Saturday, April 21, 2007

Brain Cramps

In researching word parts for the 2nd edition of my Word Parts Dictionary, one of the sources that I have gone through is Dorland’s The American Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 12th Edition (1923). It’s a delightful book, giving not only accurate Greek and Latin sources, but providing a glimpse at an earlier world.

One of the interesting sidebars if found under the entry “cramp.” It takes us back to a day when ergonomics was not much of a consideration. Here are some of the cramps that a doctor would look for.

• “auctioneers’ cramp: a professional neurosis affecting mainly the left side of the orbuicularis oris muscle.” I’m curious; does anyone know why that’s so site-specific?

• “compositors’ cramp: an occupation neurosis of the thumb and fingers of compositors, resembling writers’ cramp.”

• “hammermans’ cramp: a spasmodic affection of the muscles of the entire arm.” There must have been a lot of carpenters at work in the 1920s, as evidenced next.

• “hephestic cramp: hammerman’s cramp.” Obviously, the editor was showing off a classical education here. Hephaestus was the Greek god of fire, and he was the patron of blacksmiths.

• “seamstresses’ cramp: a neurosis of sewing-women, resembling writers’ cramp.”

• “shaving cramp: a neurosis of the hands of barbers resembling writers’ cramp.”

• “telegraphers’ cramp: a neurosis resembling writers’ cramp, seen in telegraphers.”

• “watchmakers’ cramp: a spasm of the finger muscles peculiar to watchmakers.”

• “writers” cramp: an occupation neurosis due to excessive writing. It is marked by spasmodic contraction of the muscles of the fingers, hand, and forearm, together with neuralgic pain therein. It comes on whenever an attempt is made to write.”

The message is loud and clear: mothers, don’t let your sons and daughters grow up to be writers. And we thought our age was dangerous because of Blackberry thumb.

Sidebar: Hephaestus

Sidebar: Blackberry thumb

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