Sausage Poison in Your Face
The Latin word for sausage was botulus, from which English gets two words. One of them is the lovely botuliform, which means sausage-shaped and is a more useful word than you might think. The other word is botulism.
Sausages may taste lovely, but it's usually best not to ask what's actually in them. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it was a sausage-maker who disposed of the body. In nineteenth-century America, the belief that sausages were usually made out of dog meat was so widespread that they started to be called hotdogs, a word that survives to this day. Sausages are stuffed with pork and peril. They don't usually kill you, but they can.
There was an early nineteenth-century German called Justinus Kerner, who when not writing rather dreary Swabian poetry worked as a doctor. His poetry is now quite justifiably forgotten, but his medical work lives on. Kerner identified a new disease that killed some of his patients. It was a horrible malady that slowly paralysed every part of the body until the victim's heart stopped and [he or she] died. Kerner realised that all his dead patients had been eating cheap meat sausages, so he decided to call the ailment botulism, or sausage disease. He also correctly deduced that bad sausages must contain a poison of some sort, which he called botulinum toxin.
In 1895 there was a funeral in Belgium. Ham was served to the guests at the wake and three of them dropped down dead. This must have delighted the undertakers, but it also meant that the remaining meat could be rushed to the University of Ghent. The Professor of Bacteria studied the homicidal ham under a microscope and finally identified the culprit, little bacteria that were, appropriately, shaped like sausages and are now called Clostridium botulinum.
This was an advantage because it meant that Kerner's botulinum toxin could be manufactured. Now, you might be wondering why anybody would want to manufacture botulinum toxin. It is, after all, a poison. In fact, one microgram of it will cause near-instantaneous death by paralysis. But paralysis can sometimes be a good thing. If, for example, you're afflicted by facial spasms, then a doctor can inject a tinsy-winsy little dose of botulinum toxin into the affected area. A little, temporary paralysis kicks in, and the spasms are cured. Wonderful.
That, at least, was the original reason for manufacturing botulinum toxin; but very quickly people discovered that if you paralysed somebody's face it made them look a little bit younger. It also made them look very odd and incapable of expressing emotion, but who cares about that if you can remove a few years' worth of ageing?
Suddenly sausage poison was chic! The rich and famous couldn't get enough of sausage poison. It could extend a Hollywood actress' career by years. Old ladies could look middle-aged again! Injections of Kerner's sausage poison were like plastic surgery but less painful and less permanent. Sausage poison became the toast of Hollywood.
Of course, it's not called sausage poison any more. That wouldn't be very glamorous. It's not even called botulinum toxin, because everybody knows that toxins are bad for you. Now that botulinum toxin has become chic, it's changed it's name to Botox.
So, if Botox is sausage poison and toxicology is the study of poison and intoxication is poisoning, what does toxophilite mean?
~ Another article consumed for eRepublik use
The Etymologicon - Mark Forsyth
A circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language
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