Doctiloquently speaking …

Lately, the use of the title ‘doctor’ has come into question.  The wife of our newly elected President has the title of Dr. Biden, and yet she holds no medical license.  She has been accused of using the title to give herself fake importance.  Is it fake though?  Where does this practice of granting people this title come from?  What does it take to be a doctor?  Can anyone be one?  As usual, we need to look into the story of this word.  How long has it been in use?  Has it always indicated a person with medical knowledge?  When did it refer to others with particular knowledge in their respective fields as well?

I started at Etymonline and found that the word doctor was first attested c. 1300 and spelled doctour.  At the time it was used to mean “Church father.”  Before that it was used in Old French where it came directly from Medieval Latin doctor meaning “religious teacher, advisor, scholar.”  In Classical Latin it was used to mean “teacher.”

So far the only tie to a specific area of knowledge is that of religion.  I went to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and found examples of this word in use.  In the late 1300’s saints were known as doctors.  In one example, a saint was known as a doctor of truth.  In an example from the mid-1500’s, Christ Jesus was referred to as the heavenly doctor.  And in the mid-1600’s a person was referred to as a doctor of divinity, while another a doctor of theology.

Around this same time, the sense of this word broadened to include other areas beyond religion.  Notice this definition listed at Etymonline.

Look at that!  Since the late 14th century, we as a society have been referring to people who hold the highest degree in a university as doctor.  I looked back at the OED to verify this with actual examples and found that in the late 1600’s there was a person given the title of “Doctor of Music.”  An excerpt from roughly a hundred years later mentions someone being named a “Doctor of Laws.”  But as I continue to scroll through the entry, I find that people were called doctors of law as early as 1377!  The noun ‘doctorate’ as in the degree of learning earned is from the 1670’s.  This is not new, and it is not a fake title!

In the same way that the title of ‘doctor’ was given to someone with extensive learning in law or music, it was also given to someone with extensive learning in the medical field, although according to Etymonline it did not become popular until the late 16th century.  The term “medical professional” replaced the term “leech.”  How about that!  Here is the Etymonline entry.

It is interesting to look at the possible roots of this word and see that they include things like “enchanter, one who speaks magic words, healer, physician, charmer, exorcist, one who counsels, and conjurer.”   This speaks to the attitudes and perceptions regarding medicine as the field grew, doesn’t it?  It may be difficult to separate the idea of a leech being a physician from the idea of a leech being a bloodsucking aquatic worm, but according to Etymonline they were indeed two separate words with distinctive uses.  One (worm) became assimilated to the other (physician) by way of folk etymology.  (Folk etymology is a popular but mistaken account of the origin of a word or phrase.)  Here are some interesting compound words I found at the OED.

Leech-fee …  a physician’s fee
Leech-house … a hospital
Leechman … a physician
Leech-finger … what we typically refer to as our ring finger.  Old English spelling was læcefinger.  It was translated from Latin digitus medicus which was in turn transcribed from Greek δακτυλος ιατρικος.  It was called that because it was believed that this finger had a vein that stretched to the heart.

Apparently this term narrowed in its use to refer only to veterinary practices until the 17th century when it slowly became archaic.  What a great example of how the people who speak the language determining by their use of words which ones stay and which ones fall out of use!  If you are wondering where the connection is between physicians and the use of leeches as a medicinal practice, that wasn’t attested until 1802.  In my own mind, I thought it was earlier than that, but I’m probably thinking of the related practice of bloodletting which happened much earlier.

If we renew our focus on the word ‘doctor’, and note its root of docere “to know, teach, cause to know,” we’ll recognize the following related words.

doctor – a person who holds a doctorate.
doctorate – the highest degree awarded by a graduate school or other approved educational organization.
doctoral – relating to achieving a doctorate.
doctiloquent – this word is rare but one I enjoy.  It describes one who speaks learnedly.

doctrine – beliefs held and taught by a church, political party or other group.
indoctrinate – teach someone to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.
doctrinaire – someone who seeks to impose a doctrine without regard to practical considerations.
doctress – female doctor.  Becoming less common as woman-doctor becomes more common.

docile – ready to accept control or instruction; submissive.
docility – this word began as “readiness or aptness to learn”, but since the 1600’s has meant “submissiveness to management.”
docent – a person who acts as a guide in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.
document – written work that provides information or evidence that serves as an official record.

