Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
March 12th, 2016
Episode 471 of 923 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 12, 2016 is: theriac \THEER-ee-ak\ noun 1 : a mixture of many drugs and honey formerly held to be an antidote to poison 2 : a remedy for all ills : cure-all, panacea Examples: "Town authorities tried to monitor the manufacture and supply of theriac to ensure that the citizens were not hoodwinked...." — Philip Ball, The Devil's Doctor, 2006 "Together, the physicians produced a costly theriac based on an old recipe attributed to Andromachus, the personal physician to Nero." — John Jaie Palmero, The Journey Alone, 2013 Did you know? There really is no such thing as a single remedy for all that ails us. But that hasn't kept English speakers from creating not just a single word, but several words, that mean "cure-all": catholicon, elixir, nostrum, panacea, and today's word, theriac. When we first used theriac, it meant "an antidote for poison"—for any and all poisons, that is. That's how our Roman and Greek forebears used their theriaca and thēriakē, which derive ultimately from thēr, the Greek word for "wild animal." The first theriac was supposedly created by the first-century Greek physician Andromachus, whose concoction consisted of some 70 drugs pulverized with honey. Medieval physicians created even more elaborate theriacs to dose a plague-dreading populace, for whom the possibility of a cure-all didn't seem too wild a notion at all.