Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Joe from Traverse City asked about the word palliative, as in palliative care. It came into English from the French, which, in turn, descended from a Latin word. It refers to treatment that deliberately deals only with symptoms, rather than attempt to effect a cure. Often, the point is to relieve pain at the inevitable end of life when a person is suffering from incurable cancer, an inoperable tumor, or some other terminal malady. It is a temporary and superficial solution, but eminently effective in improving the quality of life.

It is the adjective form of the verb to palliate. The Latin form of that verb meant to cloak or to conceal. It went through several modifications in English:

  • to mitigate physical or mental suffering.
  • to cover with or as with a cloak; to clothe; to shelter.
  • to hide, conceal, or disguise.
  • to mitigate or make excuses for an offense or fault.
  • to moderate or tone down an action or statement.
  • to compromise.
  • to placate or mollify.

While all of these are indebted to the Latin word pallium, a cloak, the shades of meaning are interesting to observe.

SIDEBAR: Get Palliative Care

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