Back to where this started …

Dr. Biden holds two masters degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership.  Since the late 14th century, that kind of commitment to learning has earned a person the title of  ‘doctor’.  Granted, it probably didn’t include women back then, but we’re past that part, aren’t we?  It can take between four and six years to complete a doctorate.  That is in addition to the time it takes to get a masters.  Many countries require a masters before one can study for a doctorate.  The U.S. has been changing that requirement in recent years, but you can see that Dr. Biden earned two masters degrees before earning her doctorate.

Instead of choosing one doctorate program (medical)  as important and all others as fake or undeserving of the title that goes along with that level of time commitment to learning, I say we encourage more people to seek that title.  Our society needs experts in all areas!  Our society needs more people committed to learning which in turn will benefit all of us!



Isn’t it ionic?

This week I will be observing a lesson in a high school science class.  The lesson will focus on naming ionic compounds.  In preparation for this observation I asked to look over the reading materials the students will use.  Having very little background in chemistry beyond that of what fifth grade students are expected to understand, I found words being used that I didn’t clearly understand.  And, of course, knowing that if I want to increase my understanding of the lesson, I’ll need to understand the specific terminology, I did some word investigation.


At Etymonline I found out this.

The information tells us that this word was first attested in 1834.  That means that the first time we have written evidence of this word existing is in 1834.  And if you read further, you will see that it was coined by Michael Faraday on the suggestion by Rev. William Whewell and derived from the Greek word ion (ἰόν) which was a form of Greek ienai (ἰέναι) “go.”  It is common to find scientific names for things attested from 1500 to present.  During that time and in some cases even earlier, the Latin language was revived for scholarly and scientific purposes.  This time period and the idea of coining words using stems derived from Latin and Greek is called Modern Latin.  These words were coined in Modern Latin.

It is helpful to understand that the denotation of ‘ion’ is “go” because as it says at Etymonline, “ions move toward the electrode of opposite charge.”  To see if I could find some more etymology, I went to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).  The word ‘ion’ is defined as either a single atom, molecule, or a group that has a net electric charge.  It doesn’t matter whether that charge is positive or negative, only that that charge is a result of either the loss or addition of an electron.  Next I set out to find some related words.

ionic – <ion + ic>  “relating to or composed of ions.” adjective
ionically – <ion + ic + al + ly>  “relating to or composed of ions.”  adverb
ionicity – <ion + ic + ity> “the degree to which something is ionic.”
ionizer – <ion + ize + er>  “a device that helps an air purifier be more effective.”
ionogen – <ion + o + gen>  “a substance able to produce ions.”
ionography – <ion + o + graph + y>  “a form of printing in which a static electric charge draws toner particles from the drum to the paper.”
ionomer – <ion + o + mer>  “a polymer that contains ions.”
ionosphere – <ion + o + sphere>  “layer of the atmosphere that contains a high level of ions and reflects radio waves.”
ionopause – <ion + o + pause>  “the boundary layer of the ionosphere where it meets either the mesosphere at one side or the exosphere on its other.”
ionosonde – <ion + o + sonde>  “special radar used to examine the ionosphere.”
cation – <cat + ion>  “positively charged ion.”
anion – <an + ion> “negatively charged ion.”

You will notice that the only two words on my matrix that form a compound word with ‘ion’ being the second base are ‘anion’ and ‘cation’.  A closer look at these two words brings with it many interesting finds!


The Etymonline entry is interesting.

Notice that the word ‘anode’ is bolded.  When I see that, I always follow such a word to find out more.  In this case, I see that ‘anode’ is first attested in 1834.  As is the case with ion, cation, anode, and cathode, the word was proposed by Rev. William Whewell and published by Michael Faraday.  It’s pretty obvious that these two were needing to name components of what they were studying and finding!  The first base is derived from Greek ana “up”, and the second base is derived from Greek hodos “way, path, track.”

According to Wikipedia, “An anode is an electrode through which the conventional current enters into a polarized electrical device. This contrasts with a cathode, an electrode through which conventional current leaves an electrical device.”  This definition makes sense if we think about the literal translation of ‘anode’ as “up a path or way.”  If ‘cathode’ is the electrode through which conventional current leaves an electrical device, then I’m guessing that the first base in ‘cathode’ must have a denotation of down.  According to Etymonline, <cat> is indeed derived from Greek kata “down.”   So in this case, as the current enters the device it is on its way up (anode),  and when it leaves it is on its way down (cathode).

