Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Words of The Day - Prophylaxis and Palliation

The words of the day are prophylaxis and palliation. I came across these two words while reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder, which is a lovely book about Dr. Paul Farmer, a quiet hero/physician to Haiti's poor. Dr. Farmer quotes his mentor, German polymath, Rudolf Virchow (another fascinating character), saying "My politics are those of prophylaxis, my opponents preferred those of palliation."

Prophylaxis is any medical or public health procedure whose purpose is to prevent, rather than treat or cure a disease. To palliate a disease is to treat it partially, but not cure it completely.

Palliation is a particularly interesting word. further describes the derivation of this word. The Latin "pallium" referred to a type of cloak in ancient Greece and Rome.... worn by the pope or an archbishop as a symbol of full episcopal authority. Pallium was modified to form "palliate," an adjective meaning "cloaked" or "concealed....."

As for prophylaxis, well, now I know why condoms are sometimes referred to as "prophylactics!"

So...Hopefully I have palliated my ignorance by using these wonderful words, but sadly, it is doubtful that I have been successful at prophylaxing it!

As the crude and sexist (albeit funny) sign over the door in the university biology department reads... "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think."

Have a good day.



  1. I love the stuff Farmer says, such as " Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing but medicine on a large scale." Although we struggle with medicine & health care in this country, Farmer's work demands that we see how the impoverished are more vulnerable to disease. And, we make our world more vulnerable by allowing them to suffer. Nothing worse than a horwiculture. LOL

  2. Sue Anne my dearest childhood friend--you have read some interesting and heavy books lately. I, as your country mouse friend am going to send you some easy reading trashy novel to read and give this serious stuff a rest--it is too hot to even think and we are headed for Devils River today. Wish you were here. Linda Sue

  3. Interesting. I love my Kindle because I can't look up words as I read along. You keep challenging my reading list. I'm more on lsg's level with Steele new novel, Matters of the Heart. moculture needed

  4. Believe me, I read the lite stuff too, I'm just not as compelled to comment on it. I think I stopped reading Danielle Steele when I started living the life of her characters - sex, drugs and rock and roll - well, not drugs, but plenty of wine and travel. I may have to read her again since my life has slowed down!!

    If you want a good laugh, read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, about her vacation planned around assassinated presidents. It is hilarious. Also, Bill Bryson's book, A Walk in The Woods, which is by far his best book, although I also really loved A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bryson is very funny and very smart.