I would hope so, of course, but what does that mean? Something "colliquative" has "the power or effect of liquefying or dissolving" and is applied to "profuse discharges which cause the body to waste away." Since the "diathesis" is a general word meaning one's "constitution" or "permanent condition of the body," I suppose it means that you have restored your normal flow of blood, without too much coagulum or too much serum. But, I never tried the stuff, so I can't attest to it.
We must rush on to Rush (Dr. Benjamin, that is) before we finish on "sizy."
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long