Back to ‘anion’.  This word has a literal translation of “go up.”   An anion has more electrons than protons, so it is negatively charged.  You might say that the number of electrons is what “goes up” in an anion.


Here is the Etymonline entry.

Are you noting the same year of attestation once again?  And the same scientists who coined this word?  Another interesting thing to note is written right after the date of attestation (1834).  It says that ‘cation’ is from a Latinized form of Greek kation “going down.”  It is a Latinized form because the Roman scribes wrote the Greek letter kappa as a <c>.  Since we now know that an ‘anion’ has more electrons than protons and has a literal sense of “go up”, it makes sense to think of a cation as having less electrons than protons (positive charge).  The number of electrons is what “goes down” in an cation.

A word about the pronunciation of anion and cation.

It might be tempting to pronounce ‘anion’ similarly to ‘onion’ and ‘cation’ to what we hear in the portmanteau word ‘staycation’.  But we would only be tempted to do that because of the commonly used suffix <-ion>!  When the <-ion> suffix is added to a word like ‘one’, we end up with ‘onion’.  The IPA for the American pronunciation of ‘onion’ is /ˈʌnjən/.  The IPA representation for ‘anion’ is /ˈænaɪən/.  Compare this pronunciation to that of ‘ion’, /ˈaɪən/.  Do you see what is similar?  The <ion> base is pronounced differently than the <-ion> suffix!  Let’s see if it is the same with ‘cation’.  If we think of the pronunciation of ‘staycation’, we would represent it with IPA like this /steɪˈkeɪʃən/.  But the IPA for the American pronunciation of ‘cation’ is /ˈkædˌaɪən/.  If you compare this with the pronunciation of ‘ion’, you will once again notice that the base <ion> is not pronounced the same as the <-ion> suffix!

Where else do we see this Hellenic base <cat>?

cataclysm – <cata + clysm>  “wash down.”  Originally a flood, now a large-scale or violent event.
catalog – <cata + log>  “list down.”  Also spelled <catalogue>.
cataplexy – <cata + plexy>  “strike down.”  An example is when an animal pretends it’s dead.
catarrh – <cata + rrh> “flowing down.”  It is inflammation and discharge from a head cold.
catastrophe – <cata + strophe>  “turning down.”  It is the reverse of what is expected.
catatonic – <cata + tone + ic>  “toned down.”  A mental illness in which the person is immobile in both movement and behavior.
catabolic – <cata + bole + ic>  “thrown down.”  According to Wikipedia it is the breaking-down aspect of metabolism.

There are other words that also have this Helenic base, and its sense and meaning isn’t just limited to “down.”  I just included a few words with that specific sense so we could easily connect it to what we see in ‘cation’.

Where else do we see this Hellenic base <ana>?

anadromous – <ana + drome + ous>  “running upward.”  An example is fish going upstream to spawn.  (The <drome> base “run” is the same as in ‘dromedary’)
analeptic – <ana + lept + ic>  “take up.”  A drug that restores your health.
analysis – <ana + lysis>  “loosen up.”  A loosening of something complex into smaller segments.
anabolic – <ana + bole + ic>  “thrown up.”  According to Wikipedia it is the building-up aspect of metabolism.

Like <cata>, <ana> isn’t just limited to one sense and meaning.  I chose words with this base and this sense so we could more easily see the connections to ‘anion’.

I always find it helpful to collect more information about words I’ve heard, but am not completely familiar with.  When I saw similar words like anode and anion, and also cathode and cation, I knew that I would need to understand both bases in each of these compound words in order to keep their meanings straight.  I’ve learned that the second base in ‘anode’ and ‘cathode’ has to do with a path or track.  An anode is the electrode through which the electrical current enters a polarized electrical device, and a cathode is the electrode through which the current leaves.  I’ve learned that the second base in ‘anion’ and ‘cation’ has to do with movement.  An anion has more electrons than protons and is negatively charged.  A cation has more protons than electrons and is positively charged.

Knowing that <ana> has a denotation of “up” helps me picture an arrow pointed up indicating that the number of electrons is higher than that of the protons in an anion.  Knowing that <cata> has a denotation of “down” helps me picture an arrow pointed down, indicating that the number of electrons is lower than that of the protons in an cation.

Now I feel better prepared to learn about naming ionic compounds.