Wednesday 5 May 2010

Sausage Poison In Your Face

Botuliform, dear reader, means sausage-shaped, and if you can't drop it into conversation in the next twenty-four hours then you're not having the right kind of conversations.

Botuliform comes from botulus in Latin meaning sausage. Sausages are stuffed with pork and peril. Too often the sausage is the last refuge of rotten meat. This culinary truth was not lost upon the Swabian poet Justinus Kerner. When not writing Swabian poetry (and everyone needs the occasional break) Justinus Kerner was a doctor. He once wrote of his twin vocations that: 

Flüchtig leb' ich durchs Gedicht,
Durch des Arztes Kunst nur flüchtig;
Nur wenn man von Geistern spricht,
Denkt man mein noch und schimpft tüchtig.

Which the Inky Fool's indentured linguist Everet Lapel translates thus:

I live briefly through the poem,
Only briefly through the doctor’s arts:
Only when one speaks of ghosts
Does one yet think of me and curse me.

However, this is no longer true. Only when one speaks of sausage-poison does one ever consider Justinus Kerner. This is because in 1817 he identified a rather horrible disease you got from rotten meat and decided to call it sausage-disease, or botulism. He named the guilty chemical sausage-poison or botulinum toxin.

In 1895 there was a funeral in Belgium where ham was served and three people dropped dead, which must have delighted the undertakers. The homicidal ham was rushed to Emile Pierre van Ermengem who was Professor of Bacteria at Ghent University and he identified clostridium botulinum, which are the bacteria that make botulinum toxin. This was useful as you could now produce botulinum toxin and take as much of it as you wanted.

Botulinum toxin is, generally speaking, a bad thing. It slowly paralyses you until you die. If you drink just one microgram then you're going to join the majority. But if you take an awful lot less than that you only get a tinsy winsy bit paralysed. So if you're having muscle spasms a doctor can temporarily cure you by injecting botulinum toxin. Also, if you're old and ugly you can inject sausage-poison straight into your old ugly face, paralyse your muscles and temporarily look a bit younger and very, very odd.

Of course you don't call it sausage-poison. You'd hardly be able to market that. You wouldn't be able to invite people to sausage-poison parties. You don't even call it botulinum toxin. You call it botox.

Now go forth and use the word botuliform.

Every time I try to self-administer botox the same thing happens


  1. Darren Hughes6 May 2010 at 14:41

    I think you'll find that Clostridium botulinum is so named because the bacterium is sausage shaped rather than the fact that it is usually acquired from rotten sausages.

  2. I've seen that suggested too, but an authorative-looking academic article called "Historical notes on botulism, Clostridium botulinum, botulinum toxin, and the idea of the therapeutic use of the toxin" by Frank J. Erbguth, MD, PhD says "The bacterium was so called because of its pathological association with the sausages (Latin word for sausage = botulus) and not - as it was suggested - because of its shape."

    There was meant to be a link to it on the words Belgian funeral, but it appears to be broken, as is my laptop. Try