Between 1796 and 1798, English doctor and scientist Edward Jenner noted that people who tended to cows were less likely to contract "cowpox", a brand of smallpox from cattle. From this, the theory of vaccination arose and impacted our culture forevermore. But where did the word vaccination come from? No less than vaccinus, the Latin word for "of or pertaining to cows", a term that derives from vacca (just "cow") and is the etymon of words like Spanish vaca, Romanian vaca, and French vache. While this is officially of uncertain origin, it quite possibly goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word sounding like wokeh and also meaning "cow". So, just because the initial vaccine was based on an observation concerning bovines, we know regularly inject cows in ourselves to ward off diseases. What has society come to?
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.