Wednesday, February 13, 2008



A.Word.A.Day (AWAD) for Tuesday, February 12, 2008 was nosology, about which AWAD creator Anu Garg wrote, "No, you wouldn't go to a nosologist if you have nose trouble."

You'd go to a rhinologist, which word is derived from Greek ῥίς (rhís), ῥινός (rhinós) = nose. English nose is related to Latin nasum. According to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Book 11, chapter 9 (tr. D. Magarshack), there are sub-specialities within the field of rhinology:
I tell you the old-fashioned doctor who used to cure you of all illnesses has quite disappeared. Now there are only specialists and they all advertise in the papers. If there's something wrong with your nose, they will send you to Paris: there's a European specialist there who cures noses. You go to Paris, he examines your nose. "I'm sorry," he tells you, "I can only cure your right nostril, for I don't cure left nostrils, it's not my specialty. You'd better go to Vienna. There you'll find a specialist who will cure your left nostril."
It just so happens that there was a famous rhinologist in Vienna a few years after Dostoyevsky wrote his novel — Sigmund Freud's friend Wilhelm Fliess. When Fliess followed his nose, it led him in some odd directions. He wrote Die Beziehungen zwischen Nase und weibliche Geschlechtsorgnanen in ihrer biologischen Bedeutungen dargestellt (The Relations between the Nose and the Female Sexual Organs, presented in their Biological Aspects). Needless to say, Fliess was an utter quack. See Martin Gardner, Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1981), pp. 131-139, for the story of the folie à deux which existed between Fliess and Freud.

Another English word derived from the Greek word for nose is rhinorrhea, meaning runny nose. Heraclitus taught us that πάντα ῥεῖ (pánta rheî = all things are in a state of flux, or all things flow), and that includes noses. I find the name of a medication intended to relieve rhinorrhea odd — Flonase. It sounds like what it is intended to cure. Cf. Nasalcrom, which brings "nasal crumbs" to my imagination.

An uncommon word for a probably not uncommon condition is rhinotillexomania, a psychological disorder characterized by excessive nose-picking. But another Austrian physician, Dr. Friedrich Bischinger has this to say about the health benefits of rhinotillexis in moderation:
Sinnvoller ist es zu bohren zu popeln - und, natürlich kann man dann auch besser atmen, das hängt ja auch von der Größe des Popels ab. Das ist auch eine mechanische Reinigung....Ja also, wenn da die Herrschaften da in der Nase bohren, dann ist das ein völlig natürlicher Reflex, den ich aus medizinischer Sicht als nicht schlecht empfinde. Diese Reflexe sind durch unsere Zivilisation absolut verkümmert und verstümmelt und tragen zu der Entwicklung solcher neuen modernen Erkrankungen wesentlich bei....Auch das Verspeißen der, wie sagt der Tiroler, der Nasenrammel gehört zu etwas völlig Natürlichem. Generell ist Nasenpopelessen zwar etwas gesellschaftlich verpöntes, immunologisch aber ist es eine absolut sinnvolle und, auf leeren Magen, eine ergänzende Aktion.
You'll have to translate that yourself, although you may not find words like Nasenbohren and Nasenpopelessen in your pocket German dictionary. While we're on this indelicate subject, did you know that English snot and snout are etymological cousins? Their common Indo-European root is snē-.

Similarly, the suffix -ness in place names (meaning promontory) is related to nose. A synonym for promontory is headland, but noseland might be just as appropriate. George Orwell, In Front of Your Nose (Tribune, March 22, 1946), wrote:
To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
Especially if one has a nose like that of Proclus, in the Greek Anthology 11.268 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Proclus cannot wipe his nose with his hand, for his arm is shorter than his nose; nor does he say "God preserve us" when he sneezes, for he can't hear his nose, it is so far away from his ears.

Οὐ δύναται τῇ χειρὶ Πρόκλος τὴν ῥῖν᾽ ἀπομύσσειν·
  τῆς ῥινὸς γὰρ ἔχει τὴν χέρα μικροτέρην·
οὐδὲ λέγει Ζεῦ σῶσον ἐὰν πταρῇ· οὐ γὰρ ἀκούει
  τῆς ῥινὸς· πολὺ γὰρ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἀπέχει.
Other epigrams in the eleventh book of the Greek Anthology that make fun of the length or shape of noses are 198, 199, 203, 204, 405, 406, and 418.

The narrator in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy refers repeatedly to a scholarly treatise De Nasis (On Noses) by Hafen Slawkenbergius. He even quotes a long extract from the work. But Slawkenbergius' treatise is an imaginary book, in the same category as the Ars Honeste Petandi in Societate (The Art of Breaking Wind Politely in Public) mentioned by Rabelais.

Consider this blog post an modest attempt to fill the void left by the absence of Slawkenbergius De Nasis.

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