Thursday, December 08, 2011

Aggressive Debridement

“Aggressive debridement” was recommended by the only good study I could find, and I paused on the word “debridement.” Both prefix and suffix pointed to a French origin. Free association fetched up “bride,” but that's a good Old English word, and although I could imagine “debridement” developing from that – divorce is not too far-fetched a metaphor for detaching dead or diseased tissue from living tissue – I didn't think it likely. Further association brought me to “debris,” which seemed far likelier, but I couldn't imagine the phonological history that would invent a 'd' out of thin air. At that point I resorted to the online etymological dictionary.

It turned out to have a Germanic root after all, but it's the root that gave us “bridle”: a word that French and English horse-people have shared since long before the Conquest. French débrider meant literally “to unbridle,” which is not a first very intuitive, but débrider eventually became the word for taking all the tack off a horse: at which point the imagery becomes quite exact and satisfying. Most horse tack is in fact dead tissue – leather – which you take off to the relief of the living flesh. To 18th and 19th Century surgeons, who were as familiar with saddle horses as we are with automobiles, the metaphor would have sprung easily to mind.

So I could go back to filing down that ugly toenail. The universe was intelligible, after all.

8 comments:

thalarctos said...

I love your passion for words!

Zhoen said...

Interesting. Most people I know pronounce it de-breed, not all though. I will have to share this at work.

Seon Joon said...

This made me laugh. Especially because I also enjoy tracking down words. Now I'll never think of filing anything down in quite the same way--nor will I look at horses in full gear the same way, either.

Jean said...

Yes, a favourite French word of mine!

Dale said...

Thanks all. I don't think I've ever heard the word spoken, Zhoen! Just looking at it I would have said "de-bride." But French words that came late into English often keep their vowels. Looks like the dictionaries go with "de-breed."

marly youmans said...

I believe that I have heard that combo in the mouth of my dentist! Not addressed to me, I hasten to add. I do not care for pain if I can avoid it!

Jarrett said...

Sudden-onset etymology problems are one common cause "epistemological arrest," characterized by abrupt cessation of activity or responsiveness, as this patient's narrative attests. It was a similar event that prevented me from sensibly running out of Stanford's old church in the '89 quake.

Lucy said...

Oh I am glad it was nothing worse than a toenail!