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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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Friday, March 29, 2013

A soothing tombstone for your throat

Faithful Wordlady readers will know that I sing in a choir. At least, I do when not being asphyxiated by incense or rendered mute by some nasty laryngitis-inflicting virus. With this being Holy Week, it's a major singathon for church choristers, and, not surprisingly, there's usually a stash of throat lozenges somewhere in the choir room. But why are these soothing candies called that?
A lozenge was originally a diamond-shaped figure in heraldry.

Since heraldry was a preoccupation of the French-speaking aristocracy rather than of the Anglo-Saxon lower classes in medieval England, this is yet another word that we acquired from French.
There are two theories as to where the French got it. It may have come from a Proven├žal word lausa derived from Latin lapis (stone). In some Romance languages this derivative meant "roofing slate" or "slab" or, more ominously considering what lozenges are used for today, "tombstone".  A second possibility is that it goes back to a word in Pahlavi  (a Persian language), lawz (almond), because an almond is shaped like a diamond.
The reason we now use the word for a type of cough drop is that in the 1500s, medicated pills were made in a diamond shape. Eventually, the idea of the medication it contained became more important than the shape of the pill, so now we have round lozenges as well as quadrilateral ones.
For the origin of the word "Easter", please see this post.

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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.