Poke me in the eye

I’m safe and sound back from Ethiopia. Before I left, I was inoculated to the tune of well over $500 at the King County Public Health Department Travel Clinic. I’m assuming the shots worked; I think I’d know by now if I had typhoid. But you really don’t have a choice. What can you say? “I’m gonna save a hundred bucks and take my chances on the yellow fever.” Not likely.

Sometimes I look at a word I’ve seen dozens of times in my life and suddenly see a connection that’s never before occurred to me. It can happen because of the criss-cross of Spanish and English in my thoughts, and that’s what occurred today. I’ve mentioned previously in the blog that I get the etymologically focused Palabra del Día email, as well as an English Word of the Day message. Today’s Spanish word was inocular (to inoculate). When I looked at it, my mind first saw an English word and read it to rhyme with “binocular,” rather than hearing in my head the Spanish pronunciation. The Latin root oculus (eye, Sp. ojo) is obvious in “binocular”—two eyes. But what does an eye have to do with getting shots?

A little reading revealed that the word is related to the figurative sense of eye—bull’s-eye, eye of a needle. Eye can also be a bud, in the botanical sense, and inoculate is used to mean “to engraft” in that context. If you picture an arrow going into the center of a target, a thread going into a needle, or a stem being grafted into a hole that’s been made in a tree, you can see the metaphorical similarity to a hypodermic needle (or in my case, 5 or 6 needles) being stuck into your arm.

I’m always amazed at the journeys words take me on. In this case, from “eyeball” to “injection” in one quick jump.

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
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