Friday 3 September 2010

Heroines on Heroin

Once upon a time cough medicines all contained morphine, and because morphine is a trifle addictive this was a problem. People were too worried to cure their coughs. They thought that it was better to hack a little than to become a junkie.

So a German pharmaceutical company called Bayer decided to develop an alternative. They got out their primitive test tubes and rude retorts, and worked out a new chemical: diacetylmorphine, which they marketed as a "non-addictive morphine substitute". Like all new products it needed a name. Diacetylmorphine was all right if you were a scientist, but it wasn't going to work at the counter. They needed a name that would sell, a name that would make people say: "Yes! I want to buy that product!"

So the marketing chaps decided to call it Heroin, because apparently it made you feel heroic. And guess what? It did sell.

Heroin remained a Bayer trademark until the First World War; but the "non-addictive" part turned out to be a trifle misguided.

And that's why heroines are connected to heroin. Incidentally, the adjective for a heroine is heroinal (as distinct from the unisex heroic). Heroinal, though, has been used only once, in 1652, by Sir Thomas Urqhart who wrote the words:

Her mellifluent and heroinal breast...

Oh, and if you are ever offered "heroic measures" in hospital, it does not mean that you're going to have a tall, dashing doctor. It means that they're going to give you dangerous doses because you're probably going to die anyway.

The Inky Fool's accommodation arrangements are coming along fine


  1. The Antipodean, who'd always thought mellifluent was to do with sound but has learnt it is to do with honey,6 September 2010 at 15:49

    I went a-hunting Sir Urqhart, and it is my humble (well... let's just go with that for now) opinion that he made those words up. He does seem to have had a knack for it; I quite like vinomadefied, and penitissim, and disobstetricate, and also the several blogs I found while googling said words. Sir Urqhart provides shibboleths aplenty for hunting out abstruse bloggers. His particular gift appears to be ending up in the OED: did he know somebody, or were they just fellow word geeks, recognising a soul-mate across the centuries?

    Speaking of which, I think logofascinated is one of the most useful - although vinomadefied is up there. Apparently the Admirable Crichton (a Mary-Sue if ever I saw one) was so good at public speaking (along with everything else, of course) that one female listener became hysterical and burst a blood vessel, and another (too refined to become hysterical) fainted and appeared dead.

    Perhaps we could use it as a rating method for posts: logofascination factor - hysterics? fainted? burst blood vessel? aneurysm?

  2. "It means that they're going to give you dangerous doses because you're probably going to die anyway."

    And here I thought they were just doing a pleasant reading of Pope's Iliad...