Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Daily Hump: Witch Hazel

I've got a pimple living at the end of my nose and it makes me a sad WordHumper. It's one of those ones that's kind of under the skin, so it's just a sort of red splotch that hurts a lot. Anyway, I should be washing my face with witch hazel like I was back in the day, but I'm too lazy and the smell is kind of funky. Plus, this pimple got me thinking; what's so witchy about witch hazel? Is it a magical bush? Evil? Satanic perhaps?

Actually, no. Witch hazel has absolutely nothing to do with old crones flying around on broomsticks or reciting incantations and frolicking in an orgiastic circle around a bonfire in some sylvan glen. No, the "witch" in witch hazel is from the obsolete wych, which is a shortened form of the wych elm (see photo at left) whose name in turn comes from the Old English wice. Wice is from the proto-Germanic wik- meaning "to bend" and from this root we get oodles of other modern English words including: weak, wicker and wicket. Even the words week and vicarious share a proto-Indo-European root with wik-, the PIE base *weik-, *weig- "to bend, wind" (in regards to vicarious think of bending in the sense of changing, or a substitution. For week the sense comes more from the idea of "turning" or "succession").

So, there ya have it: for better or for worse there is nothing diabolical about the powers of witch hazel.

witch hazel [Online Etymology Dictionary]
vicarious [Online Etymology Dictionary]
witch, wych, n3 [OED]
witch hazel [AHD]
Wych elm [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 8:53 AM


Doggone. All that Witch Hazel I used in my adolescence and I thought I was so transgressive.

Salicylic Acid works better. Dries the old skin up, but gets rid of the zits. Salicylic Acid is the main ingredient in Aspirin, which (as you probably know) is the synthetic form of the painkiller in willow bark. Another tree to the rescue of thousands of pimply teenagers. And, in my case, old ladies.
Blogger Auntie Sarah, at 11:36 AM  

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