[Ads-l] Toxic WOTY

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Nov 15 13:21:55 EST 2018

Not our WOTY, but Oxford’s:


The most interesting datum from this piece for me was the reanalysis-based etymology, which I hadn’t been aware of:

“Toxic” derives from the Greek “toxikon pharmakon,” meaning “poison for arrows.” (The part of the phrase meaning arrows, rather than poison, became the basis for the word.)

Here’s the OED’s (hopefully not pharmaceutically enhanced) stab at the history:

Latin toxicum ‘poison’, originally ‘poison for arrows’, < Greek τοξικὸν ϕάρμακον poison (ϕάρμακον) for smearing arrows (τοξικός, τοξικόν, < τόξα plural arrows, transf. < τόξον bow). Τοξικόν = ‘of or pertaining to the bow’, and had originally nothing to do with poison. But the effect of using τοξικόν, toxicum as short for the Greek phrase was to transfer the sense ‘poison’ < ϕάρμακον to toxicum, first as ‘poison for arrows’ and at length as ‘poison’ generally, = Latin venēnum.
Apparently even the ‘arrow(s)’ part arises by reanalysis from the earlier meaning ‘bow’.  Now we know why toxin is so easily transferred…

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