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What do cows have to do with vaccines?

by Alex on May.06, 2009, under Blog

There is no superficial linguistic link between the words cow and vaccine, in English.

Chatting yesterday about pig flu with my Nicaraguan family they used the word ‘vacuna’, meaning vaccine. Discussing the same topic this morning it dawned on me that vacuna must come from vaca, the word for cow. Remembering the story of how it was noted that milkmaids exposed to cowpox were immune to smallpox and then, by way of forcing people to drink large amounts of cowpox-carrying cows’ blood (ok maybe it was done another way, can’t be arsed to Google it), vaccination (both against smallpox and in itself) was born, the link became obvious.

Interesting how the etymology of some words are far more obvious in some languages. I guess in this case it’s ‘cos Spanish is far closer to Latin than is English. I guess we take vaccine from the Latin and cow from, I dunno, some Germanic influence? I’m sure I merember from my schooldays that German for cow is kuh, or something…

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6 Comments for this entry

  • Rich

    It's amazing the words you remember from German GCSEs nearly 20 years ago. My favourite was always verkehrsverbindungen – public transport provisions ;-) It is weird the way languages have evolved… although I don't think I'll ever understand the pointlessness of Welsh…

    • afowen

      The one German word I'd love to merember is that massive one that means something like the badge on the hat of the captain of the boat that goes across the such and such river.

      I did submit a pseudo-German word to Roger's Profanisaurus recently:

      Shartenfreude – the pleasure derived from knowing that your mate, whilst intending to fart, has just inadvertently shat himself.

  • Rich

    That's quality. I intend to make it my task du jour tomorrow to get that into a conversation… and explain it's meaning.

    • afowen

      I guess the issue is that it's not often that someone actually sharts. It's less often that someone sharts around other people and I'd wager that it's a very rare occurrence in which one would find oneself in a position whereby one is aware or made aware that somebody had just sharted and therefore be able to partake in schartenfreude. Working into convo though should be less difficult – let me know how it goes man.

  • Lou Lou

    The french word for cow is vache (as in la vache qui rit) – fits in with your theory brain box….
    Nice x

  • afowen

    Like – la vache est dans l'abre…

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