This week's Great Life (on Radio 4) was Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp [but a different sort of lamp from the one commonly depicted]. Ironically, for a woman whose bed-ridden letter-writing would have such an influence on hospital practice, she was a 'clinic' in the original meaning of that word in English – 'a bed-ridden person'.
In Classical Greece and Rome (and in 21st century Reading, UK. come to think of it) it took a special kind of doctor to visit patients in their beds – a clinicus (in Latin), a practitioner of κλινικη τεχνη. It was the 17th century French who encouraged the word's somersault from a patient who was visited by a doctor at home to a place away from home where a doctor was visited by a patient. French clinique was the model for the German Klinik (thence borrowed into English [first attested in 1884 – just in time for 'the Lady with the Lamp But Not That Sort''], but long after her lamp-carrying days; she was in her sixties by then, and a confirmed clinic. [Incidentally, a digression on Lucifer ('light-bearer') invites my attention; but I must get back to The Book (την βιβλον – oh dear) soon. So you're spared that.] If I had time for a proper digression I'd do some research into a feeling I have that Florence Nightingale, a pioneer of evidence-based nursing may have played a critical part in the history of the word clinical.
<rant intensity="low" possible_excuse="local accent">
Incidentally – no, really, this has nothing to do with clinical – I keep wondering why the reporters all pronounce Vincent as though it meant 'twenty saints'. But I remember a discussion I had many moons ago with a music-head ('CUMS first band, don't you know' [and I was going to link that to a hoped-for article on the Cambidge University Music Society, but Wikipedia kindly diverted me to an article on the Capital University of Medical Sciences – eerily relevant not to the discussion with the musican but to my piece on Florence. Scary or what?] about Poulenc. Apparently, the cognoscenti, or 'Radio 3 Announcers', all pronounce it as though it were spelt Poulinque. In fact, Wikipedia gives this tanscription in IPA characters: [pulɛ̃k]) . Maybe something similar applies to the Vincent who got married in Montpellier last Wednesday, where – as I know to my cost, but that's another story – they have a very odd accent.
But although the origins of words may be interesting (and in some cases either illuminating or fascinating – I'm thinking of various tasty morsels I've posted about before: this, for example), they don't have that unswerving dominance over meaning that Grumpy Old Men sometimes attribute to them. The primary meaning of clinical today has nothing to do with beds.[A rather frivolous exception is one I heard the other day on The Mentalist (a guiltless pleasure of mine). Cho said to Rigsby 'You're sleeping with Van Pelt again'. and Rigsby said the phrase sounded 'too clinical'. Maybe he was a Latin scholar – part of his back-story that's so far been inexplicably omitted – and felt that 'sleeping with' suggested beds rather than more spontaneous venues. Nah.]
But I've got one week less than I thought, before the V2.1 release of #WVGTbook is due (because the month ends on a Friday, which makes my month-to-a-page schedule repeat a week). So I must get on with that.
Update 2013.05.31.8:55 As an afterthought I went to see what the British National Corpus had to say about usage of 'clinical' followed by any noun. These are the first 25 results:
2013.06.16.17:30 A small tweak to the previous update, and I've updated the TESconnect stats in the footer.
2013.06.25.15:10 Not before time I've added the </rant> tag; luckily no compiler was watching.
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