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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


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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.