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Paregoric

Definition: Paregoric refers to a camphorated tincture of opium, which was (and still is, in some locations) given to relieve an upset stomach and diarrhea. 

Pronunciation: Par-eh-gore-ick

Origin:

The word paregoric came originally from the Greek word paregorein, which meant to soothe.  It changed into the Greek word paregorikos, for soothing, the Latin word paregoricus, also for soothing, to the word paregoric.  The word paregoros also has ties to the Greek word agoreuein, which meant to speak in the agora (assembly).

The word originally meant, quite literally, something to soothe, and at that time referred to any medicine which had that effect.  It was not until later that it became associated with the specific mixture which we consider a paregoric today- opium, benzoic acid, camphor or ammonia, and anise oil.

Why this word?

I have encountered this word several times while reading and must admit to a longstanding curiosity over its history and precise definition.  I was most amazed to find that, while paregoric itself is no longer sold in America, a tincture of opium (the main ingredient of the paregoric) is still sold.

I was also quite amused at the listings for paregorics, both modern and historic, which advise against the addictive nature of the solution due to its opiate nature.  It reminds me of the use of cocaine in Coca-Cola before anyone realized that maybe that wasn’t such a smart plan.

How to use the word paregoric?

“She was feeling quite ill, but the doctor came and administered a paregoric and now she is resting comfortably.”

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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.

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