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Caducity and the Caduceus

Jackies Strauss raised an interesting question after reading our recent Good Word caducity:

“You didn’t mention it, but is there a connection between the word caducity, and caduceus, the symbol for healing or physician?”

CaduceusI think the answers are “no” and “yes”. These two words are not related in that they do not have roots (cad-) that share the same source. Latin caduceus is a strange corruption of Greek dialectal karukeion “herald’s staff”, from karux “herald”. (Hermes was also a herald.) This leaves us with the question of how did such a major corruption come about? Latin C transliterated Greek K but D was not a usual transliteration of R.

Well, here caducus “falling, caducous” might have been influential. Since this word refers to falling in the sense of falling in battle and the falling of leaves, it might have influenced the transfiguration of karukeion in its journey to Latin. But the relationship would be influence, not shared origin.

An interesting sidenote if you don’t already know it: The caduceus was aAsclepius's Rod staff carried by Hermes, who was the protector of liars and thieves, as well as a herald. It became the symbol of the medical profession in the US as the result of confusing it with the Rod of Asclepius, the son of Apollo who was a practitioner of medicine according to Greek mythology. Only one snake crept around Asclepius’s rod and it had no wings atop it.

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