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Definition: An enema. Now an outdated word.

Pronunciation: Klis-ter

Origin: Clyster entered into Middle-English in about 1350 from French. It has Latin and Greek roots – respectively, Klyster and Kluster, meaning to ‘rinse out’. Interestingly, clyster shares a common root with cataclysm – extreme rain.

Why this word?

I came across a reference to this word in the spring edition of Archaeology Ireland. Referring to an article on the different types of clay pipes made in Ireland over the centuries, the author points to a now-defunct use: the use of a clay pipe to provide a smoke enema! Although mainly a veterinary use, it did occasionally have a human application. The magazine quotes a 17th century recommendation on how to resuscitate someone who has drowned:

“A person should blow with force into the lungs, by applying the mouth to the mouth if the patient, closing his nostrils with one hand and gently expelling the air again by pressing the chest with the other … Whilst one is constantly in this business, another should throw the smoke of tobacco up the fundament into the bowels, by means of a pipe or fumigator, such as are used in administering clysters.”

It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of clysters were water rather than smoke-based.

How to Use This Word:

Clearly, the correct venue to openly use the word clyster and discuss the history of the enema is the dinner party.


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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