• panacea •
pæ-nê-see-yê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A remedy for everything, for all problems or difficulties; a cure-all, a catholicon.
Notes: Pandora, whose name means "all gifts", was the first mortal woman according to one version of Greek mythology. Zeus gave her the gift of a box that, when opened, allowed all the ills of humanity to escape. Since Pandora's Box created the immediate need for a panacea, it should surprise no one that today's Good Word comes from Greece (see Word History). The English adjective from today's word is panacean, as a panacean remedy or a panacean approach.
In Play: Since the times of the ancient Greeks, we have come to know much more about illnesses, enough to know that there is no single cure for all of them. However, outside medicine the idea persists. Many think a tax cut will be a panacea for all economic problems. Others have thought nuclear bombs a panacea for all international conflict. We also meet household panaceas from time to time: "Buffy, a tattoo and a nose ring are not a panacea for your dating problems."
Word History: This Good Word is the undisguised Latin noun, panacea. It referred to a herb the Romans believed could cure all diseases. The Romans traced their copy from Greek panakeia "universal cure" from pan "all" + akos "cure". Greek pan "all" appears in Pandora, as already mentioned, and in Pandemonium, the all-demon city in Milton's Paradise Lost. It is productively used to create adjectives like pan-Arab, pan-African, pan-American, a clipping of which, Panam, underlies the name Panama. (We hope nothing cures Katy Brezger's knack for finding interesting words like this for us.)
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