In a word: catarrh

March 04, 2014|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


As I struggle with the sinus infection that I have been battling for more than two weeks,* I offer you catarrh (pronounced kuh-TAR), the traditional word for the abundant production of mucus as a consequence of the inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. 

It is a word that comes into English with a lng pedigree: the Old French catarrhe, the Latin catarrhus, and the Greek Katarrous, ultimately from the Greek katarrein, "to flow down."** We've had it (the word, not the cold) for centuries. The OED cites a translation of Bartholomew de Glanville De Proprietatibus Rerum of 1495"Dissoluynge and shedynge thumours of the heed highte Catarrus."

Example: From Lester Bangs's review of Bruce Springsteen's first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973: "He sort of catarrh-mumbles his ditties in a disgruntled mushmouth sorta like Robbie Robertson on Quaaludes with Dylan barfing down the back of his neck." 

*Please pass the tissues. 

**Another tissue, please. 

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