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catholicon

Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-thah-li-kahn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A panacea, a remedy for all diseases or other misfortunes. 2. (Church) A comprehensive treatise.

Notes: If you tire of using panacea, here is an almost exact synonym you may use instead. The only difference between the two is the similarity of catholicon and catholic with its religious connotation. It would seem to be a lexical orphan with no derivational relatives.

In Play: The religious sense of this word was widely used in the 19th century but isn't today. In fact, the medicinal sense is also rarely used today, leaving us with only the metaphorical sense: "The leadership of this union seems to think that a pay raise is a catholicon that solves all our problems." It may apply wherever a universal remedy of any set of misfortunes is implied: "His wife was a catholicon for all the ills that befell him and his children."

Word History: Today's word was borrowed from Old French, which inherited it from Medieval Latin, which took it from Greek katholikon, the neuter of katholikos "universal". Katholikos comprises kata- "down" + holos "whole". Little is known about kata- beyond Ancient Greek, but we find a pretty solid history behind holos. The PIE word, sol- "whole" turned up in Latin as both sollus "whole" and salus "health" (= wholeness). (Initial S became H in Greek.) Another Latin word with an interesting history based on this root is solidus with a variant soldus. The neuter of this word, soldum, came to mean "pay" by Medieval Latin. This word went into the making of soldarius "mercenary", which resulted in the Old French word soudeour "soldier". Middle English borrowed this word, restoring the L and rewriting the ending, making it soldier. By the way, soldus also came up to Old French as soud with a final D that later dropped off giving us French sou. (George Kovac may not be a catholicon, but he is a great source of interesting words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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