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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Excessive heroine consumption

I recently came across an article which referred to "heroine ingestion". This gave me pause.

A heroine is the principal female character in a story, or a woman who displays heroic characteristics. Heroin is a drug. There is, however, a connection between the two words. The Bayer company of Germany (the same people who gave us Aspirin, though originally a dye manufacturer rather than a pharmaceutical firm) thought they had found a dandy new painkiller and cough medication (!) when they made it commercially available in 1898 under the trademarked name "heroin", so-called because the now notorious instant euphoria it provides made people feel as if they were larger-than-life heroes. (Not for long, though).

The word "hero" also has an interesting history. It came from the Greek heros, but English speakers, so accustomed to words ending in -s being plurals, lopped the final -s off to create "hero". (For a similar story, see my post about the word "cherry".

In short, do not write "excessive heroine consumption", unless of course you are speaking of the trend in19th-century operas to bump off the leading lady with tuberculosis.











Heroin. Do not confuse with











Heroine

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.