Bill Long 11/27/06
Daidzein, Daikon, Dalmatic, Damiana, Damson
The first thought that rushed through my mind as I began to study these words was that I wished I had mastered sophomore chemistry better than I had. Indeed, one of the tasks for the next years is to develop a fuller appreciation for the language of science. Let's begin then with daidzein.
When the OED says "no results" when you type in "daidzein," you know you are dealing with contemporary medical or pharmaceutical term or a foreign loan word. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate has this definition: "an isoflavone C15H10O4 found chiefly in legumes and esp. soybeans." It was first coined in 1945. An isoflavone, for those who are interested, is "a bioactive ketone," and if you keep tracing words back (like ketone) you eventually come to a "class of organic compounds that are characterized by a carbonyl group atached to two carbon atoms." To make a short story even shorter, daidzein is a compund found in a number of plants, but soybeans and soy products like tofu and textured vegetable protein are the primary food source for it. It functions as an antioxidant (i.e., good for the tissues) and it also interacts with human estrogen receptors--a good thing for women. Someday, I promise, I will understand all of this!
We are back here into the realm of things that can be seen and touched. Again the word is absent from the OED, probably because it is a foreign loan word, but the Collegiate says it was attested as early as 1876 to mean: "a large long hard white radish used especially in Asian cuisine. I found a picture of it.
|You can see the huge size of the daikon here. It grows to a length of about 30 centimeters (about a foot) in length and 4 centimeters in diameter. It grows mostly in Asia and Australia and, as this web description of it says, it yields "plenty of food." I will look forward to tasting my first daikon.
When we come to dalmatic, we are in a completely different universe. A dalmatic is "a wide-sleeved overgarment with slit sides worn by a deacon or prelate." As you see, we are plunged into the world of the Roman Catholic Church, of albs, cassocks, chasubles, tunicles, surplices, copes, and benediction veils, among other garments. Unless you really are "into" the world of vestments, you probably won't be too upset if the priest is wearing a dalmatic when he is supposed to be wearing a surplice. Here is a picture:
Significant to understand about the dalmatic, which derives its name from Dalmatia, an area in post-WWII Yugoslavia, is that this garment, an outer garment worn by a deacon, is a festal garment and can be worn at Mass and other processions, except when those processions have a penitential character. I looked up the price. The average one costs about $1,000, so don't think you are just going to go out and buy your personal dalmatic. It is nice, however.
Again, the OED draws a blank for this word, which appears in the Collegiate. It says the word appeared as early as 1868 to describe the tropical American shrub Turnera diffusa or T. aphrodisiaca. My ears perk up when I run into the latter term, because the damiana is a kind of aphrodisiac. I won't give you a picture of one, but I will sure take my time to describe what we know about aphrodisiacs. This web site talks about four different kinds of herbal substances used as aphrodisiacs: (1) the narcotic, which is pretty dangerous, but is so classified because it is used to intoxicate the user's object of desire, thus rendering them incapable of resisting sexual advances. We still haven't gotten over this, have we? We even have coined a fairly new term (1995): "date-rape drug" to capture this kind of an aphrodisiac. But, since this is a "one-way" stimulator, it doesn't seem to fit the definition of increasing pleasure for both.
(2) A second type of herbal aphrodisiac irritates the mucous membrane of the genitalia in order to produce a warm and itching feeling similar to sexual arousal. The only problem, however is that this inflammation can cause permanent damage to genitalia and kidneys. No go with this, either.
(3) Then there is a third type which alleviate medical disorders that inhibit full sexual function. Two examples are Ephedra nevadensis and some kinds of kelp.
(4) The fourth type is the one we all want to know about: those herbs that seem to have the effect of directly increasing sexual desire and prowess, even to the point of increasing the intensity of orgasm. As the same web site says, extensive research has concluded that the Kava Kava root and Damiana leaves do the trick. Well, don't rush out to your local pharmacy and demand the Damiana. Herbalists, however, would seem to know how to get it for you. Aren't words fun?
Concluding with Damson
Here we conclude with a fruit. In these five words we have had an aphrodisiac from a plant, a Catholic vestment, a compound with soy in it, a huge radish, and a fruit. Two of the four are rather "modern" remedies for problems humans face. This last word is an "edible drupaceous fruit" of the plum family. A drupe, for your information, is a one-seed indehiscent fruit having a hard pit in the middle (endocarp), a fleshy middle, which you eat (mesocarp) and a thin and flexible surface (exocarp). Where did it get its name? Well, like the dalmatic, we have to travel East to learn that the Latin name for the damson is prunum damascenum, because it was believed that they were first cultivated around the ancient city of Damascus in Syria. We know that the Romans introduced the fruit into England, and the English brought these plums to the American colonies. They grow abundantly in the US. I am most grateful that someone brought them here, or else we would probably never have heard Wiliiam Carlos Williams' wonderful poem on the plums. Have you heard it? Let's close this essay with that delicious little poem.
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
Amen to that!