Friday, October 05, 2007

A Post In Vain

An oft-used literary cliche´ has something coursing in someone's veins:

"The adrenaline coursing in his veins merged each moment..."

"... the palpable high coursing in his veins..."

The blood coursing in his veins felt thick and sluggish."

"With his own blood coursing in his veins, the characteristics..."

music was always coursing in his veins."

the milk of human kindness was now coursing in his veins..."

even then the poison which Selima has secretly administered -recalling the murderous act of Voltaire's Mohammed-is coursing in his veins..."

pomposity coursing in his veins like steroids through an Olympic athlete..."

he felt “the old fire of 1848” coursing in his veins."

for the music coursing in his veins had chased it out."

and the wine of life was coursing in his veins."

the assassin coursing in his veins was less forgiving than the cocaine..."

"a chill having nothing to do with the venom coursing in his veins."

The thrill of making the next biggest profit of all time was always coursing in his veins."

Wine and desire coursing in his veins like the raging fires..."

As for Puff the Magic Diaz, I’m pretty sure the boxing lesson and the gogo weren’t because of the THC coursing in his veins."

Omigod! It's worse than I thought. Somebody stop me!! [The above lines -- all of them -- came from a search for the term. Don't blame me. And there were lots more.]

So anyhow, here's the thing: blood in the veins is the depleted, the metabolized stuff. Oxidized, alkylated, detoxified, it's the left-overs. The good stuff, potent and active, is in the arteries. So how is it that writers -- those many, varied, and sometimes-awful writers -- came to see the veins as the carriers of, of... whatever, when clearly it should be the arteries? I'm not going to lose sleep, but really, someone ought to look into it.


Patrick Bageant said...

....well, "coursing through her arterioles" is a bit on the un-poetic side.

I've really enjoyed reading your posts. I feel like I met someone today.

Bardiac said...

Historically, "vein" was used from the 12 century CE on in English to talk about the tubey things through which blood runs (that is, in Old English). Apparently, ancients didn't recognize arteries as carrying blood; thus, the word "artery" originally has to do with the trachea; ancients thought the arteries had something to do with air. Early uses of the word artery are about the trachea (OED Artery 1).

Here's the OED explanation (Artery, 2a.):

"Among the ancients, the arteries, as they do not contain any blood after death, were popularly regarded as air-ducts, ramifying from the trachea; see prec. sense. Mediæval writers supposed them to contain an ethereal fluid quite distinct from that in the veins, called ‘spiritual blood’ or ‘vital spirits’ (cf. ANIMAL SPIRITS), an error which, after Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood, only gradually died out."

So, only after Harvey (1578-1657), and WELL after tropes about things coursing through veins, did people start to understand the relationship between arteries and veins. Common tropes tend to last far longer than you'd think. For example, people still "wait with bated breath" without having a clue what "bate" means.

Yay for the OED, overeducation, and your tax dollars at work!

Bongi said...

"someone should look into it"
well it seems that someone has, sid. thank you bardiac. (i suppose i should break with tradition and say Bardiac?)

Sid Schwab said...

Bardiac: I've always assumed "bated" was as in "abated," ie, holding one's breath in anticipation...

As to the rest, well, just because it makes historical and literate sense doesn't mean I don't get to rant.

Actually, I love what you wrote, and appreciate it a lot. Even if it's not true (nor probably ever was) that after death arteries are empty. On the battlefields of yore, maybe, though...

And, by an amazing coincidence, I just found out earlier today, by hitting two wrong keys simultaneously, how to type "æ." I'm starting to think if I knew how to use this machine I could do neat stuff.

Great comment. Thanks again!

Sid Schwab said...

Oh, and Patrick Bagaent: what a nice thing to say. Glad you stopped by.

rlbates said...

Love this post, Dr Sid.
If you think about a lot of the "things" listed as "coursing in his viens" many of them need to be "cleansed"--

"recalling the murderous act"
"the assassin"
"chill having nothing to do with the venom "

and some would say these
"music" (you know the devil's music--rock n'roll)
"the wine" (Carrie Nation, et al)

Bardiac said...


I didn't mean to take away your rant! :)

You're right about the relation of "bate" and "abate"! (It's cool!)

I've never figured out how to get Ash (the AE combo letter's name) to come up on my computer, so you're one up on me! (Share, please!)

It's amazing what medieval and early modern people believed, especially about the ways bodies work. Reading their "treatments" for stuff makes me very, very grateful for having been born after antibiotics and lots of vaccines had been developed!

Sid Schwab said...

bardiac: first of all, I have an Apple. If you hit the "option" key (I assume there's an equivalent on a PC) and then, holding that key down, hit nearly any other key, you get all sorts of wonderful things, to wit:
Ω ≈ ç √ ∫ ˜ µ ≤ ≥ ÷ å ß ∂ ƒ © ˙ ∆ ˚ ¬ … æ œ ∑ ´ ® † ¥ ¨ ˆ ø π “‘ ¡ ™ ¢ ∞ § ¶ • ª º – ≠

æ is control + ' on my keyboard. And I just discovered: Æ comes with option + shift + "

Who knows what else is in here...

Jeffrey Parks MD FACS said...

Let's face it, the word "vein" is much cooler than artery. Artery evokes traffic snarl. Besides, you can't say "the adrenaline was sluggishly pooling in my veins" and win any literary awards.

Greg P said...

Even the physiologist might beg to differ Sid. Let's take adrenaline, for example.
To a large extent it will come from the adrenals, be secreted into the venous system, yet where it needs to act, on the brain and cardiovascular system, the GI tract, it has to get there via arteries.
So indeed, there it is, coursing down the veins, through the heart, lungs, back to heart, THEN to these end organs -- quite a long course it was.
But we're still left with the literary suggestion that a person "feels" things coursing through veins...

DC Med Student said...

"Omigod! It's worse than I thought. Somebody stop me!!"

LOL! Did you do the Home Alone face?

You're the best Dr. Schwab. Loved the rant.

Sid Schwab said...

DC: thanks! And no, it was more like this.

Greg: yeah, and it's "coursing," always "coursing." What's up with that?

Anonymous said...

bardiac said:

"I've never figured out how to get Ash (the AE combo letter's name) to come up on my computer, so you're one up on me! (Share, please!)"

for windows home vista:

start -> programs -> accessories -> system tools> - characater map

or just go to:

Anonymous said...

Great history, bardiac! And it's true that once a useful word phrase enters the language, it's very hard for it to leave, even when the literal meaning has become obsolete. Steve Pinker talks about this in The Language Instinct; some word phrases can function in the brain as if they were whole words.

Also, "coursing through the veins" sounds better.

SeaSpray said...

Coursing in the veins does sound better but would it if we had all come to know it as coursing through his arteries first?

Why coursing? I think it connotes EXCITEMENT, ENERGY and with POWER. Coursing? It's BOLD, DRIVEN, FORCEFUL and OUT THERE..make no mistake about it.

Although, "The blood coursing in his veins felt thick and sluggish." seems to me an oxymoron in thought process.

Or maybe Dr S. it is because you have typed the phrase in bold, dark type that I see the expression as bold and out there! Not that I'm impressionable or anything. ;)


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