Etymology of Viagra

mcgowan at ACUSD.EDU mcgowan at ACUSD.EDU
Fri Aug 10 22:18:38 UTC 2001

Quoting Jan Ivarsson TransEdit <transedit.h at TELIA.COM>:

> the Sanskrit name for tiger is vyagra, "the name derived from a verb
> root meaning to smell." As Watson points out,

> But a Swedish source, Gösta Bergman, Ord med historia (1987, 1991,
> 2001), usually extremely reliable, gives a different meaning of the
> Sanskrit word (under the word "Tigern"):
> "In the oldest Indian literature, in Atharvaveda, it is called vyaghra
> (the dirty yellow), which corresponds well with the rust-yellow bottom
> color..."
> Can someone with better knowledge of Sanskrit than mine tell us which
> explanation is the correct one? And maybe provide us with a better
> etymology of Pfizer's name.

_vyaghra_ is Sanskrit for `tiger', also used as the second component of
compounds in the sense `chief, preeminent, best'; men can often be compared to
tigers (in a nominal compound like `man-tiger'), so too dogs (vyaghra-shavan).
But the problem with any link to _Viagra_ (more likely belonging to the
pseudo-Latin of marketing: Acura, Allegra, Lexus, etc.) is in the phonology:

in the devanagari script it's written as v-y-a conjunct plus gh-r-a conjunct and
pronounced like ``vyuh-gruh''.  However tantalizing it might be to entertain a
link to a Sanskrit source (with the inevitable appeal to something like the
Kama-Sutra) or `man-tigers' of classical Indian literature, the resemblance is
only at the surface level of transcibed Sanskrit and has no linguistic validity.
 A good example of chance resemblance.

-J. McGowan

Dr. Joseph McGowan
Dept. of English
University of San Diego

> jan.ivarsson at

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