Yesterday we talked about the way English transformed Spanish vaquero ‘cowboy’ into the colloquial buckaroo. Vaquero itself came from Spanish vaca ‘cow,’ which developed from the synonymous Latin vacca. The Latin adjective vaccinus ‘having to do with cows’ has become English vaccine; the connection is that in the 1700s Edward Jenner discovered that germs from cowpox, a mild affliction of milkmaids, could be used to vaccinate people against the deadly disease smallpox. In a similar way, the Spanish adjective vacuno ‘pertaining to bovine cattle’ has led to the noun vacuna ‘vaccine,’ with matching verb vacunar ‘vaccinate.’ English vaccinia means ‘cowpox’ or ‘the [usually mild] reaction that a person vaccinated against smallpox may experience.’

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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