What An Icky Blog Post!

I’m up against a postponed deadline and I got nothing. So I set about this morning looking for an appropriate subject that might be fun to write about for the upcoming “Road Less Traveled”.

Frankly, on 68th time at bat here (plus or minus a few) I don’t always have a long list of possiblities that I once did, and I’ve been one busy boy lately and have too many plates spinning sometimes.

But where I settled for this morning’s ramble was to look at the history of handwashing. I’ll post the piece here next week. I sort of enjoy the hunt when working on something like this, because I almost always squirrel away some little nugget of knowledge or language that is thoroughly useless except that it enriches my inner conversation and my understanding of the world of language and thought in some small way. And of course, one never knows when some obscure but perfectly good word might be just the missing part for nuancing a sentence just so.

While reading a paper describing research done in Vienna in the 1840s that sought to better understand the cause of “childbed fever” (guess what: hand washing solved the problem) I ran across the new words “ichor” and “ichorous”. Here’s what I found:

Ichor is also a rarely-used name for bile; the name for the yellowish-green colour of bile; and a general term for a watery or blood-tinged discharge.

In Greek mythology, ichor (Greek ?) is the mineral that is the Greek gods’ blood, sometimes said to have been present in ambrosia or nectar. When a god was injured and bled, the ichor made his or her blood poisonous to mortals.

And though I haven’t been able to nail this down, don’t you suppose that this might be the source for the word we exclaim upon seeing something repugnant and vile: ICK!

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I thought for sure you were heading in the direction of the current MRSA infection scare.
    Like: Wash your hands, dude. And keep those fingers out of your…uh…nose.