Fwd: Help for a meaning

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Tue Feb 7 13:33:24 UTC 2006

Jeff Prucher <jprucher at YAHOO.COM> writes:

This is apparently a fantasy book, so the word might just be a coinage of
the author's, and refer to a role that she made up for the book. Although I
would expect the author to have give more evidence about the meaning if this
were the case.  The book is set in a mythological China (or something like
that), so another possibility is that there's a Chinese term that has the
meaning the author intended (midwife or whatever), but which is composed of
elements that individually can mean "still" and "woman", and the author for
whatever reason chose to translate the elements of the word, rather than its
meaning. I don't know Chinese, so I have no idea if such a compound might


My first impression on seeing the request was that "still" referred to

>the healer and stillwoman of her village's wound and sicknesses,
>both animal and human.

To me it makes perfect sense for the village healer to be her own
apothecary, preparing medicines from the materials available (herbs, roots,
...). And a still is one of the ancient tools useful for doing so. I'm no
historian of medicine, but if this is a fantasy book, historical accuracy is
a lot less important than what feels right, and this feels right to me.

And looking in OED Online, I find s.v. "still" (n.)

        still-man, a workman employed to attend to a still

So if my understanding of this word is correct, it barely even counts as a

(BTW, I'd expect an "s" on "wound" above: "her village's wound{s} and
sicknesses". Was this a slip of the finger by Ms. Peres?)

-- Mark A. Mandel
[This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]

PS: OED Online's first definition for "still" (n.) is

    1. An apparatus for distillation, consisting essentially of a close
vessel (alembic, retort, boiler) in which the substance to be distilled is
subjected to the action of heat, and of arrangements for the condensation of
the vapour produced. Also applied to the alembic or retort separately.

"A *close* vessel"? Shouldn't that be "closed", Jesse?


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